May 18, 2022

Leadership is About Subtraction

Any good school leader knows that they can’t keep piling  new mandates on teachers and kids. Yet, few school leaders and policy makers seemingly refuse to lighten the load. Editing is critical. Less is more.

However, there is an even more pressing failure of literacy than never getting around to taking out the curricular trash. While school principals continue to ask more and more of teachers, it is the rare school leader with the courage to tell a teacher to STOP doing something.

Allow me to describe a quite common scenario. A school community decides to invest  in a more progressive, creative, or learner-centered mathematics. Curriculum kits are purchased (even the ancillary materials) and professional development juice is sprinkled on the staff.

Later that school year one cannot notice the presence of arithmetic worksheets being used during class and for homework. The worksheets were not part of the “Big Box ‘o Fun” that came with the school’s math curriculum. The teacher purchased them behind the local laundromat or downloaded them off the Web.

You ask “Why are you using all of these awful math worksheets when our school has embraced a different vision of mathematics education?” Teachers almost always answer in the same way. “I’m supplementing the curriculum.” Implied is a concern that there will be life-altering gaps in a child’s eleven times table.

Ask the same teacher if she uses the manipulatives, games, or projects that came with the textbook and she’ll reply, “Nah. No time.” There’s always time for Frank Schaffer!”

I have worked in hundreds of schools over my career and I have yet to meet a principal who will go into a classroom and say, “Stop using those worksheets.” You purchased a curriculum because you didn’t believe teachers were clever enough to know what or how to teach. Why allow them to go rogue and make decisions that do violence to children’s learning?

Leadership is not only about subtraction, but having the integrity to tell a teacher to stop doing something.