[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]
Jocko Willink spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy and commanded SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser. He’s famous for saying “Discipline equals freedom.” What does this mean? I believe, and Tim Ferriss interprets this similarly in his book Tools of Titans, that constraints are a positive force in one’s work.
Even though many educators say they want complete freedom when working collaboratively, I’m positive it’s not what’s best for longterm productivity. The Paradox of Choice causes paralysis (e.g., What should we do now? What should we do next week? What’s expected of us?). Having an extremely simple pre-scheduled strategy provides a better sense of agency and freedom. The biggest caveat is you need the right strategy or protocol for this to truly work. Otherwise the discipline of keeping it simple will vanish.
So here’s a strategy that will work in every collaborative situation.
Or, simply put, EAA.
That’s it! That’s all you and your teachers need to remember. EAA. Evidence. Analysis. Action. This handy little acronym will serve you and your staff well. Everything you do collaboratively on a campus can be encapsulated in EAA. Before we get to how you can use it, here are some reasons why I personally like it so much.
- EAA eliminates choice. The Paradox of Choice will not torment a team.
- EAA does away with the overwhelming reality that there are so many protocols out there. So many! Why not make it easy on yourself and just pick one.
- EAA is easy to remember. You need something that teachers and administrators can instantly remember. We all know the motto for Nike. We know the motto for McDonalds. We know what a Coca-Cola bottle looks like. We know the main Disney characters by name. These are marketing tools that are ingrained in our minds so we can easily recall them, have a positive emotion, and spend our money. Likewise, you need a strategy with a rememberable name that everyone can use to conduct business. EAA fits the bill.
- EAA is simple… especially after a long (and potentially emotionally draining) day of teaching. To provide lengthy and complicated strategies and protocols at the end of the day for teachers to navigate after they’ve already taught, planned, organized, disciplined, (and a lot more) is asking for failure. I can’t tell you how frustrated I am when I’m in a meeting full of administrators and they discuss how teachers need to use this protocol and that protocol for students to succeed. I try explaining that the best path is to give teachers an easy strategy they can use in many different situations. In this way, they don’t have to search through binders or their Google Drives for various protocols. They don’t have to make multiple decisions at the end of an already draining day. Instead, they can simply sketch out EAA on a doc or a piece of binder paper and go to town.
I like the following example Chip Heath and Dan Heath give in their book Switch. They discuss the U.S. government’s Food Pyramid. I’ll let them explain one of the reasons why it was such a terrible idea:
“Let’s start with the pyramid shape. A pyramid signifies hierarchy, yet no hierarchy is evident in the Food Pyramid. The first version of it displayed rows of food, one row on top of the next, with grains at the bottom and oils at the top. Some people interpreted this arrangement to mean that oils were the most important food group. (Whoops.) The revised version… abandoned that construct for vertical-ish streaks of color intended to eliminate any implied ranking. What this means is that the pyramid structure itself has no meaning whatsoever. The Food Pyramid might as well be a Food Rhombus or a Food Rooster.”
There were a lot of problems with the Food Pyramid, and it’s easy to see how confusing it was to use the image for anything constructive. The Food Pyramid didn’t bring anything concrete to mind. On the other hand, the Nike swoosh makes you think “Just do it.” The Golden Arches (notice I didn’t even need to say the “M” for McDonald’s) makes you think about “lovin it.”
In addition, the Food Pyramid was just plain hard to use. As stated before, it’s confusing, which means people had a lot of questions and were never sure if they were using it correctly. In addition, it was hard to remember, and people need something that sticks with them if they’re going to internalize it and use it consistently.
EAA brings a clear, concrete idea to mind of how to use it. Not only is it easy to use, it’s easy to remember. Once you memorize the letters “EAA,” you’re not going to forget what they stand for.
EAA is research based. I first read about EAA in Leading Impact Teams, and I highly recommend checking out that book for a deeper look at what EAA entails. For our purposes right now, it’s important to know that very smart people have combed through John Hattie’s research and decided upon the effectiveness of EAA. If you’re using Hattie’s effect sizes in your school or district to make more educated choices as to what you will or will not incorporate within you practice, EAA is right up your alley.
So, here’s my pitch regarding collaboration at school sites: Eliminate choice. Use one strategy that’s easy to remember. Keep it simple. Use something that’s research based.
EAA fits the bill.
So how can you use EAA? Let’s review some possible scenarios describing how it can be used:
- It’s the end of the day, and a group of teachers just sat down to look at the results of a short 10 question formative assessment they gave and quickly graded. They’re going to use EAA to view the evidence (students’ answers), analyze the evidence (hmmm, why did the students score this way?), and make a plan for what to do next. (“We need to teach linking verbs again if we want Johnny to understand what a compound sentence is.”) By using EAA, they now have a quick and easy framework through which to share a uniform method of analysis.
- The principal pays for substitutes so a group of teachers can embark on instructional rounds. The teachers move through various classroom, taking notes and looking for solutions to their problem of practice. They ask themselves, “Where is the evidence of good strategies being used to mediate problem X?” The teachers meet together after the rounds and create a Google Doc with EAA across the top. The teachers then type all the evidence they witnessed concerning their POP. They analyze the evidence, providing responses to questions such as: What were the students doing? How was this working? How could strategy X help us attain our goals? When this is complete, teachers can determine which ACTION steps they’ll take next. This list will be the tangible things they can immediately begin in their classrooms.
- A school is implementing PBIS and needs a way for a group of teachers or administrators to systematically determine the needs of students who are misbehaving during school hours. First, they take a look at the EVIDENCE (i.e. the elementary school student is chronically late to school.). Second, they ANALYZE why this is happening (i.e. The parent always drops the student off after the bell rings.) Third, they take ACTION (i.e. contact the parent; explain how this is affecting the student’s learning, provide incentives for the child arriving early, or discuss the possibility of the student walking to the school bus stop.)
It’s so simple, and yet it’s so simple to mess up–and I’ll tell you why: it’s easy to complicate it. Heck, you–dear reader–may already be thinking of ways to complicate it. If you’re an educator, especially an administrator, you’ve come up in a system that doesn’t like simplicity. What the system accepts is individuals who create complicated programs and systems. Why is this?
A complicated system is in need of someone to explain it. Creating complicated protocols ensures job security. More simply though, people believe doing more is better. Maybe this is because being busy makes them feel productive? Maybe being busy looks good to others? It’s time we stop, place everything on the cutting board, and trim the fat.
I think we should be just as proud of the things we aren’t doing in the field of education as the things we are doing. Simplicity is important because it prevents fragility. The more rules, protocols, and strategies you adopt, the more that can go wrong. Too many initiatives, too much confusion, and you can’t get good at anything. If you’re a teacher or administrator, aren’t you tired of doing stuff half-assed? Wouldn’t you rather feel like you’re knocking it out of the park? You could, but it means you need to let go of stuff. In reality, you need less than you think.
Collaboration is both a journey and a process that never ends, so we better get as comfortable as possible and enjoy the ride. We shouldn’t just be interested in the results–this defeats the purpose. To a certain extent, the process is the purpose. This is why a simple tool like EAA is so critical. Difficult steps to remember and various protocols for different circumstances will destroy a team’s morale. If you don’t keep the process simple, then no one will like it. If no one likes it, then no one will dive into the deep collaborative work that’s necessary to develop teacher collective efficacy.
So throw out all your unnecissarily complicated collaboration protocols and adopt EAA.