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Is it Getting Easier or Harder?

I play too many word games. Playing these games, I have noted that some games get easier as you proceed while others get harder.

Spelling Bee, where you try to identify all the words using any of seven preselected letters, gets harder. You find the obvious words early. As you compile more words, the next one gets harder to find. Finding the last few words is an exercise in frustration.

On the other hand, crossword puzzles get easier. When you have letters in the grid, the next word is easier to find. (The most obvious game where it gets easier is Sudoku. The more squares you complete, the easier the next square is to figure out.)

Projects are like the games; some get easier once you begin; others get harder

For instance, if you are selecting a new math curriculum, the initial research is challenging. Once you narrow down the prospective curricula to three, the choices are limited. Once you select a curriculum, you have to plan training, but only so many training approaches are viable. Soon the curriculum is being implemented and teachers are working together to improve their approaches. A year after that, the new math program is the established math program.

On the other hand, the work in trying to create an equitable and just school gets more challenging as you move along. It seems easy to establish, in theory, that the school should be just and equitable. However, becoming equitable is more difficult. Even determining a baseline for how equitable the school currently is will raise some hackles. After gaining a better understanding where the school stands, educating the dominant culture about privilege and implicit bias tends to create greater angst. Changing structures to make the school more equitable creates lots of pushback.

Even if equity is a crucial factor in all decisions, some community members will still feel alienated. At the same time the dominant group thinks they have done enough. The truth is that equity work is never done, challenging indeed.

When beginning a project, it is important to determine if this project will get easier or harder as it progresses. Different mindsets are needed for the different projects. A timeline for completing the project makes more sense for a project that gets easier. A timeline of tasks to be completed makes more sense if the work is going to get harder.

Likewise the measurement for success needs to be different. For projects that get more difficult, success is measured in progress, not completion.

It is easy to allow frustration to seep in when projects get harder; however, if the increasing difficulty is known beforehand, frustration can be reduced.

I think we are seeing some of this frustration in equity work. Some schools are seeing how hard the work is and lamenting they will never complete it. So they are pulling away from it rather than leaning in. Yet, if you can make material improvements, the work is worthwhile. It is important to remember the immortal words of Harry Chapin, “It's got to be the going, not the getting there that’s good.”


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