Of Note: Breathing Room for a Change

Submitted By:
Jessica May, Klingenstein Center, Teachers College, New York, NY

The Power of Doing Less In Schools by Justin Reich
ASCD Educational Leadership, Vol. 80, No. 2, October 1, 2022

In a new article, author Justin Reich, a learning scientist and professor at MIT, outlines a compelling argument for why schools should – at least for now – do less. Our tendency in schools is to address challenges of all kinds by doing more: adding rules and policies, increasing airtime, and introducing programs or initiatives. But, to succeed, change needs breathing room, and in this moment, educators have no air to spare. To create the conditions in which innovation can succeed, we must practice subtraction. Reich shares real-world examples of, and resources about, subtractive design in schools. He includes the prompting to reduce emails in favor of short phone calls, to remove cumbersome rules to save teachers time and frustration in asking students to remove their hats or hoodies, and to dismantle operational silos that cause staff members to duplicate work. He also examines the challenges: stakeholders invested in a program, idea, or process; social dynamics of our schools and their resistance to change; and a sense that any one subtraction is too small to make a difference. Drawing comparisons to gardening, Reich reminds us that pulling a single weed from a garden won't create the conditions for growth, but sustained, small efforts will make a difference. To create fertile soil for innovation in our schools, we can start by subtracting.

Leadership Practice