Thursday, July 11, 2013

Necessary Endings

Just about a month ago, I had the family dog put down. The dog had been sick for some time, and it wasn't getting any better regardless of how much time, energy and money we devoted to treating the dog. It became clear to me what the only course of action could and should be - a necessary ending.

About a month before the dog fiasco, I heard Dr. Henry Cloud speak about necessary endings, a phrase he coined to match a scenario that many others have discovered. Dr. Cloud spoke about necessary endings within organizations and businesses, of course, and not about designer-breed dogs with auto-immune system diseases. The same principle applies, though. A time will come in organizations and businesses when leadership must prune away things that are sick and dying. A time will come when leadership must make a tough call that may be temporarily painful but best for the organization in the long run.

The idea of necessary endings certainly applies to schools. Two examples from my career come to mind, examples from two different schools at different times. Nevertheless, the examples seem eerily similar. In one school, an AP Stats course stumbled along every year, barely making because of low student interest and never producing quality results. In another, a French program consisting of four different classes dwindled every year in both enrollment and quality of results. After much deliberation, leadership decided on necessary endings for both the AP Stats course and for the entire French program.

Were these difficult decisions? Yes, especially if we looked at the scenarios telescopically rather than globally. No, when we considered the human and financial resources being drained only to yield poor results, and when we asked, "What's best for kids?"

If you are in educational leadership, you should be looking for opportunities to prune constantly. Still teaching Lotus 123? Time for that to go. Still teaching keyboarding on typewriters? It's time. Still paying that employee a full-time salary to teach ten kids when everyone else in the building teaches 80, 90 or more? Yep, it's probably time. This concept also applies to faculty and when it's time for some of them to go, but that's a whole different post.

Keep your pruning shears handy and take a look around when you get back to school in August. You won't be able to prune in August for the 2013-14 school year, but you can start planning for the following year.


Darcy Hill said...

Fear seems to be the heel-dragging enemy of change, and as a teacher of 30 years, technology evoked paralyzing amounts of fear, at least in this mind. Retirement seemed the best answer. Retirement or signing up for that online Masters Degree bucket list item and embrace the change. Now, with the degree in hand, tech skills on the upswing, and a fear replaced by willingness, I am not quite ready to retire if they will still have me. Your article is spot on. Thank you for your great articulation of what has become a huge elephant in the living room. Darcy Hill

Jim said...

Pruning is a necessary and important part of just about any place of work. The fear might be somewhat avoided if pruning was done collaboratively and those most affected (the ones possibly losing their jobs) could have their say and fight for their cause.
Seems a much more democratic way than just being hauled into the administration's office and being notified of the decision.

Nathan Barber said...

If leadership has done its job correctly, anyone affected by pruning will not be "dragged in" and surprised. Rather, anyone affected would know such a move was somewhere over the horizon. Such was the case in both scenarios described in this post.