Read the quote below from Michael Fullan’s book Coherence.  If it doesn’t resonate with you, then you’re not going to be interested in the rest of this blog post.

The problem is not the absence of goals in districts and schools today but the presence of too many that are ad hoc, unconnected, and ever-changing.


If that quote feels like your every day of work, you’re not alone.  There are so many pressures to improve that it often feels overwhelming.  Perhaps the thinking goes like this: “The more amazing initiatives we incorporate, the better everything will be.”  I can appreciate that line of thought but “too much of a good thing” may leave educators burnt out with their energy spread too thin.

What has surprised me is that not everyone sees this initiative overload as a bad thing.  I’ve struggled to find a way to articulate the problem and found some sports examples to help me. Even if you’re not a big baseball or basketball fan, you should be able to follow along.


Sports Thought Experiment
Consider this thought experiment: which current and former players would you choose to make the greatest baseball team of all time?

How would you go about making your choices? Perhaps you would search online for a list of the greatest baseball players of all time? Here are they are, according to ESPN:

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Willie Mays
  3. Hank Aaron
  4. Ted Williams
  5. Barry Bonds
  6. Mickey Mantle
  7. Lou Gehrig
  8. Ty Cobb
  9. Walter Johnson

Since you need nine players to fill all the starting position, then it seems simple enough to pick these top players and be done, right?

Actually, not so much. Having the greatest team of all time is not the same thing as having the greatest players of all time. For example, consider what positions these players played:

  1. Babe Ruth – Outfield and pitcher
  2. Willie Mays – Outfield
  3. Hank Aaron – Outfield
  4. Ted Williams – Outfield
  5. Barry Bonds – Outfield
  6. Mickey Mantle – Outfield
  7. Lou Gehrig – First base and outfield
  8. Ty Cobb – Outfield
  9. Walter Johnson – Pitcher

This is a big problem! There are nine specific positions on a baseball team and just because someone is good at one position, it doesn’t mean that they can easily play another. There is no one to play second base, shortstop, third base, or catcher.

In this particular situation, we’d have to skip some of the greatest players to make the greatest team. In this case, we’d have to add the 13th, 21st, 25th, and 29th player to fill in the rest of the positions and we’d have to cut some players we considered to be better overall.

Furthermore, even if you did put these players on the same team, there’s no guarantee that the players would work well together. Consider the plight of the 2004 USA Olympic Men’s Basketball Team. The roster was full of all-stars and future Hall of Famers including:

  • LeBron James
  • Tim Duncan
  • Allen Iverson
  • Dwyane Wade

This was an actual example of putting the many of greatest active players together on one team, yet they did not do well. They lost to Puerto Rico, Lithuania, and Argentina — teams that everyone thought they would dominate. They wound up with a bronze medal instead of the gold that everyone expected.


The message I hope comes across is that just like picking the greatest players does not guarantee the greatest team, picking the greatest initiatives does not mean we’ll end up with the strongest overall program.  For a program to reach its greatest potential, we have to think strategically when deciding which initiatives to include and how to prioritize them.

Each time an initiative is added, it has to be evaluated to determine its strategic fit.  This may mean declining some amazing initiatives to protect others.  It doesn’t mean you can never come back to them.  You just have to defend the top priorities to allow them to receive sufficient attention.  Otherwise it becomes a superficial brag list of initiatives that a school or district may have started but done very little with.  As the saying goes, “When everything’s a priority, nothing’s a priority.”

Are you seeing issues with coherence in your school or district?  How are you dealing with it?  Do you have another way to communicate it?  Please let me know in the comments.


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