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Resource Overload: Shiny Objects

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

In my last blog, I discussed resource overload as the overwhelming amount of information available to us and some of the forms in which it may creep into your professional life. I will continue exploring resource overload in this blog, but as “shiny objects” and “red herrings”. Resources with perceived value that distract us from our focus with bold promises. This is a cautionary tale for leaders and teachers as there can be major implications to investing in subpar products and engaging in a subpar implementation.

Educational publishing is a big business that operates as such; using tactics to market and gain sales just as a clothing store or mattress company would. With that said, some educational companies ground their work in a commendable mission aligned with that of public education. Fewer companies are also driven by researched practices, and fewer still gather high-quality evidence of effectiveness to modify and refine their products. Many are simply creating shallow “shiny objects” to catch attention with claims that they are easy for teachers and fun for students. This may not be the intention, but that is the result. Their marketing team then makes loose connections to research and evidence and labels the products as such in a smoke and mirrors act to drive sales.

But it works. Sales go up because these false promises create an illusion that the product or program is the next best thing. Schools spend their precious and minimal funds, teachers spend their precious and minimal time, and ultimately students suffer by continuing their plateau.

I do believe that programs do not teach students; teachers teach students. Even a subpar program can have positive impacts when coupled with proper training for teachers around pedagogy and content. But the reality of the sales pitch is we are told the program will do it all so long as you implement with fidelity. Another shiny object.

But what does that even mean? Fidelity is explained as faithfulness, loyalty, or support. Researchers later adopted the term and made the leap to define program fidelity as the implementation as intended. This makes sense from a research perspective to minimize variables; however this idea of “fidelity of implementation” has become a bit narrow and not necessarily aligned with research. There are many studies that show implementation “with guardrails” is most effective. This couples the program's expectations with high-quality instructional training for teachers so they can use the program as a foundation and make intentional adjustments based on their student's needs and best practices. It is important to implement the program as it is written to start but later consider some intentional flexibility.

This resource overload can be more intrusive and create more cognitive dissonance in educators compared to my previous examples, as these resources are less suggestive and more expected. I have been in countless school situations where the leaders are questioning why teachers aren’t using this “great program” to its fullest extent. In these situations, the “great program” is one of several programs that take up shelf space within the classroom and limited space within the daily schedule. When the overload becomes too great, teachers often leave something behind to focus on what they believe to be the priority for their students. It’s typically not insubordination; it’s their subconscious telling them that if they focus on everything, they are focusing on nothing, and they put “one of the juggling balls” down.

While this is a human reaction to “resource overload,” it does not resonate well with teachers. Many teachers are rule followers or perfectionists by nature. If their performance is questioned by a well-meaning administrator who doesn’t understand why they aren’t implementing it all to the fullest, this has a negative impact on teacher efficacy. As Hattie’s work tells us this has one of the largest effect sizes on student learning; we need to be cautious about how we proceed.

So what, now what? How do we maximize the impact of any new program and get results from our students? While new does not always mean better, if you are looking to replace a program, the Reading League has a help evaluation tool that will support your work in vetting the materials. Properly vetting a tool before purchase will immediately alert you to its strengths and weaknesses.

Following a new purchase, it is highly recommended to receive training from the publisher to ensure you understand the program's functionality. However, research shows this should be coupled with content training and ongoing support around the implementation to be sure that teachers continue to receive support on how to best leverage the program for student success. (Psst…eduFocusPLC specializes in that work!)

Along with the ongoing and embedded professional development to be sure that everyone feels confident with implementation, monitoring data will highlight whether or not you are simply going through the motions or whether this is triggering the change you expected. This data should be student outcomes but also specific teacher actions.

Finally, the administration must be brought into the fold. They need to understand the general expectations of the program, best literacy practices, and how to set up the systems within their building to ensure ongoing support and continuous progress monitoring. Without a leader at the helm, it is more likely this work will go off course. (eduFocusPLC specializes in that too!)

Taking the time to ensure you invest in the right materials and training is hard work but necessary. The adverse to that is you spend a lot of money on a program and a lot of time on a subpar implementation. Neither of which delivers the necessary results, and the cycle will start all over as you search for the next shiny object. Of the two, I recommend the former.

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