The Change Agent

Dr. Douglas Reeves
Author of more than 30 books (including 90/90/90) and 100 articles; founder of Creative Leadership Solutions; worked with education, business, nonprofit, and government organizations throughout the world

The Objective

To detail the work of one school district in managing the Covid crisis through strong leadership and an emphasis on core values.

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Show Notes

Guest Dr. Doug Reeves takes a deep dive into equity, excellence, and student engagement, sharing information on his personal research, common obstacles, best practices, as well as where you can start.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint. Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Episode 9
Title: Equity, Excellence, and Engagement: How can we accomplish it all?
Subtitle: A guide to pursuing exceptional educational outcomes

VoiceOver (00:02):

ChangeAgents in K-12 is presented by SchoolMint and features top educators, practitioners, and leaders sharing research and experiences as well as stories of hope, opportunity, and student success.

Dr. Chris Balow (00:16):

Hello everyone. And welcome to the podcast today. It's my genuine pleasure to have Dr. Doug Reeves as our guest and welcome Dr. Reeves.

Dr. Doug Reeves (00:27):

My pleasure. Good to see you.

Dr. Chris Balow (00:28):

Awesome. Well, let me, let me tell you folks a little bit about Dr. Reeves. Um, actually I could spend probably the next half hour describing the accomplishments and what he's done to serve education, but, uh, Dr. Reeves is the author of more than 40 books and a hundred articles on leadership and education twice named to the Harvard university distinguished author series. Uh, Doug received the contribution to the field award from the national staff development council and was named the Brock international Laureate for his contributions to education. Dr. Reeve's latest book, achieving equity and excellence combined two decades of research on success in schools and synthesizes, the latest and best evidence on the, on the subject. Doug also does a lot of great volunteer work with his group called finish the dissertation where he provides free support to help folks, uh, finish their, uh, their doctoral work. Uh, and also the snafu review I did not know about this doctor is publishing the essays and stories and poetry and artwork of disabled veterans. That that is an awesome cause in and of itself. So, uh, with that again, welcome Dr. Reeves.

Dr. Doug Reeves (01:40):

Thanks. Great to be here.

Dr. Chris Balow (01:41):

Okay, great. Well, let's, let's start off with a few kind of a high level questions, and then we'll kind of dig into these as we go along. So what would you say is the tension between equity and excellence as goals for our schools?

Dr. Doug Reeves (01:57):

Yeah, this has really come to the floor in COVID-19, but has been underneath the surface for many, many years before that. And that is essentially two competing ideas. One that says if we pursue equity, that means that for example, equal opportunities and equal results for every student. And that sounds great on the surface, but what has happened during COVID-19 for example, or a couple of negative parts of that. And that is where people will say, well, gee, if everybody could have access to technology, then nobody should have access to it, which denies the access to technology. And also widens the gap between rich kids and poor kids. Even worse is the tendency to say in the name of equity, let's just give every kid in a or every kid, a pass, which you know, is smelling for economically advantaged kids. They'll always figure out ways to get to college and ways to afford it. But for the economically disadvantaged kid who has now seen scholarship opportunities shrink due to a shrinking economy and shrinking stock market, and the only opportunity they have compete for higher education is to have a transcript that distinguishes them to say, now there's no difference between an a and a D minus pulls the rug right out from under them. So I would argue that equity is not about making everybody identical. Equity is about giving opportunities to every student who needs it, especially economically disadvantaged kids who are trying to distinguish themselves. The other thing that I would say is that there is no contradiction between the commitment to excellence. That is rigor, advanced placement classes, international baccalaureate classes, for example, and equity. And here is what you have traditionally seen. We have this kind of lip service to equity. So for example, now we have a lot of integrated schools, but as soon as those students cross the threshold of the school house, the white kids go into AP classes and the African American and Hispanic kids go into remedial classes. That's not equity. If we really believe in equity, then everybody has an equal shot for those advanced college preparatory classes. And we do whatever we need to do to, to get them ready for them and admit them, not have them segregated, starting literally in elementary schools that by the time they're in high school, the die is cast.

Dr. Chris Balow (04:14):

So your observation is that even at the elementary school, we're seeing this bifurcation of sending groups of kids in one direction and other group in another direction.

Dr. Doug Reeves (04:23):

Absolutely. The determination as to who's going to be in advanced classes is made typically in fourth and fifth grade, by the time they're in middle school, some kids were advanced. Some kids aren't that greases the skids for who's going to be advanced classes and not advanced classes in high school. So very early on, those decisions are made. And so if we really care about equity and high school, we better care about reading and math and literacy in elementary school.

Dr. Chris Balow (04:49):

Yeah. You know, my notion of equity and tell me if I'm wrong is that it's not everybody gets the same thing or everybody gets nothing. It's that people get exactly what they need to achieve the objective. And some, you know, we have, you know, far too many kids coming from impoverished homes and, and with, you know, a number of risk factors and those kids may need more to be on the level footing.

Dr. Doug Reeves (05:15):

Exactly. In other words, it really comes down to the fundamental purpose of education is our job as educators simply to repeat and validate what already happened to them before they came to school, or is it rather to create equity of opportunity now that they're in school and let's get really specific. That means that if the former is true, we're just going to validate economic differences and parental differences and literacy differences that happened before they were in kindergarten. Then no problem. You can just have a set of standards that are admissions tests for the AP classes and international baccalaureate classes in high school and the wealthy kids, the kids who had tutoring, the kids who had parents read to them from infancy will get in. And those who didn't have those won't if by contrast our role is to create opportunities to imbue equity in every turn of a school child's life. Then if you're not ready for an AP class, we don't say she are not ready, sink or swim kid. We say, what do we need to do to get you ready? And interestingly, this is part of what I've tried to make as an argument in this equity and excellence book. And that is if we were to envision ourselves not as public school educators in a high poverty system, where too often kids are sick, segregated long before they come to us. But instead we envisioned ourselves as the leaders and faculty members of a wealthy private school, maybe an international school and parents are paying $50,000 in tuition. And we still have a kid who's not prepared. We wouldn't say sink or swim kid, I guess you're going to flunk. We'd say, Oh my goodness, their parents are paying $50,000 a year. We'll move heaven and earth. We'll get that kid through college. We'll get that kids prepared because after all, that's what rich kids deserve. Right? The fundamental argument of my book is that we ought to be treating every child as if their parents are wealthy. Every child is if we presumed that they would have those advantages.

Dr. Chris Balow (07:16):

Yeah. That's a, that's a wonderful perspective for educators to take. And, you know, I spent 35 years in education and I think that would absolutely be the case. It reminds me years ago when I was working in a school district and we brought up the notion of, uh, of staffing in schools and the, the old bromide was that the staffing ratio was the same at every school that it was, you know, 23.5 FTEs at every school. And when we had discussions that, you know, some of these schools had students, uh, more students from impoverished backgrounds that maybe they should have a lower ratio and, and shift additional resources to those schools and the wealthier schools they could get by maybe with a little higher, uh, teacher ratio. And, and we had, there were great arguments, uh, to that, and this particular scenario the demographics were shifting in, in the district. So some people are having a hard time with that.

Dr. Doug Reeves (08:15):

Well, it's not as bad as all that Chris, it's actually worse.

Dr. Chris Balow (08:18):

Oh, dear.

Dr. Doug Reeves (08:21):

You see the same issue within the same school where you might have an FTE of 23 students per one teacher. But in reality, what it works out is there's 35 kids in remedial, algebra in ninth grade, and there's 11 kids in AP calculus in 12th grade. And so even within the same school, those averages belie the fact that the wealthy get wealthier and the poor get poor by way of the way that we allocate resources. I might add furthermore, that the way teacher assignment policies often happen is that the newest least teacher is assigned those ninth grade remedial algebra classes, or more to the point they're assigned to the schools that are most crowded, most dangerous, and with the least level of support and the teachers with the greatest level of experience who might be able to offer help and support for those students who need it most, they've got the 11 kids in AP calculus.

Dr. Chris Balow (09:18):

Yeah. That that's a, uh, interesting observation and, and perhaps districts should consider ways of, uh, attracting teachers into those kinds of roles. And there, I think there's a lot of things they could do.

Dr. Doug Reeves (09:31):

Yeah. And Chris, before your listeners start throwing apples and tomatoes at our computer screen. Let me just say the following. I am fully aware of highly experienced teachers who thank God are willing to be in high poverty schools are willing to take on those most challenging classes. And I'm so grateful that they are there. But I must say to the administrators, listening to this podcast, heroism is not a strategy. So yes, I know we've got amazing teachers and amazing people who do on a volunteer basis. Great things. But the answer to this dilemma is not voluntary hero ism. Cause we burned those people out with that to a sender. The answer is a systemic approach that provides Chris, as you suggest incentives, maybe not just money, but maybe an extra, an extra planning period so that they can call home so they can meet with students and give them the support that they need. There's all kinds of incentives that if we'll simply have an open dialogue with our colleagues in the classroom, we can talk about, but, but please for going to say, don't let the individual hero ism, the Jaime Escalante is of this world a be your plan.

Dr. Chris Balow (10:37):

Yeah. That makes great sense. You know, as a licensed psychologist, I'm always worked with kids with social, emotional, mental health needs over the years. And do you see an equities in that arena in terms of the available resources for kids that have these, these accumulated traumas and so forth in their life?

Dr. Doug Reeves (10:58):

No, it's interesting to me that there is a linear relationship between the increase in trauma informed care workshops going on all around the country and the increase in social and emotional learning emphasis and the decrease in allocations for social workers and therapists at the school site. I wonder if those two things might be related. The truth is there is more well before COVID-19, but particularly now higher degrees of trauma, higher degrees of children being supervised by other children are not being supervised at all higher degrees of abuse. And we're crazy if we think that a three hour workshop on social and emotional learning or trauma informed care fixes that, or if a teacher who is a veteran social studies teacher and deeply committed to children is going to learn how to deal with trauma in a three hour workshop. We need people who are specialists in support, psychological support, trauma support, both psychologists and social workers at the school sites. And I fear that with impending budget cuts too many schools regard that as expendable.

Dr. Chris Balow (12:05):

Yeah, I definitely would agree. And to me that is going to exacerbate the inequities. You know, the, the wealthy kids they're, they're probably being cared for quite well during the pandemic and our kids. Um, in more trying circumstances are going to be really struggling. And I saw one study out of California where they think there's going to be a one-third, uh, increase in the number of kids with mental health issues that really need treatment.

Dr. Doug Reeves (12:37):

So interesting that you had mentioned that Chris, because I just had an Op ed piece rejected by the LA times on this very issue saying that kids are actually safer in school. They're better fed their emotional care is higher. Their learning is better in school than at home. And people just don't want to hear that. I realized there's risks in school, but the truth is they're much, much better off there. Uh, just put note to our audience said, I bet we have a lot of people who themselves are writers and they're thinking, gosh, dang, Doug grieves has written more than a hundred articles and he's still getting rejected. You're not getting rejected. You're not a writer. So I'll confess to you openly. I get rejected every week and that's why I've got so much published.

Dr. Chris Balow (13:18):

Wow. Well, that's a, that's encouraging for us that struggle with that sometimes. Thanks Doug. Next question. What is the evidence that forms the basis of your work in equity and excellence?

Dr. Doug Reeves (13:31):

So it's, it's interesting. This, this work started quite some time ago with the so-called 90, 90, 90 schools with a collection of schools that were 90% poverty, 90% ethnic minority enrollment in 90% meeting or exceeding state standards. And the important part of that study was it because I had a large group of schools, about 160 of them, so that they had the same budget, the same per people funding, the same teacher assignment policies, the same union contract, the same everything. And yet some were performing at high levels in many were not. So what distinguished those 90, 90, 90 schools, if I could summarize in one phrase it was practices, not programs. So a lot of times when people have seen is success documented in a high poverty school, they'll say, well, those kids had had more money or they had a different union contractor. They were a charter school or this or that. No, these were all public schools with the same money, the same union contract, the same assignment policies, the differences were practices, not programs, practices, not financial allocation practices, not union contracts. So two things emerged from that research. Number one, was it just a flash in the pan or was it replicable? And it turned out that we were able in a course of years to triple the number of those 90, 90, 90 schools. So it demonstrated that, that it was replicable in this latest work published in 2020. What we also learned is that I'm not a voice in the wilderness here. I'm deeply indebted discovers like Karen Chenowith of ed trust of Heather's. [inaudible] many other scholars who have written on the same subject, but approach it from a different methodological standpoint and come to strikingly similar conclusions, a huge shout out to Steven Graham, formerly of Vanderbilt. Now at Arizona state, uh, who has documented the leverage point of nonfiction writing, helping in math science, social studies. One of my earlier findings was that these 90, 90, 90 schools tended to do more nonfiction writing. Whereas the 90, 90 10 that is high poverty, low performing schools tended to do lots of haikus and fantasy and fiction, but weren't, we're not having kids writing to describe, to compare and to evaluate. So when you have different scholars operating completely independently, coming to very similar, if not identical conclusions, that's the stuff you can take to the bank. I think the value of this new book is not me. The value is the synthesis of the evidence of many different people.

Dr. Chris Balow (16:05):

Yeah, it's interesting. You mentioned Dr. Graham at Arizona state, I've had conversations with him and the research is fascinating to me that argumentative writing, as you call nonfiction, really inculcates, critical thinking skills. You have to take a position one way or the other and defend it with evidence and data. And what's amazing is that the studies show that that will increase reading skills and comprehension just by writing. And so that's just one of those powerful practices that we need more of.

Dr. Doug Reeves (16:37):

So this is a really important point, particularly for our listeners who are working with students who may be learning English and may not be speaking English at home, a misconception about language development is that it's first you speak, then you read and then maybe if we get around to it, right, but as Stephen Graham's and my own research has indicated that language development is holistic. It's not linear. In other words, just exactly, as you said, Chris, being able to write is a key to improving the way that we express ourselves verbally, the way that we express ourselves in writing and the way that we understand reading comprehension. Moreover, Steve, Steve Graham's research and mine are quite clear that this has crossed disciplinary application. The nonfiction writing helps in math, in science and social studies that is especially important to our listeners because right now they're going into a school year where they're trying to make up for six months of lost learning. They cannot possibly cover every standard. So what they have to do is embrace what I've called power standards in nonfiction writing is a great example, pushing that one lever of nonfiction writing. It has an implication in math, science, social studies.

Dr. Chris Balow (17:50):

Absolutely. And one of the findings I read too, from the research of Dr. Graham is that argumentative writing where students have to take a position, helps engage them. And so they, they buy in and they own the topic. And, and I know you, and that kind of brings up another topic. Um, you've talked about this a lot student engagement and what are some of those, those practices that, that schools can engage in to deal with the problem of student engagement?

Dr. Doug Reeves (18:20):

Well, um, since you we'll just close the loop on writing for a second, I ran an elementary club newspaper club for five years and then middle school and then high school. And I will tell you kids like being famous, uh, kids like having their name on the newspaper, whether it's an electronic newspaper or whether it's a physical one. And so when parents would tell me, Oh, they'll only do fiction. They'll only do poetry. That's bologna my friends. They will do point counterpoint. They'll do editorials, video reviews, game reviews, book reviews, movie reviews. They love that stuff. And so, uh, one way of engaging them is to let them be famous. As I say, and frankly, what I also observed is it, student editors are tougher on each other than we are. As teachers they'll do four or five drafts of something to get published in the newspaper and might find it onerous to do one extra graph for me also. So recognition is one thing, but you know, there's some interesting research on this. And as a psychologist, Chris, you know this better than I do. There's a lot of research about the power of choice. I get that, you know, about fame, that identity, I get that. But the number one motivator, particularly for our preadolescence and adolescence is competence. They want to feel good at something. And the one number one de-motivator is feeling incompetent in front of my friends. So why is it that students will play video games for hours on end? They don't start being competent at those things. My goodness, they die at the end of those violent games and they don't give up saying, gee, I guess I'm just not cut out to be an electronic game player. They come back again and again and again, because they get feedback that lets them in the parlance of gaming, get to the next level. So my job is a teacher is to make sure that I'm conducting my feedback in my class. So clear, so incremental, so fast that it's like an electronic game and they get that paper back. They get that math problem that they get that lab report back saying, what do I need to do to get to the next level? So that feeling of competence in getting to the next level, I want to give a shout out to a Teresa [inaudible] of the Harvard business school. She is the author of the progress principle, and she's outlined beautifully how both students and adults respond far more to daily progress, even minute by minute and hourly progress than they do to the traditional annual performance review or end of semester grade card. So we gotta make sure we're letting students get progress just like an game does.

Dr. Chris Balow (20:48):

Absolutely. And, and so what I'm hearing is that improvement is, is really the goal versus just, you know, mastery. I'm not going to give reinforcement or feedback until you receive mastery.

Dr. Doug Reeves (20:59):

That's the problem with a lot of, of grades, frankly, is it's, it's like climbing Mount Everest. If I'm having trouble writing sentences. Now how in the heck am I going to ever write a paragraph, but thoughtful teachers. And I'll tell you who are real brilliant leaders are, this is our special educators. Our special educators are used to taking what G Doug thought this was one problem. They'll say no Doug for my students. It's really five or six different problems that you got to incrementalize and break down into small groups. Having learned that for my special ed colleagues, I would argue that's not special ed that's good ed, something that all of us ought to be doing. So it's not climbing Mount Everest, but just taking the next step. The next step. The next step.

Dr. Chris Balow (21:39):

I know Dr. Reeves, you've written a lot and done a lot of research around grading policies. And one of the things I've heard you talk about, which is fascinating to me is how grading practices can demotivate students and disengage them and really give them a sense of futility.

Dr. Doug Reeves (21:59):

It really does. And, and I just want to, before people shut down, whenever they hear the word grading reform assure you, I'm not trying to do fruit basket upset here. I've learned from the grading Wars than if you try to change the whole system, your superintendent is going to get fired and your board members will get, have people run against them because grading reform, as we all know, is the instrument of Satan. So they'll all fight against you. So let me be more modest in my approach. The only thing I'm asking you to do is to make grades accurate and the way that you make them accurate, as well as motivating as Chris says is to get rid of the average. If you get rid of the average and you use the latest and best evidence and let let's use our most recent COVID-19 experience here, if we have students who are doing really well in January and February, and then missed a bunch of assignments in March, April and may. And, and I've heard just as recently as yesterday, teacher said, they're going to get zeros for those assignments. You want to know what's going to happen now at the end of the semester, why try, why do anything I've already failed? And I see students every year, not just in a pandemic year like now, but every year in April and inmate, they just give up because they say, you know, I've made so many mistakes. There's no way I can dig out of this. I've got nothing to do, except make my teachers and administrators live miserable. And friends look at your records. Your biggest discipline problems are April and may when kids have simply checked out. If they come to school at all, they're coming there to make trouble. So here's a better way. My best days as a teacher are when students have these breakthrough points, they're practicing resilience. If you can envision this, it's struggled, struggled, struggled, breakthrough. And it's those breakthroughs that are my best days as a teacher. Now, if I really want to reward and encourage those breakthrough days, why would I in their final grade punish them for the struggle parts? The struggle is the path to the breakthrough. And so we really want to have grades motivating instead of de-motivating, we use latest and best evidence, not the average. If you could just make that one change, that would be dramatic improvements in your system. And all you gotta do is disabled that automated average system that your electronic systems too often use.

Dr. Chris Balow (24:19):

Yeah. Great, great advice. And, and it really underpins the psychological aspects of motivation and engagement. It really, really supports that. Well, Doug, what are the foremost challenges to leaders, uh, in terms of implementing some of these best practices.

Dr. Doug Reeves (24:36):

The number one challenge, and actually this is the subject of another new book coming out in 2021 is a failed model of change leadership. You know, I'm challenging people in the course of this book to really implement, not just changes in grading policies, but in feedback and teaching in the way that our administrators give feedback to teachers and so on. And the biggest failure of old change leadership philosophies is, well, first you got to get buy in from everybody. And then we can make the change friends. If you wait for buy in, you will never change. And my friend, Tom Guskey wrote a brilliant article in the April issue of the learning professional on the subject. And Tom and I have both spoken jointly about this. And that is the old method of change was first, get everybody to buy in to believe. Then you do a few experiments and then, you know, then change happens. It's the opposite. First of all, you have the practices even before there's buying it. And I'm honest with teachers about this. I'm not asking you to body it, you may not believe that that Steve Graham is right about this writing, helping you in social studies and science and math. So I'm not asking you to believe it. I'm asking you to do it. And then let's observe together the results of that. And then once we see evidence, then we'll have buy-in. So it's practiced and then observation, and then buy in, not buy in first, that, that is the greatest inhibitor to change because I guarantee you people listening to this podcast, you think, no, Doug, you got to get buy in from everybody first 10 years from now. We'll still be trying to get it done.

Dr. Chris Balow (26:10):

Yeah, I, boy, I've seen that so many times in over the years. Um, and I think I'm assuming Doug, that in that model of change leadership that you have to hold people accountable.

Dr. Doug Reeves (26:24):

I and I do so with a gentle hand, you know, I, I role play with this in front of teachers and say, uh, because let's just stay with the writing example. People with content responsibilities are busy folks. They say, Doug, man, I've already got a math curriculum. I already got a science and social studies curriculum. I already an art curriculum. So now you're telling me I've got a right. And so I do a couple of things. Number one, we're not going to ask Doug the math teacher, did you voice, okay? It's not six trait writing for Doug, the math teacher or for Eileen, the science teacher. And so on. We're going to really narrow this down to just content inform. It's gotta be relevant. The way I've seen this work best is you choose the day. You choose the prompt. So it's directly supportive of your curriculum. But once a month, let's take 20 minutes and do some nonfiction writing. That's not overwhelmingly an imposition. And I also say, and I completely respect the fact that we disagree about this. I'm not asking you for buying. I'm not going to engage in this staff development fallacy of bringing the right inspirational speaker. And then everybody puts their Palm in their forehead and automatically says, Oh, now I've seen the light. Now I agree. Look, I respect the fact that we disagree. So I'm not asking you to believe it. I'm asking for a fair shot and then let us together evaluate the evidence. I think that's a really respectful way to deal with disagreements with faculty. It's not heavy handed and, uh, it is a reasonable way and it doesn't just hold them accountable, holds me accountable as well. What, what if the results don't work? And I will tell you, I, I did this with some California educators on grading and they, they set up, they say, Doug, we just think you are completely full of bologna on this, getting rid of the average and upgrading homework and all this stuff. But we're science educators. We believe in experimentation. We'll try it. And if you're wrong, we want you to stand up and accept the ridicule that you originally deserved. And if we're right, you know, if you're right, we'll admit it. And it was so persuasive for these veteran educators, strong union members to stand up and say, we're the type of people who sat in the back row of Doug's presentations with our arms folded and our legs crossed, say we don't, but we'll try it anyway. And it worked to have those people talk about what worked that's, how change really happens.

Dr. Chris Balow (28:47):

Now that that's, uh, that's really fascinating. You know, I think a lot of change leadership books over the years have talked about different categories of people willing to change. And there's, you know, the persuadable and the, you know, the people are really dug in, but I love that approach where tell those people stay skeptical, but if you implement it with fidelity, um, we'll have data to validate whether I'm right or wrong as a leader. And that gives people power and they're gonna, you know, they're, they may work the plan. That's great.

Dr. Doug Reeves (29:19):

It's deeply respectful of teachers. And that's certainly how I hope I come across. I would Chris say that there's a difference between a skeptic and a cynic, that the skeptic is somebody who just wants evidence. Cause they've been burned on 20 previous initiatives that some leader was exposed, all excited about and it never came to fruition. So a skeptic I value a skeptic is what brought us. The enlightenment skeptic brought us scientific discoveries. They just want to see evidence and I'm all on their side on this. And I'm always willing to be wrong when I'm wrong. That's how I learned to the cynic. As somebody who says, I don't care what the evidence says, I'm just against you. No matter what. And I don't have a lot of time for cynics but the skeptics, most teachers are and they deserve to be, you know, I'll find common ground with a skeptic every time

Dr. Chris Balow (30:05):

I love that. Differentiation. Thanks, Doug. You know, I hear, and I know you've talked about this a lot across the country that we're overwhelmed with initiatives. And if we take on this notion of equity and excellence, how do we, how do we deal with that?

Dr. Doug Reeves (30:21):

Well, one of the things that I recommend in that book, as well as another book that came out in 2020 coauthored with Bob Baker called hundred day leaders is the following. You have to take initiative inventory. And that means listening every initiative that you've got. And when I've done this in school systems, and I do this a lot sometimes at the state level, sometimes at our districts, sometimes at a school level, what I find is that the leaders will say, here are our initiatives. And when I interviewed the teachers, it's a list that's about three times that month. And that's, that's nothing, no adverse comment on the leadership. It just means that from a teacher's perspective, they have the leaders, initiatives and the leaders predecessors and the predecessors predecessors. And it keeps going back so that the teacher's perspective of the initiative burden the initiative fatigue is dramatically greater than the leader's perspective. So that's step one, conduct an initiative inventory. Step two, we create these a four level initiative implementation rubrics. In other words, like level one might be, we got the stuff delivered rate. You got to deliver a number two. Well, we got delivery and some training about how to use it. Great, but I've seen a lot of that nowhere. Well, we got the stuff delivered. We got the training and level three is, and there's evidence of implementation in the classroom. That's better. And level four would be got the stuff. We got the training. We have evidence of implementation of the classroom and we have evidence of impact on student learning. And what I've learned is in every initiative, you have some people at level one, some at level two, some at level three, some at level four and in a time of tight economic circumstances, everybody listening to this podcast is facing budget cuts right now, the easiest budget cuts you will ever make is the money you're spending on things that nobody is using. And there was a study just out this year, two thirds of instructional technology initiatives. You're paying a per student licensing fee for these things. I was a district where four out of 4,000, we're using it when I can go into the superintendent's office and say, you know what? You're paying for every student to use this. May I please save you a hundred thousand dollars? You'd think they'd say, thanks, Doug. A heck of a lot. Instead what they say is, Oh, but, but somebody here really needs that. And, and so what I've learned is when it comes to unburdening schools and districts have initiatives, every Turkey has a champion, no matter how unused or worthless some initiative may be, you've got to have a superintendent strong enough to say, even though there's an advocate for that who wanted it five years ago and can't pull the plug, you got to pull the plug .

Dr. Chris Balow (33:11):

I also notice and comment on this, that in terms of this, all these initiatives and, you know, some districts have strategic plans that are 50 pages long and so forth. It seems like it's pretty tough to implement. The other thing is that teachers, I think have a hard time seeing how all the different initiatives fit together to them. It may seem that we've got 10 things, but, but they actually come together as a package. And do you see it? Administrators have a hard time articulating that

Dr. Doug Reeves (33:43):

They, they, they do. And let me, and part of the reason is, is that it's not just that they don't articulate it it's that they really don't fit together. For example, I have, and this is directly related to grant money. When in the race to the top, uh, era of several years ago, people would simply buy whatever came out. And I was in districts that had incompatible in competing literacy programs that had duplicative data analysis programs. So here in 2020, we have cares money coming out and that could be spent to build capacity, but I guarantee you what a lot of districts are going to do is to buy one program after another, that defies the evidence that says it's practices, not programs for goodness sake leaders. I implore you before you spend money on programs. Think about building the capacity of your faculty and think about conducting initiative inventory first. That's the sort of thing that I think can really save people money and B help you be good stewards of the, of the funds that you've got.

Dr. Chris Balow (34:46):

Yeah. I think a great example of that is a social, emotional learning area. The vendors have been creating these SEL packages just in mass and districts are buying them without really thinking about the science involved in, in developing and building social, emotional learning competencies in students.

Dr. Doug Reeves (35:09):

Yes. And if I really want to spend the money wisely to build capacity, I'd be investing in time for both teachers and students to actually implement those things. Not just superficial access to software and training programs.

Dr. Chris Balow (35:27):

Yeah, exactly. Well, Doug, we're, we're close to wrapping up one final question. So I think you've shared some great tips and information for folks, but if, if I'm district leader school leader, where do I start? If there's just a few things that I could do, what, where should I begin?

Dr. Doug Reeves (35:45):

I think the most important thing is to be really clear about my values and goals. I think we're much better at creating these Stalinist five-year plans than we are saying, what do I need to do in the next 100 days into the next 100 days? I think, especially now when there's so much uncertainty, are we going to be at school live or are we going to be in a blended environment? Are we going to even open, open up at all? But I've asked leaders to say is, start by articulating your whatever standards, whatever, whether we're open, whether we're closed, whether we're blended, here's the sort of things that I can promise you we'll do. For example, we'll have power standards. We're going to narrow down the focus of what teachers are expected to teach. And students are expected to learn. We're going to have multidisciplinary collaboration between teachers. I'm a big advocate of professional learning communities, but I would add even if you're already doing PLCs and I respect that a lot of people are, let me just offer two ideas. Number one is what I've called. Question zero. So question one. What do we want students to learn? Question two. How do we know if they've learned it? Question three. What do we do if they have question four, if they have not question four, what do we do? If they have questions? Zero is what are the physical medical and emotional barriers to learning that we need to address first, if we don't address question zero, then all the time we spend on questions, one, two, three, and four are futile. So question zero. And secondly, review the article that Rick before the last one that he wrote before he passed away roadie co-wrote with me called the futility of PLC light. And frankly, a lot of people are investing a lot of energy and time in what Rick and I called PLC light rather than deep implementation. So those might be a few places to start. I would also tell you, Chris, that we are offering a ton of free videos and articles, webinars that are all free, uh, that we're offering around the world. So I hope people will consider taking advantage of those as well.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:49):

Absolutely. And we'll post all of that to the podcast. Um, I love that question zero. Um, it reminds me of, uh, the work of Howard Edelman and Linda Taylor at UCLA around learning supports where you, you really have to understand those physical, emotional barriers that that kids have before you can address some of those other things. So that that's fantastic. Well, Doug, thanks again so much for sharing your time with us. But before you go, you have to participate in our game of this or that. And it's very simple. I just say two things and you tell us what you prefer and you can, uh, tell us the, the reasoning behind that if you wish, but there's no requirement to do that. Let's start with an easy one dog or cat?

Dr. Doug Reeves (38:37):


Dr. Chris Balow (38:37):

Dogs. Okay. Cake or pie?

Dr. Doug Reeves (38:40):

Pie. Especially Blueberry Pie.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:43):

There you go. And that's relatively healthy, right? With the antioxidants. Are you a big party person or a small gathering type of guy?

Dr. Doug Reeves (38:52):

A small gathering.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:52):

Small gathering. That seems to be pretty consistent with the educational leaders I've talked to.

Dr. Doug Reeves (38:58):

Well, what, when you, when you spend time speaking to a thousand people, uh, as I do in an audience, it's I really prefer the company of small groups of friends.

Dr. Chris Balow (39:08):

Okay. Okay. On the exercise front, do you prefer jogging or hiking?

Dr. Doug Reeves (39:14):


Dr. Chris Balow (39:14):

Jogging. Okay. And I know I actually, I remember you've run marathons before.

Dr. Doug Reeves (39:18):

I have, seven of them.

Dr. Chris Balow (39:20):

Oh my goodness. My daughter's a marathoner. In fact, I know you live in Boston. She ran Boston two years ago in the cold rain. It was not pleasant. Okay. Hamburger or taco?

Dr. Doug Reeves (39:34):


Dr. Chris Balow (39:34):

Tacos. Are you a car person or a truck person?

Dr. Doug Reeves (39:39):

Neither I walk, I actually haven't had a car for 10 years.

Dr. Chris Balow (39:43):

Oh, well, you're lucky you, you don't have to deal with that. Uh, I think I know the answer to this one TV or book?

Dr. Doug Reeves (39:52):

Book, and I, I listened to I'm at phonetic. I love listening to books when I'm walking, when I'm sleeping all the time.

Dr. Chris Balow (40:00):

I assume that's the case because you are up on the research Mac or PC?

Dr. Doug Reeves (40:06):


Dr. Chris Balow (40:07):

Mac. Okay, me too. Last question, everyone gets, this gets this question. It's critical toilet paper over or under?

Dr. Doug Reeves (40:17):

Oh, you know, there's an MIT study on this seriously, and this will date me, but people of a certain age will remember that Ann Landers had that. And the, uh, uh, in, in one of the introductory engineering classes that, that was proposed to the class. And I sort of said, I will give an aid to the person who accurately answers this question. And the answer is under.

Dr. Chris Balow (40:40):

Under, Oh, you're kidding. It's interesting. Um, everyone said over. but MIT says it should be under.

Dr. Doug Reeves (40:48):

That's right.

Dr. Chris Balow (40:49):

Well, that's, that's a powerful learning today.

Dr. Doug Reeves (40:53):

May or may not be based on my friends from MIT, the, uh, the most authoritative source, but at least that's what the engineers say.

Dr. Chris Balow (41:01):

Awesome. Awesome. Well, Dr. Reeves again, thank you for sharing your, your knowledge and expertise with all of us here today. Have a great day.

Dr. Doug Reeves (41:11):

It's my pleasure.

VoiceOver (41:13):

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