Strategic Abandonment: 3 Tips for Letting Go

To put it simply, strategic abandonment is the art of letting go. It’s a process of closely examining all active plans, projects, and initiatives and determining whether they are making a lasting impact or should be deliberately stopped. This practice is often used in the business sector as a tool for adapting to changing technologies and social conditions – two things public education professionals might be familiar with – to shed unnecessary initiatives and make room for better ones.

As educators, we are often quick to launch the next great program or initiative to help us meet our goals and improve outcomes for students, but rarely do we circle back to analyze, stop, or defer the old programs that may no longer be relevant or producing meaningful results. In the current context, many districts have put a full stop on new programs, committing to “add nothing new” to their already weary teachers and staff. In this case, it may still be important to lighten the load by strategically abandoning programs that are causing more burden than benefit.

So, how can the concept of strategic abandonment be adapted for and incorporated into education to improve processes, initiatives, and student achievement in our districts?

But first: Why is it so hard to just let go?

According to Psychology Today, letting go is difficult because it is often deeply rooted and tied to our identities. It’s human nature to fight for those things that matter to us most, especially when you consider all the time, effort, and resources you poured into it. 

“Letting go can be scary. It’s a big unknown, with lots of uncertainty. It means leaving behind what is usual and comfortable — even if those are not always in our best interest — and branching out to what might feel odd at first.”

Susan J. Noonan MD, Psychology Today

Contrary to what we’re often taught, however, admitting that something isn’t working is not innately bad, nor does it signify failure. Rather, it’s a reflection of compassionate and astute leadership. Making what might initially feel like the difficult decision will eventually lead you down the path of least resistance, creating space for your teachers, students, and district to flourish.

Strategic abandonment is a delicate balancing act that requires enough effort to see if something is going to work and the judgment to evaluate when it is not and what to do about it. While there is no scientific formula for knowing exactly when to let go, practicing strategic abandonment within your organization provides clarity and space for new solutions that work for all students, teachers, and stakeholders. 

3 Tips for Regularly Incorporating Strategic Abandonment in Your District

1. Conduct an initiative inventory.

Step one: get organized. With so many new programs coming in and out of your schools, it can be easy to lose sight of it all. To get a clear picture of what exactly your teachers are being asked to implement in the classroom, schedule meetings with your campus and district leaders and utilize e2L’s Initiative Inventory Workspace tool to take stock of all active initiatives. 

Strategic Abandonment: Initiative Inventory Workspace Free Resource

Before moving ahead, take this opportunity to stop and reflect on your district’s “why.” Taking a cue from Simon Sinek and ‘Find Your Why, engage2learn practices developing and committing to a “why” both with our partners and internally. Regularly coming back to and reminding yourself and your staff of your “why” will inevitably help to drive desired behaviors and remain committed to your purpose.

From there, make a list of priorities, goals, and key success metrics to help you determine which initiatives align and which don’t. If a project is determined to be redundant, not producing the right results, or in conflict with your district’s “why”, it might be time to let it go.

2. Determine success criteria for each initiative.

Defining the success of an initiative requires determining the criteria and metrics against which to measure the results. Ask questions like: 

  • How will we measure the success of this initiative? 
  • What are our teacher growth goals?
  • What are our student achievement goals?
  • How will we know if this is working? 
  • How will we know if this isn’t working?

Once you’ve determined your specific success criteria, you’ll need measurable data to help remove the guesswork and see if your initiative is really working or not. 

With tools like eSuite – e2L’s comprehensive educator support platform – districts can easily keep track of growth gains and gaps for educators and their students. Using the Reports Dashboard, for example, district leaders can analyze everything from district-wide data to individual teacher growth data. eSuite’s advanced analytics equip education leaders with the information they need to determine whether success criteria are being met or if it’s time to abandon an unproductive initiative.

3. Schedule a quarterly “strategic abandonment” session.

Meetings and planning sessions are typically centered around what people need to be doing more of, so why not dedicate sessions centered around what people can be doing less of? Craft questions or surveys to share with your teachers and staff before each of these quarterly meetings, receive their feedback with a growth mindset, and let it help determine what you can strategically take off of people’s plates.

BONUS: To involve your district’s stakeholders and greater community in this process as well, schedule a similar, annual strategic abandonment meeting that includes them. Use this time to share project and initiative updates, teacher feedback and growth metrics, and student achievement data. If you’re noticing a powerful trend in which your stakeholders can no longer understand or see the benefits of a project – especially if it’s supported by feedback you’ve received from teachers – it may be time to abandon ship.

Making Room for New Solutions

Our culture loves the old adage “winners don’t quit.” But over time, we have found that winners actually do quit – sorry, Vince Lombardi! Winners quit things that are no longer improving or providing desired outcomes. So perhaps it’s time we strategically abandon that old adage and adopt a new one: “Winners make room for new solutions.”

Strategic Abandonment: "Winners make room for new solutions."

Strategic abandonment is a difficult but useful challenge. It takes time and practice to understand the value of letting something go. However, when you dedicate time to regularly conduct initiative inventories, determine clear success criteria, collect and analyze growth data, and receive feedback from your teachers and stakeholders, you’ll gain the clarity you need to determine if your resources, time, and effort are going in the right direction while creating the space for new and better solutions.

engage2learn offers the eSuite platform to districts of all sizes to set goals, track educator growth and student growth data, and provide the advanced analytics that illustrate what initiatives are and aren’t working in your district. Learn more and request a demo here!