There is a story about a man who needed a new pair of shoes. The man was cheap and rarely purchased new clothing. He had walked hundreds of miles throughout the city, and before he realized it, his miles and miles of walking had burned holes into the soles of his shoes. He was finally convinced that he had better invest in new shoes.

The man was immensely gifted and talented with numbers and drawing diagrams—so prior to going to the marketplace, to purchase new shoes, the man drew a detailed diagram of the kind of shoes that he wanted and included the dimensions of his feet within the diagram. He checked the dimensions, then rushed off to the marketplace.

When the man arrived at the marketplace, he saw immediately a shoe that looked identical to his diagram. He rushed over to the shoe, picked the shoe up, but then realized that he had forgotten his diagram at home, the diagram that documented the dimensions of his feet.

The man rushed out of the store, ran home, grabbed the diagram off his kitchen countertop, then rushed back to the store. When the man returned to the store, he requested that the manager bring him the shoe, based on the dimensions of his feet.

The manager asked the man: “I saw you rush out of the store after looking at the shoe. Why did you run out of the store?” In response, the man said, “My diagram . . . I forgot my diagram at home. I measure my feet prior to purchasing shoes, then I document the dimensions of my feet on a diagram so that I can purchase the kind of shoe that would fit me accurately.”

In response, the manager said, “Silly man! Why didn’t you just ask me to measure your feet? Better yet, why didn’t you just ask me to try some shoes on? Why do you feel that you have to draw diagrams in order to get the most accurate shoe size?”

To this question, the man hung his head in shame, and said, “Because that is what I have always done.”

Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Building’s Interventions

With this article, I challenge you to think about your practices and to think about how your teams practice. Are you and your teams like the man who needed a new pair of shoes? Are you all doing things only because it is what you have always done? I have coached hundreds of teachers on increasing engagement among disengaged students, including culturally diverse learners, and I found that one reason many teachers struggled to increase engagement and connect with students was because teachers did things only because it was what they had always done . . . not because their strategies were effective, not because their strategies increased engagement, not because their strategies created and maintained relationships . . . but because it was what they had always done.

From working with teams, I found that one reason why their culturally diverse learners did not make gains was because team members continued to implement interventions that were ineffective; interventions did not align with the cultural passions or personal interests of students. When students did not respond, the students were moved through tiers and eventually qualified for special education services. These students were mislabeled, misdiagnosed, and misplaced in special education programs.

In many cases, the problem was not the students’ inability to learn at grade level; the problem was ineffective interventions. The interventions did not engage students behaviorally, cognitively, or affectively. Interestingly, team members attributed the poor response of students to “disabilities” (deficit thinking), while students attributed their poor response to “boring activities” and recommended changes in how teachers provide instruction.

Questions to Discuss with Teams:

Why do your teams recommend various interventions for students? Do you all recommend certain interventions because it is what you have always done—or because those interventions have shown positive results?

It was Admiral Grace Hopper who said, “The most dangerous phrase in our language is, We have always done it this way.”

An Activity that You Can Use with Your Teams

Share this article with your team members prior to your meeting time (RTI/MTSS teams, grade-level teams or PLCs). As a team, evaluate your interventions, supports, or practices. Write down common interventions that you and your teams use with culturally diverse learners. Based on data, write positive (+) signs next to those interventions and strategies that have been effective; write negative (-) signs next to those interventions that have not worked.

After you do this, think about the story of the man who needed a new pair of shoes. Think about the response the man gave the store manager when asked why he draws diagrams of his feet prior to purchasing shoes (because that is what he had always done).

Determine if you and your teams are like the man. Discuss whether you all engage in practices only because it is what you have always done.

Important Dialogue with Team Members

The story of the man who needed a new pair of shoes is an excellent way to spark a discussion around the effectiveness of interventions. It is an effective way to get team members to analyze the practices that you all use, and to discuss whether or not teams engage in practices only “because it is what you all have always done.”

Please feel free to share how your team responds to this article and the activity.