Teachers and school communities are all too familiar with initiative fatigue. The education world is well known for introducing new initiatives and moving from one to the next without fully implementing anything. It’s not uncommon for veteran teachers to become numb to these changes and maybe a little bit cynical. In Vermont right now, we are working on some drastic changes. Schools are required to implement proficiency-based graduation requirements for this year’s freshman. The implementation of personal learning plans is a second requirement. Schools trying to do this in an authentic way are transforming their classroom instruction, adding new positions, revising existing programs like advisory and adding new programs that are necessary to accommodate these new philosophies. It’s easy to see how all of this could cause teachers and leaders to become overwhelmed. My new position as innovation coach is allowing me to get a glimpse into all of these areas of change at a variety of levels. Teachers who are highly motivated to make these changes happen in a meaningful way are exhibiting signs of initiative fatigue. This is very concerning to me since I feel so strongly about the changes that Vermont is hoping to achieve. I fear that if these changes cause exhaustion among the most motivated teachers, how can they possible succeed? I worry less about the cynical teacher who sees these changes as “just another initiative” because I don’t think those teachers will help move us forward with any strength anyway. But we need the motivated change makers to maintain their energy.
- Teachers share a concern or ask for help and can come up with an excuse about why a solution won’t work for every piece of advice.
- Teachers begin reverting back to old ways.
These two responses happen because teachers are exhausted and don’t have the energy to solve problems when they are overwhelmed. These are normal survival mode responses. It is important to remember that there is a way out. These feelings won’t last forever and there are actually several actions that teachers and school leaders can take to get out of these ruts more quickly.
Make sure basic needs are getting met. Eat well. Sleep. Do fun things. Taking time to make sure teachers are taking care of themselves is a prerequisite to continuing to try and innovate. Innovating without meeting these basic needs will lead nowhere.
The right question can be extremely powerful. Last year, during a problem solving session, a colleague described a situation where her colleagues weren’t buying into an important school change. As she described the situation, she talked about the people who weren’t buying in and described their behavior in detail. At the end of her description, the rest of the group was supposed to ask probing questions on sticky notes and then she got to choose ones that helped her make progress on solving the problem. The whole time she was talking I was thinking about the people who were buying in. I didn’t have a specific solution in mind (which is actually an important prerequisite to using this strategy) but my question was “who are the people that are buying in?”. This question helped her turn a switch in her thinking and create new solution ideas. Questions that help to change perspectives like: “what would my best student do?” or “what would I want done if this was my child?” can turn that switch. This questioning strategy can be used as a self-coaching strategy or it can be used by colleagues and coaches to move teachers out of a rut. Here are some other examples of questions teachers can ask themselves to get out of a rut and get back to the business of empowering students to learn.
What do I have control over?
What are my values?
What are my best skills?
Is there information I don’t know?
What needs are not being met?