10 Ways to Avoid Being an EDU Flavor of the Week
Most educators are familiar with the graveyard of initiatives featuring “yet another Flavor of the Week” etched on the headstones. What’s sad is that a lot of these condemned efforts died for reasons other than merit. Here are ten Dos and Don’ts to help avoid that fate.
- Don’t mandate. Mandates lead to compliance. If all you care about is teachers dotting an ‘i’ and crossing a ‘t’ then mandate away and enjoy the view on your way to Flavor of the Weeklandia. If what you seek is lasting change, it is more likely to happen from enthusiastic and grassroots adoption. If teachers intrinsically see value for kids, they will opt in and act as enthusiastic ambassadors to their colleagues.
- Don’t use the “F” word. I’m yet to meet a teacher who shared her excitement to implement someone else’s idea “with fidelity.” When I hear administrators speak about fidelity, it sounds condescending ten out of ten times and makes me cringe. I’d be willing to bet that there is a high degree of correlation between use of that word and initiatives that are eventually regarded as a failed Flavor of the Week.
- Do implement user-centered design strategies. If you want to create something that is valuable to users, make them the center of your design process. Include stakeholders at all stages. Produce prototypes and get feedback from users. Iterate and repeat. Then repeat again. And again.
- Do light the runway. Focus on what is working and shine a light on these bright spots. They serve as exemplars that light the runway so that others can see how to successfully take off. Exclusive attention paid to what isn’t working is toxic and often times counterproductive.
- Do start small and choose early adopters wisely. Early adopters tend to have a character trait of being able to adapt to the bumps in the road when implementing something new. When a new technology falters (and it will let you down at some point!), early adopters accept it as a part of the process and don’t allow it to get them down. Further, they will share constructive feedback that will help you iterate and improve before you scale. Your early adopters should eventually become leaders of your movement. Cherish them. Celebrate them. Create opportunities to elevate them professionally, such as inviting them to be site-based leads or ambassadors. A shared trait of Flavors of the Week is often a lack of champions. Foster champions by growing them into that role from early adopters.
- Do explicitly plan for the ‘A’ in SMART Goal. Whether it was during teacher prep courses or grad school, many of us had to go through the process of crafting SMART Goals. Sadly, these are often just academic exercises and not authentically used in real academic settings. The ‘A’ stands for achievable and it is one of the most important considerations with any new implementation. Even with Moonshot Thinking, it is helpful to have a viable response to someone who asks, “How is this achievable?” So many Flavors of the Week end up that way because the leaders in charge of implementing failed to consider this question and to allocate the necessary resources to help make their dreams a reality.
- Do provide sufficient supports for teachers. Teachers have extremely full plates and yet it is inevitable that somewhere close to 100% will have new initiatives and the requisite workload added to those plates while having nothing taken off. It adds insult to injury (and there is injury!) when teachers are not sufficiently supported. Conduct empathy interviews in order to learn what supports teachers will need. Strive to create an easy on-ramp. Differentiate supports in order to meet teachers at their respective levels of need and readiness.
- Do synthesize with existing efforts. If you can anticipate that someone in the staff lounge is going to refer to your initiative as “one more thing…” then you are on the fast track to becoming a failed Flavor of the Week. Teachers simply don’t have time for that. Learn about other initiatives and efforts that are already underway in the school(s) you serve. Read over their Unified Improvement Plans. Find out what shared metrics are being used in teacher effective evaluations. Then seek to synthesize your effort with one of those by showing how it will compliment and add value to something that is already important.
- Do hold yourself accountable to students’ successful futures. Our role as educators is to prepare students to be successful and we have little patience for work that distracts from that noble aim. Before you can expect stakeholders to get on board, make sure that you are able to enthusiastically advocate and hook them on the belief that this is good for kids.
- Do be a permanent resident. Tourists are the head chefs at the Flavor of the Week Kitchen. When you leave, the person replacing you will not necessarily have a passion for an effort that was uniquely your baby, not theirs. If you’re going to lead a disruptive initiative, plan to stick around long enough to see it across the implementation finish line. If you plan to leave, honor the people who were disrupted by it by ensuring systems are in place that will allow it to sustainably continue and not collapse into a failed Flavor of the Week, the memory of which will serve as a warning to teachers the next time they are asked to get behind a big idea.
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