No New Ideas Until…

by | Apr 28, 2015 | 4 comments

4 min read
Learning and growing is the educational mantra. We thirst for knowledge and appreciate the idea of becoming more and doing more with the belief as JFK said that “…the human mind is our fundamental resource.” We appreciate and understand that by developing ourselves, we not only benefit personally but we also contribute to the greater good. Improving the system, the school, and providing a supportive and enriching learning environment for your staff and students demands continual growth. As a school leader, developing your skills from leadership to pedagogy is paramount in order to be effective. Too often we confuse effectiveness with doing more. At times, learning and growing isn’t about what we need to start doing or implementing, but rather, it’s about what we need to stop doing. Molding ourselves to become more effective requires refinement. Becoming “better” isn’t necessarily about doing more; very often it’s about doing less with greater precision. Evaluating our actions, behaviors, discipline, and attitude is a necessary first step in understanding yourself. The same process holds true for organizations as well.

Take-away: internal reflection works for leaders as well as the organization they lead.

Inspect what you Expect

A few years into my principalship, I realized that in order to reach greater heights and to achieve our school’s goals, adding more “stuff” to “improve” our performance was actually misguided. During a statewide professional development on improving student outcomes, the audience was bombarded with “proven” ideas that ranged from student led conferencing to professional learning communities. All the ideas had merit and were appealing. Oddly though, I walked away that day feeling overwhelmed and confused. I knew what my school needed wasn’t a new idea, but a thorough investigation on what we were currently doing. I realized that adding another initiative prior to auditing what we were doing would actually be detrimental to our progress.We needed to inspect what we expected as outcomes. We couldn’t add anything without inspecting what he had, so we did.

Take-away: think audit before thinking add-it.

Cleaning House

The process of refinement started with myself, first through introspection, self-reflection, and a thorough audit of my daily habits and activities. I wanted to ensure alignment between the school’s goals and what we needed to achieve with my daily actions as a leader. Once I realized there was a misalignment, the tough part was eliminating these from my daily practices. One that took some courage, but was necessary, was not attending or holding certain meetings. Too often I found myself in meetings that drained my time and were unproductive, many of which were not school-based and didn’t yield school level results. I needed to “clean house” and get rid of meetings that didn’t matter.

As a school, we enacted the same reflective process. Our instructional leadership team evaluated themselves and their departments. As a school, we reviewed what was working and what we needed to eliminate. One main conclusion was about how we communicated. As a community of educators, we agreed on what I would communicate through weekly memos and emails, which led to the discontinuation of some unneeded meetings, like our general faculty meetings. It was simply too large to be effective for more than anything except disseminating information, and that wasn’t a good use of time. We decided to use smaller more productive committees to drive change.

Take-away: Use meetings to discuss, use memos to inform.

The Challenge

Trimming down and eliminating unnecessary daily activities and “getting to simple” is the refined high impact approach necessary for success. The strategy is possibly best summed up by Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, during an interview: “Why do you wear the same gray t-shirt every day?” asked the interviewer. “I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,” says Zuckerberg. The challenge is getting down to just focusing on the ideas and initiatives that actually have a positive impact.

As believers in goal setting and high leverage best practices, we realize that the first step to “getting to simple” is actually investigating the initiatives that should be stopped. How about “no new ideas until” that happens.

Leadership Activity:

1. As a school leader and/or teacher, which of your daily actions drive success? List two.
2. What are the things that you can stop doing today and it wouldn’t matter for future success? List two.

We would love to hear from you. Share a story or tell us if this post resonates with you.

T.J. Vari & Joe Jones

Mitchell, W. (2015, January 29). 8 Questions Successful People Ask Themselves—That You Should, Too Retrieved from


  1. Pete Leida

    Great thoughts gentlemen! My sentiments and experiences exactly…I’m always trying to get bite-sized and actionable.

  2. Sly

    To me this concept makes tremendous sense and can be applied to many topics such as family. What is holding this concept back from being a best/accepted practice at school though? Thanks for sharing.

    • @tjvari

      We’re held back by fear, for one. Because we don’t/can’t truly evaluate current practices, we tend to add “good” ideas without eliminating something because we fear it might be working.

  3. Sharon Brittingham

    Hopefully, as the pendulum swings the idea of truly inspecting practices and auditing them to see what works will become a reality. Everyone is looking for the magic bullet and there are always companies ready to supply them. Too often we look at what others are doing in totally different circumstances and jump on board, bombard our teachers with the newest, and leave everyone doubting their practices. Common sense does not always prevail in education.


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