Implement THAT! (Part 5) – …like Driving at Night

While having an implementation plan is important, and planning for rapid results builds the necessary confidence toward our desired outcome, the execution of the plan needs to be ongoing and allow for adjustments at every turn.  Too often, as leaders, we try to race ahead too quickly; as people are just getting comfortable and confident with the first steps of implementation we proclaim that steps 2 and 3 are long overdue.

The analogy that I’ve heard, used, and have seen work for others when it comes to the pacing of any implementation effort is that it’s a lot like driving at night.

When I get in my vehicle and decide to drive somewhere I have my destination in mind; I know where I want to go (our desired outcome) but I typically (day or night) can’t actually see my destination.  Driving around with no desired destination might take us back to our childhood and the ritual of the “Sunday Drive”, however, when it comes to getting somewhere or getting something done you have to know where you are going.

When you drive at night, despite knowing exactly where you want to go and what route you want to take (your plan) your headlights will only shine about 100-150 feet in front of your vehicle.  As the driver, the only thing within your immediate influence is the next 100 feet.  When you drive that 100 feet, the next 100 feet will emerge in front of you.  Even if you have a long drive ahead of you (even if you have a 3-5 year plan) the only way you will reach your desired destination is through a series of mini 100 foot journeys.

While it is true that every so often you’ll hear a road report or see flashing lights ahead that will provide you with ample time to adjust your route, avoid any delays, and get you back on track, what’s more likely is that issues will only become apparent once they come within the 100-150 foot range of your headlights (which is why your plan was written with a short pencil) which means you have adjust on the fly.

When we become impatient we try to rush the natural evolution of a new paradigm and push too hard which will more likely lead to others’ frustration.  The difference between where we are and where we want to be can be vast and leaders are well served if they are mindful that the journey is as important as the destination, especially when it comes to long-term sustainability. After all, if we are at ‘A’, we can’t get to ‘D’ without passing through ‘B’ and ‘C’ first.

Whether it comes to using social media for ongoing professional learning, project-based learning, standards-based grading, no letter grades, authentic assessment, or any other new practice, there is a process that is unavoidable; no matter how fast or slow you drive you will still have to physically pass through each little town before you arrive in the big city!

When you focus on the next 100 feet you’ll know what to do, how to support, and what challenges are in your immediate view that need to be addressed. Once you go that 100 feet, the next 100 feet will emerge and you’ll once again know exactly what your team needs, what you need to do, and what challenges need to be overcome in order reach your ultimate destination.

5 thoughts on “Implement THAT! (Part 5) – …like Driving at Night

  1. Hi Tom! Great post! As I read it I immediately thought of two situations. The first is with regards to assessment and grading. Since your work with our staff in September we’ve seen quite a few teachers on staff alter their practice. You were able present convincing reasons for people to make some changes. In the days that have followed, I’ve heard many people ask ‘How do I…’and ‘How can I handle when…’ while still continuing to implement my new assessment practices. Needless to say, people are at different stages and attempting different things.what’s important is the conversation has been sparked. In instances such as this,we as leaders must meet our teachers where they are in the course of their own growth and learning. We know where we’d ultimately like to see everyone get to, but in the process there are lots of incremental steps in learning, for us as the leaders of our school as much as there is for our teachers.

    The second is with regards to technology integration. In this area, I admit I can be guilty of impatience, wishing teachers could jump to step D without taking the necessary time to work through B and C. Thanks for the post and for forcing me to reflect.

    Hope you are enjoying the holiday season!


  2. Hello Tom,

    I am an EDM310 student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Al. I like the analogy you use to compare implementing a plan to driving at night. You are absolutely correct about this analogy! There have been many times in my life that I have made plans for something and either an unforeseen circumstance occurred that I didn’t see coming or I couldn’t see the positive outcome before hand because there wasn’t enough concrete information to base the outcome on. This brings me to believe that life is about taking chances and we have to be willing to go through obstacles and sometimes changes to get to where we are trying to go.

    • Hi LaShunda,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I apologize for not responding sooner. I agree – life is about taking chances and everything seems to feel like a failure when we’re only part-way there. Adaptability is important and the flexibility to make changes mid-stream is also key. Sometimes what’s not working is part of a bigger picture that’s working!

      Good luck with your studies!

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