Initiative Overload?

It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about? Henry David Thoreau

Teachers are feeling overwhelmed by the number of initiatives their schools and districts are enforcing. We would just need to take one look at teacher inboxes, lessons, and professional development schedules to know they are being asked (usually with good intentions) to try this and try that. They are experiencing what I call Initiative Overload.

The following YouTube video is one teacher’s comical venting of these frustrations. As of today, it has had over 180,000 views with comments such as, “I can relate to this! This is what goes on in my building.”

As teachers, we have all felt like the teacher from the video. I think about the time I entered a middle school social studies classroom. The teacher nervously picked up a clipboard from his desk that was housing a rainbow of papers, each color coding the different initiatives his school had adopted. He began flipping through the stack and looked up to ask, “Who do you represent?” He had created checklists for all the stuff he was being asked to implement and was trying to be organized and conscientious. He was trying to be compliant and practice best practice. However, he was overwhelmed by the different directions he was being asked to take his teaching practice.

Don’t get me wrong. I honestly believe school systems are attempting to fix the areas that need fixing. Funds are set aside to address differentiation, formative and summative assessments, literacy, RTI, standards, rigor and relevance…The list is ongoing and the exhaustion occurs when there are so many separate initiatives happening at the same time that teachers don’t have the time to go deep in learning and implementation.

Just like the middle school social studies teacher, teachers have a difficult time finding the common thread between all the initiatives. They exist as separate missions in the minds of the teachers. As the computer generated teacher notes to her principal, “You are just randomally dropping educational sounding words because they were on a chart you saw in your last meeting.”

Some suggestions to move in this direction are

  • Quit trying to implement all the new and flashy. As a team, department, school or district, focus on one or two initiatives to focus financial and time resources.
  • Support teachers in implementing these one or two initiatives. Designate time for  intentional and collaborative planning. Make accomodations for teachers to attend professional development, buy educational resources, and observe classroom teachers.
  • Hold teachers accountable to implementation. In order to do this, administrators need to be well-versed in the language of the initiative and look for evidence in lesson plans, classroom practice, observations, student artifacts, and walk-throughs.

So let’s move beyond the whining stage. Let’s arrive at a place where we are busy in our classrooms and our professions but feel satisfied with the work we are doing.

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