Thursday, January 07, 2010

Planned Abandonment

Late Peter Drucker, a management consultant of all management consultants, liked to ask his clients, "What should you stop doing?" He believed it is easier to invent new things to do than to abandon your practices even when they stop being useful. So true, so true.

The week before classes begin is one of those windows of opportunity when we can rethink what we do, rewrite syllabi, and redefine processes. This time, we had a little project on re-inventing student teaching placement process – for the third time, I believe. It works just fine, and thanks to Marita, there has never been a student that is not placed. But it takes a long time and effort, causes some students frustration, and is generally not as efficient as we would like it to be. Mainly, it is because we rely on other people's willingness to help, their effectiveness and professionalism.

Anyway, the ideas on what else can be done are easy to come by. For example, we decided to send a questionnaire to many secondary schools, asking them in general, how many student teachers they might be willing to take in the semester. We also decided on a more rigid calendar and shorter deadlines for both the students and the districts. So far so good, right? Only later did we realize there are actually things we can stop doing altogether, which will free our time for things that really need doing. A certain percent of our student teachers actually have confirmed placements. They either have a connection through the social network, or have an explicit invitation from a teacher and a principal from a previous experience to come back for student teaching. In certain fields, coordinators know all eligible teachers really well, and will arrange placements informally long in advance. Students maybe from a small town, and the only school there wants to help them to student teach. I don't know how many of out students fit that category – probably between 10 and 25%. But we used to treat them like everyone else: send us your information, your resume, your writing sample, and which school you want to go to, and then we forward that info, receive a confirmation, etc. Well, what service are we providing to them, exactly? None really; we simply pass through some information both ways, sometimes through several levels of approval. All we really need is a word from a school principal that the student is properly placed with an experienced teacher. How do we get that confirmation is not really that important.

Anyway, we created a one page worth of rules, and will let students opt out of the centralized placement. Considering that some universities rely exclusively on self-placement (which is just not right), we should have come with the idea a long time ago. Why didn't we? – Because Drucker was right; it is much easier to start doing something else than to stop doing something.

As we start the new semester, I want to challenge everyone to stop doing something; just one thing. Here is a list of ideas, maybe they can help:

  1. Stop roll calling. Send a sign-in sheet around your class instead.
  2. Stop reminding students to do things. Have a calendar on-line in your Blackboard, and teach them to pay attention to it.
  3. Stop thanking people for sending you an e-mail. If it did not bounce, they got it, and will be thankful for your "Thanks!" email to not come at all.
  4. Stop typing the same comments to hundreds of different students. Learn t use Building Blocks in Word (Alt+F3).
  5. Stop teaching something they already know. Join the TTT Project!
  6. Stop enforcing all rules except those absolutely necessary.
  7. Stop doing tedious things – this is why we have all the work study students! If you are work study and happen to read this (which is highly unlikely), stop checking news on face book!
  8. Stop reading hundreds of e-mails. Learn to use Google Forms.
  9. Stop fighting technology – if you cannot figure it out in 20 minutes, ask someone for help.
  10. Stop doing everything that benefits no one.

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