[By Regis University Assistant Professor of the School of Education and Counseling, Dr. Vicki Caruana, Ph.D] Hundreds of teaching and learning strategies bombard educators every year. How educators (at every level) do what they do is under scrutiny like never before. In this age of accountability, educators are expected to meet the needs of each and every learner in their care. Although that expectation is a definite desire of every educator, it may not always be possible.
Professors, educational consultants, and researchers all introduce educators to new and better ways to teach learners with the strong belief that their way is the best way.
Unfortunately, educators may be drowning under the waters of initiative fatigue.
There is only a certain amount of time, energy, resources, and personnel to do more than we did yesterday. Short term fixes fueled by either intimidation or enthusiasm to change on the part of a new idea, strategy or even a new paradigm adds to the pile of initiatives causing a “dramatic decline in organizational effectiveness” (Reeves, 2006, p. 89).
There is no one right way to teach. No magic strategy or method ensures all learners will succeed. Inside, educators know this is true, yet they’re tempted to believe a quick fix will get the job done. Educators want so desperately to meet the needs of their learners that they’re willing to try whatever it takes to get there.
The danger here is the belief that it is a quick fix.
Learning, real learning, is a process and takes time. Learners respond to consistency more favorably than to constant experimentation. Just because an educator learns a new strategy that sounds great doesn’t mean she must implement it immediately.
Adding to an already full plate just makes us overeat and become sluggish. Some educational leaders (teachers included) follow three simple rules to prevent initiative fatigue. The overarching principle is this – do not introduce any new program until you remove at least one or two existing activities, plans, processes, or other time-consumers (Reeves, 2006).
We need to identify some things we can selectively drop. Reeves offers these three ideas:
- Use interdisciplinary dialogue – if you ask faculty in management what can be given up, they may say “nothing!” believing everything is important. If you ask faculty in education, they may say the same thing. Instead, ask faculty what they believe their students need to know to enter the workforce in their discipline, and they will give you a very specific list. This type of interdisciplinary dialogue will find consensus on what is most important; it will shine a light on those things that don’t quite matter as much.
- Prune away the small stuff – everyone finds a way of work that works for them. Provide opportunities for faculty to share their own time-saving tips. This practice helps to recover hours of valuable time when we share our own best practices. Often, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel!
- Set the standard for a “weed-free” garden – the less consequential time-stealers are “weeds.” We are all leaders in our own classrooms, disciplines, and departments. Respect one another’s time: start and end meetings on time, relegate routine announcements to email, and cancel or shorten meetings that are not directly related to student achievement or retention.
To combat initiative fatigue, first give yourself permission to not act on every new idea you learn. Then, if you fervently believe that change is in order, select a strategy or method that will meet the needs of most of your learners.
Give the new strategy or method time to make the promised positive impact. Learners learn best within a safe, nonthreatening, and consistent environment. If you change the rules, they may become mistrustful of your methods and become apprehensive learners instead of active ones. Count the cost before implementing something new.
Predict possible casualties and obstacles to learning and come up with ways to help learners adjust to the new strategy or method. Support them in learning new habits. Then at the end of the year, honestly evaluate whether this new initiative made the impact on your learners you hoped for.
Caruana, V. (2005). Recess for teachers: Taking time out for your body, mind, and soul. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Reeves, D. (2006). Pull the weeds before you plant the flowers. Educational Leadership, September, 89-90.
Dr. Vicki Caruana, Ph.D is an assistant professor of education at Regis University in Special Education, a former classroom teacher, and parent turned writer who seeks to educate and encourage kids and those who live and work with them to strive for excellence. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Specific Learning Disabilities, a Master’s degree in Gifted Education, a certificate in Educational Leadership, and will obtain her Ph.D. in Special Education in 2011. Her best-selling book “Apples & Chalkdust” has sold more than 600,000 copies! She has written more than 80 articles and 20 books and is a frequent guest on national radio and television programs. Vicki speaks at educational, parenting, homeschool and writers’ conferences. Vicki is also an educational spokesperson whose most recent client is Nintendo®. Her radio media tour reached more than 3,000,000 listeners nationwide.