Curing “Shiny Object Syndrome”: How to Identify Useful Change

Vol. 15 No. 2

head eletter vol15 no2 shinyball

Naturalist Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” While change is vital to every organization’s survival, how a school manages that change determines its viability for the next generation of students.

Therefore, identifying the adjustments that are right for your school—and making sure your school is ready for such changes—becomes more strategically important than keeping up with the Jones’s school down the road. This month, we’ll be talking about the cost of "shiny object syndrome," and how to avoid dedicating your school to a failing change proposition.

Admittedly, it’s easy to fall prey to change for change’s sake, especially in today’s society of the latest technology and heralded new trends in education that promise to be the panacea for students with poor attention, poor memory, or poor attitudes. Tradition and longevity can make your school impressive, but you don’t want to risk being labelled as stuck in the past and unable to meet the challenges of the ever-changing economy or educational landscape.

Therefore, administrators occasionally fall prey to this shiny object syndrome. To clarify, this phrase references the propensity for school leaders to hear about an innovative new pedagogy, scheduling technique, or workshop, then immediately switch gears to follow this new idea until the next “shiny object” idea comes along to sell itself.

Shiny object syndrome harms your school in a variety of ways.

  • You risk wasting your community’s goodwill by switching your priorities too quickly. Your administrators, faculty, and families all will experience whiplash if you don't give new ideas time to take hold and prosper—or fail.
  • Your financial resources and manpower may be spread too thin to effectively implement any new idea or tool, turning your school and its faculty into jacks of all trades but masters of none.
  • The initial cost of a new tool or technique may be deceptively low. Implementing new ideas may require more specialized (and expensive) trainers to teach your faculty how to use the new tool or accessories to supplement the tool’s effectiveness, raising the total cost of the program.
  • Your faculty may be resistant to adopting new techniques or software, especially if what they’ve already been doing has been “good enough” for ages. The proposed replacement may not demonstrate remarkable improvements to make it worth the acquisition cost and their effort.

So the next time you read or hear about some amazing new app, course, or curriculum promising the world to its users, ask yourself these questions to avoid shiny object syndrome:

  • What are the biggest priorities at my school? Does this app/tool/idea help solve my largest problems?
  • Where was this app/tool/idea implemented? How is that place like (and unlike) my school and its community?
  • Is what we’re already doing/using working? Will this app/tool/idea benefit my school enough to make the initial investment of money and manpower worth the transition from current practices?
  • How has this app/tool/idea been tested and evaluated? Is it better or worse than how our current tools have been used? What research and case studies have been provided to support its development and execution?

Every change at your school must be made through an understanding of what you already have, contrasted with what you stand to gain by taking a risk—and every change is a risk, at some level. The goal is to mitigate that risk by implementing change on a strategic level, which involves deep thought and consideration while not taking up every great idea that scrolls by on your tablet, computer monitor, or a conference keynote slide.

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