The Power of ‘No’

“Unweeded soil undoubtedly grows wondrous things that nobody can predict. Such things we have in abundance, but it would be a rash man who would call it a harvest.” – Jacques Barzun, Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, p.27.

Schools can be breeding grounds for well-intentioned distractions.  Everyday it seems, a new task is added to the list of what schools are supposed to achieve collectively, and what individual teachers are asked to do in their classrooms.  Each new problem of adolescence, or new technological product, brings a call to build new programming.

We act as though adding is more important than perfecting; a school that boasts more ought to be better, we think.

The reason for confusing more with better is not obvious.  My guess: it seems disloyal or lazy (or worse, opposed to the success of children) if one suggests a reduction in programming.  But I think those most loyal to the core principles of a school are often very careful about cluttering up our practice.

It’s likely we could achieve more of what matters by doing less of what doesn’t.

We do ourselves a favour if when we walk around our campus each day, we ask ourselves:

– Do we need to do X?

– Is X advancing our mission, or is it merely a well-intentioned distraction?

– What does it take to do X, and what could we be doing instead?

– And maybe most important: How can we tell the difference between core practices and distractions? (Sadly, I think even in the best schools, faculty and leadership would not share a coherent idea of what the school’s core mission is.)

The Power of ‘No’

Sometimes we need to say “no”; doing so is often the most loyal, committed thing a person can do.  We would do well to heed the lesson of opportunity cost, and ensure that we don’t succumb to conspicuous program inflation that sometimes grips our schools.

We need to beware our voice finding expression only in the celebration of mere increase rather than the slow and steady perfection of teaching and learning.

If you could drop three things from your schools, what would they be? And what could we spend that energy on instead?