Byron's Babbles

Subtracting Shows Competence

Last year I read the great book Subtract: The Untapped Science Of Less by Leidy Klotz and described the book as changing my life. Learning from the book also ends up in many of my blog posts, like Don’t Always Saticfice. Last evening I had the honor of facilitating a discussion between Leidy Klotz and National Teacher Ambassadors of the National FFA Organization. As part of their training, the teacher ambassadors received a copy of the book and Leidy was gracious enough to spend time with the group. Leidy spent some time discussing what led to the research and ultimately the book, which was fascinating, and then had a very open discussion with our teachers.

One of the points Leidy made last night, that I have heard him make before is that, “Subtracting shows competence.” We all need to reflect on this. Whether as a school principal, we show competence to remove the things teachers have to do that don’t really have anything to do with student learning, or myself as a policymaker continuing to advocate for reducing the number of standards having to be taught/tested. Or, just the competence it takes to reduce that email from four paragraphs, which by the way no one reads, to a couple of sentences. I’m sure you can think of thousands of other examples.

Leidy taught us not to focus on what we can’t get done and want/need to subtract, but focus on what we will be able to do better because of eliminating those mundane tasks that create marginal value at best. Those of us in education can really relate to this. It’s not easy. As Leidy pointed out, adding more is highly visible and easy to promote and subtracting either goes unnoticed or becomes controversial. I loved this advice from Leidy: “Give yourself a definition for what you are setting out to accomplish. This will help narrow down the necessary from the unnecessary.” Dr. Klotz’s job is to create and share knowledge and he did a great job of schooling us on subtracting.

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