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De-implementation: Creating the Space to Focus on What Works

Our education system has a hoarding problem.

Have you ever watched one of those television shows on hoarding and judged the person on the screen? It can be hard to understand how they find so much value in things they rarely or never use. However, we educators then go into our schools and have a list of tasks that we must get done and have meeting after meeting on the next initiative our school district is about to adopt. When we do this, we too are showing signs of accumulating too much.

Why does this happen? Because we attend inspiring conferences, read books, and listen to keynotes about the next big idea. We quickly, often for virtuous reasons, add it to our school repertoire without truly taking time to understand whether we need it or not. This can open the door for a lot of low value practices to take root and pull resources away from more important endeavors.

Low Value Practices

Before you can identify which practices are “low value”, there must be a common language used to define them. What one teacher or leader may consider low value may be of high value to someone else. In an effort to alleviate this issue, researcher Ryan Framer and his colleagues provide criteria for low value by stating they are practices:

  • that have not been shown to be effective and impactful,
  • that are less effective or impactful than another available practice,
  • that cause harm, or
  • that are no longer necessary

This is where de-implementation enters the equation. De-implementation is crucial to how we move forward in education because the practice of de-implementing initiatives, activities and strategies can help us respond to the overwhelm that so many of us educators feel and focus our attention on practices that actually work. (Interestingly, what schools learn as they begin to de-implement is that this is really about how they implement in the first place.)

Overview of the De-implementation Process

De-implementation comes down to two actions, one of which is a partial reduction, and the other is a replacement action (DeWitt. 2022). A partial reduction is an action we do not need to do as often as we currently do them. The low hanging fruit is email. The reality is that we can reduce the number of times we check email, set boundaries to when we do it, and we can get countless hours of our lives back.

A replacement action is often about changing a school-wide ineffective practice to one that is more effective. However, before undertaking such a large change, the de-implementation process would turn your attention to evidence and implementation needs so that this change is one that sticks. For example, a school may decide to shift to standards-based grading if the data show that traditional grading methods are inequitable and muddle results.

Informal and Formal De-implementation

There are two ways to approach de-implementation: informal de-implementation process or a formal de-implementation process (DeWitt. 2022). Informal is something we can do without a team because it doesn’t impact the whole school. Some activities that could be informally de-implemented, depending on context, are:

  • email
  • late worknights
  • committees or meetings
  • producing original teaching resources
  • reviewing all lesson plans
  • assigned homework
  • incident paperwork

On the other hand, changing our grading practices from traditional grading to standards-based grading would be an example of a formal de-implementation process because it involves a team and impacts the whole school community. For that, school teams would have to engage in a de-implementation cycle that includes gathering relevant research, a program logic model, and pacing guides. These steps are necessary because they provide evidence for change and a researched based process for guiding key stakeholders.

Let’s Remember

It has taken us decades to get into this practice of hoarding initiatives, activities, and strategies, which has also increased our workloads, stress, and anxiety. Instead, we can use de-implementation to reduce or abandon things that no longer serve us or our students very well. And in the process, we may actually be able to commit to having a positive impact on our own social-emotional wellbeing.

For more on the process of de-implementation, read Peter Dewitt’s new book De-Implementation: Creating the Space to Focus on What Works coming out this May.


References

DeWitt, P. De-implementation: Creating Space to Focus on What Works. Corwin Press. May, 2022.

Farmer RL, Zaheer I, Duhon GJ, Ghazal S. Reducing Low-Value Practices a Functional-Contextual Consideration to Aid in De-Implementation Efforts. Canadian Journal of School Psychology. 2021;36(2):153-165.

van Bodegom-Vos L, Davidoff F, Marang-van de Mheen PJ. Implementation and de-implementation: two sides of the same coin? BMJ Qual Saf. 2017 Jun;26(6):495-501.

Written by

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is a school leadership coach, workshop facilitator, and he writes the Finding Common Ground blog and hosts the web show A Seat at the Table, both sponsored by Education Week, and moderates the Leaders Coaching Leader podcast with Tanya Ghans for Corwin Press. He is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most , School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy , and Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership. Connect with Peter on Twitter or he can be found at www.petermdewitt.com.

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