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De-Implementation: Less is More

Schools are drowning in incomplete resources, piecemeal programs, and the ghosts of leaders past. All while student performance is plateauing or declining. It is not uncommon, in fact, it’s likely, that no “spring cleaning” has occurred in some time, and it may feel like there is no way out. However, I assure you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, so long as you use strategy as your compass, focus as your light, and courage as your fuel. Your school and students will be better for it.

The Problem (or at least part of it):

State-of-the-art professional development.

Curriculum to support best practices in literacy.

Sounds great, right? Are you in? Of course, you are. You want to do what’s best for your students and grow them as readers and writers. And this promise leads you to believe that you have found the answer. But too often, this promise is false. In fact, those very promises have been made verbatim for resources that are not rooted in research or backed in evidence.

That’s not to say that the voices behind these promises don’t want what’s best for kids. It simply means they don’t know. “Good feels” and “creative ideas” don’t trump research and evidence.

But they do sell.

So, countless teachers, leaders, and districts have spent millions of hours and dollars trying to make these things work. And when they inevitably don’t, they get put on a shelf to move on to the next “promise.”

Most teachers who have been around for a bit can tell you a story of initiative. It’s often a lengthy tale, one full of fantasy and adventure. But there never seems to be an end, or better yet, a moral. But each story leads me back to the proverb, “If you chase two rabbits, you will likely lose them both.” Our sense of urgency provokes us to make “get results quick” decisions and engage in multiple initiatives, leaving strategy and implementation science out the window. Michal Fullan has named this fragmentation as one of his “wrong drivers” that does not get the desired results and may worsen matters. When initiative ignores strategy, we will never get the impact we need for our students.

The Focus: A Case for Deimplementation

Hamilton et al. (2022) recommend in Building to Impact: The 5D Implementation Guide for Educators that as you systematically design a new implementation, you should also be “identifying things you will simultaneously STOP to make room for impact.”

Deimplementation is the intentional process of letting go of practices, programs, or strategies that are redundant or ineffective. It involves critically evaluating current practices and making the courageous decision to remove what is not serving the best interests of students. I could go on and on about the value of this process, but I will “focus” 🙂only a key few.

Creates Focus

When you “trim the fat,” then you can focus on what matters. Alleviating the burden of unnecessary expectations and practices allows teachers more time and bandwidth to implement effective strategies.

Reduced Cognitive Load

Students and educators can become overwhelmed with too many tools and techniques. Deimplementation allows for a streamlined, focused approach, reducing cognitive load and enabling deeper learning experiences.

Resource Allocation

Often, limited resources are spread thin across numerous programs. Deimplementation frees up resources, allowing for more investment in the programs and initiatives that truly make a difference.

Vetting Current Practices and Resources

The aforementioned “false promises” leave many schools with piles of ineffective resources and strategies. Engaging in deimplementation creates time and space to vet your tools and practices to be sure that what you present to students is backed by research and evidence.

Are you ready to deimplement?!

That’s the first step 🙌 As you begin this work, keep these three crucial elements at the forefront of your process.

Comprehensive Evaluation

Begin by thoroughly evaluating current practices, programs, and technologies. Identify those no longer aligned with the educational goals and research-based practices. This is much easier said than done and will take time, revisions, more time, more revisions, and patience. But it will create clarity for the organization. Peter DeWitt has clearly outlined this in his book De-Implementation: Creating the Space to Focus on What Works (2022).

Stakeholder Feedback

Involve all stakeholders - educators, administrators, parents, and students - in the deimplementation process. Their insights and perspectives can provide valuable input.

Professional Development

Provide ongoing training and support for educators to adapt to changes resulting from deimplementation. Ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in a more streamlined environment.

Deimplementation challenges the prevailing notion that more is always better in education. Educational institutions can create a more focused, efficient, and impactful learning environment by intentionally letting go of ineffective practices and vetting tools and resources. Embracing deimplementation is a bold and necessary step towards prioritizing what works in education and ensuring that every resource is maximized for the benefit of students and their learning journey.

Marie Kondo offers sound advice and strategies for decluttering your home. One of her famous phrases is, “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” As you declutter your educational organization, I suggest “keep only those things that truly yield positive results for your students. Then [assemble the courage] take the plunge and discard all the rest.” Once you have less, it will be more.

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