Administration & Leadership

Avoiding Initiative Fatigue

Here’s how a group of educators came together to ensure that they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by initiatives, to keep the joy in teaching.

June 18, 2024
Delmaine Donson / iStock

As someone who has been teaching high school English for 25 years, I understand the eyes that start rolling in a staff meeting when a new initiative is announced. Author and educator Douglas Reeves, writer of several articles and books on educational leadership and student achievement, explains teachers’ attitude with his “law of initiative fatigue”: “When the number of initiatives increases while time, resources, and emotional energy are constant, then each new initiative—no matter how well conceived or well intentioned—will receive fewer minutes, dollars, and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors."  

So, how do we roll out new ideas without exhausting the passion that educators have for improving student learning? A group of teachers and administrators at my school have discovered a way to empower us not only to try out new ideas, but also to support each other in developing these initiatives in relevant and sustainable ways. 

I work at a rural high school in Northern California that has dealt with a number of challenges, including some of the highest Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) scores in the country, a 2018 wildfire that devastated the community, and the subsequent disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While this has, of course, been very difficult for students and staff alike, it has also acted as a powerful catalyst for change. As a result of trauma and related factors, disruptive and apathetic student behaviors surged at our school, and we needed solutions. While we still have much more work to do, our efforts have yielded some incredible results; here’s what I’ve learned five years into the process.

Teacher Generated and Led

Our first collaborative group came together almost organically, as we sought community for implementing the social and emotional learning (SEL) skills and tools in Yale’s RULER program. We decided to meet once a month, calling ourselves “Connected Group”—12 teachers from across the curriculum with a range of experience from first year to more than 20 years—and I dug into the RULER (an acronym for the five skills of emotional intelligence) and CASEL websites, searching for strategies to connect with our students.

While our administrators supported us—showing how much they valued our time by securing an hour of pay per month for those who wanted to participate—they didn’t plan or run the meetings. I created an agenda for each meeting, in which we learned and practiced SEL and RULER strategies, as well as reflecting on how the strategies we had learned in previous meetings were working in our classes.

While the agenda was set on SEL, the meetings quickly became a place to share our struggles and successes in our classroom—and to seek solutions together. We realized that we weren’t alone, and our motivation sprang not from something we were told to do, but from working together to tackle real issues we encountered daily and seeing our efforts create visible improvement in our classrooms.

Making Things Happen with Improvement Science 

Other than the knowledge that we were not alone in our work to improve student learning, one of the most motivating factors was using improvement science in our process. A few of my colleagues, one of our school principals, and I participate in a grant group—Northern California Educational Leadership Consortium, which gives us the opportunity to learn and practice the plan, do, study, act (PDSA) cycle for organizational learning and improvement. This cycle includes several protocols and graphic organizers that helped us focus our aim for improvement, decide on what action to take, and then analyze specific data to see if our small test of change had an effect on the problem of practice we were seeking to solve. 

The magic of this process is that we’re able to break out of the usual pitfall of simply admiring the problem and actually see in concrete terms that our actions have resulted in improvement. This systems thinking has also started to spread to other groups. 

Spreading to the Larger School Community

As the educators in our Connected Group experienced success in learning and implementing SEL strategies in our classroom, we decided that we shouldn’t be the only beneficiaries of our learning.

We asked our administrators if we could have a few minutes in our whole-staff meetings and then proceeded to introduce our colleagues to the techniques we had seen work so well in our own classrooms. Our fellow teachers were more receptive because the ideas weren’t being presented as a top-down directive but rather as a sharing of resources, and our meetings were more productive because the SEL techniques that work with students are also good practice with adults. 

This school year, a teacher at our high school, concerned about another problem on our campus, decided to start a group focused on finding solutions for bullying. Using the tools we’d practiced in our Connected Group to address staff social and emotional well-being, we tested out an empathy curriculum with our ninth-grade students, and from the impact we saw in the data, we decided to expand on the teaching next fall. 

Unexpected and Unlimited Ripples

We’ve just started to see the benefits of our collaborative experiment. Among other things, teachers at our school have articulated plans for next school year to work on issues of equity, assessment, attendance, and school spirit. I also recently tried out an online version of the Connected Group with teachers from Crete, Greece, and it resonated just as much with them as it did with my California colleagues.

It turns out that teachers everywhere benefit from developing a community of colleagues to learn, grow, and thrive with; and in attempting to find a way to surmount the barriers we were encountering as a result of trauma, our staff has managed to create a structure that has implications for improving learning in any setting.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Administration & Leadership
  • Teacher Collaboration

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.