26 Jul 2023
Picture this. It won’t be tricky. You’re an experienced teacher with no leadership responsibility and you love your job. You’ve worked in your school for ten years and seen assistant head after assistant head arrive with their new-fangled initiative and a bright, shiny smile. You are a diligent and hardworking teacher and willing to try out new things, so you willingly oblige to the Next Big Thing and implement it in your own practice.
The key issue is that the Next Big Thing you are doing is propped up next to the Previous Next Big Thing in your cognitive architecture and in your Powerpoints, worksheet design and lesson plans. You have boxes on your curriculum maps for AfL, Check for Understanding and Formative Assessment and you’re not sure which one to call it now, even though you know it’s pretty much the same thing.
In fact, when you stop for a minute and think, there are six Next Big Things present in your teaching in some shape or form and, despite your best intentions, you are struggling to keep track of the Next Big Thing you should be doing next.
As leaders, we talk about reducing workload and increasing wellbeing for our teachers. The picture above is a major stress for them, but not in the way we might think. In Making room for impact, Hamilton, Hattie and Wiliam pull no punches in making the claim that it’s not the new initiative that is the problem; it is the ghosts of the old ones and the confusion they cause that keeps teachers up at night.
It is about time leaders paid attention to this and built the knowledge they need to combat the old new initiatives confusing staff. This book is about just that: taking initiatives down, properly, so that we can all focus on what really matters.
The authors need no introduction. They are big hitters in the field of educational research and rightly so: their razor-sharp insights about education at a global level rarely fail to resonate in schools and classrooms all over the world, despite the differences in the systems they work in. They all ought to be read widely and often.
Nevertheless, my initial response was that the book’s conceit was completely odd. How on Earth could busy academics fill over 300 pages with ideas, models and strategies for de-implementation, let alone implementation? And yet it is a particular strength of this book that it fills a clearly under-explored gap in our knowledge as leaders.
Within the first hundred pages, I began to see a genuine problem with my own thinking and the way it might impact the staff and students at my school. Rest assured: ‘de-implementation’ and the work of these scholars will become absolutely essential reading, knowledge, and study in years to come. As we grapple with teacher recruitment, retention and wellbeing challenges in many jurisdictions around the world, I have no doubt Making room for impact will become a seminal, touchstone text in the field of educational leadership.
The authors rightly argue that because of the lack of good quality thinking in this area in education (in spite of a wealth of it for other professions), they wanted to provide a ‘Rolls Royce’ model for schools. Their hope is that others will follow who will simplify their work on de-implementation and make is more accessible for educators.
The book is full of practical strategies for thinking, planning and evaluating de-implementation that make it worth purchasing. But the model itself is too complicated. School leaders can’t afford Rolls Royces. And besides, a Rolls Royce is better enjoyed with a chauffeur.
School leaders – busy implementing policies while de-implementing others and managing a host of demands on their time – need to be able to drive this themselves. For that, they need a reliable, sturdy, simple model. Less a Rolls Royce than a Skoda.
Even better: they need it to be sustainable. So here’s to the eventual Nissan Leaf of de-implementation. And in the meantime, we can all ogle with envy at the Rolls in the showroom.