Zombies lurking in Education!

I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead. and for those that watch the show you know at any moment a bloodthirsty Zombie can come out of nowhere to devour a human.  A colleague and regular reader of this blog shared an article from the Harvard Business Review that discussed Zombie projects in business.  The Zombie Projects as defined by author Scott Anthony are:

nefarious enemies of well-intentioned innovation efforts around the globe. Zombies are projects that, for any number of reasons, fail to fulfill their promise and yet keep shuffling along, sucking up resources without any real hope of having a meaningful impact on the company’s strategy or revenue prospects.”


After reading the article, I could not help to think about all the educational zombies that suck up time, energy, resources, clog pipelines and prevent innovation.  They are lurking just about everywhere in the educational setting.   Many of them are leftovers from a different time that people still cling too despite the fact they add little or no value to our current educational landscape.

Here is my short list of Educational ZOMBIES:

1. Spelling bee’s —  It takes time, effort, energy and usually a couple of days to complete a spelling bee– add on a day for the school assembly for the finalist, trophies, medals, judges, list of words, this takes a ton of classroom time! Spelling — as we all know is less important in today’s digital world, in fact let’s be real, when is the last time you saw an job advertisement for someone who is in desperate need of a “good speller.”  Every device I own spells every word correctly…..Maybe in some other time we needed good spellers.  I am not suggesting that context and usage are not important, but the act of simply being able to spell words flawlessly from memory is useless. We all know plenty of brilliant people who are poor spellers —  Yet we still hold a spelling bee’s each year and kids will practice for hours memorizing words like “align, Wednesday, or logorrhea.”  What is even worse than a yearly spelling bee is classroom teachers who still give out weekly spelling list and actually grade them …. ZOMBIES!

2. Cursive writing —I have noticed that my handwriting has deteriorated from horrible to atrocious. When I do have to write something, I need to concentrate so it’s legible.  Because of computers and other devices, I never write anything anymore….not even checks since it’s all done online or via a debit card — I wonder who physically writes on paper anymore?   In another time legible clear handwriting was important,  — but in today’s digital world this is simply not something we should waste valuable instruction time teaching kids.  Yep—-it’s a Zombie!

3. Teachers meetings — The mandatory monthly or bi-weekly get together of all teachers in the building so the Principal can drone on and on about insignificant problems like who is or who is not using proper procedure for hall passes, or the ever so riveting discussion around who is or who is not considered tardy.  I could never understand why my Principal never bothered to look at the room of assembled teachers, many of whom are grading papers, drawing plays, reading the newspaper, checking their phones…..at what point do you say “this is a colossal waste of time.”  Rarely do these meetings discuss substantive issues and they normally discuss nuts and bolts kinds of information that could be shared in a multitude of other more efficient ways…but we have them despite the ineffectiveness.  I declare teacher meetings such as these — Zombies!

4. Making kids memorize anything….all I can say is “really.” Not only is that not in Ohio’s Academic Content Standards but have you heard of Google?  In the BG (before Google) era it might have been perfectly appropriate to memorize the fifty state capitals or the periodic table of elements but very few times do kids need to memorize much in the world in which they live.  Yet we still have teachers who make kids memorize all kinds of things that they quickly forget because it is only there for a short time.  Deep learning is not accomplished via memorization yet we have all kinds of  examples in school where this happens frequently. Memorizing = Zombie!

5.  Insurmountable paperwork — Teachers will rightfully complain at the overabundance of paperwork…reporting….more reporting…reporting on what you just reported and more reporting. This paperwork does not include individual student reports to parents or other teachers, nor the new Student Learning Objectives, data charts, etc…. Teachers do a ton of paperwork without any help from support professionals.  Unlike many other professional jobs — the mundane paperwork is done by teachers not support staff like that Doctors or Lawyers have at their disposal.  All this paperwork and our refusal to lighten the load makes teaching one of the more paperwork intensive jobs.  This paperwork is the ZOMBIE and it takes valuable time away from teachers.  I want creative, innovative teachers — not efficient shufflers of paper. 

4. Unreasonable parent(s) — Nothing can waste time, effort or energy like an unreasonable or uncooperative parent(s).  Whether your a teacher or administrator these Zombies are adept at becoming the center of attention with lots of meetings, reports, and discussion.  For those of us in education you are naming them by name as you read this… they take up so much time and resources via phone calls, emails, endless meetings and our vain attempts to appease them it’s truly mind boggling.  The more time you give them the more they take. These kinds of parents often are well meaning nice people who simply have no idea how much energy and resources they are sucking up on a regular basis.  Zombies for sure!  

This is my short list of Zombies in Education.  I am curious if you can add more to my list.  We do need a better job of finding and snuffing out these Zombies to free up needed resources, time, and energy to make the needed innovations and changes that will serve our students.  But just as in the series the Walking Dead just because you rid yourself of one Zombie there are plenty more lurking ready to  pounce if you let your guard down.  You have to remain vigilante at removing Zombies if you want true innovation in education.


About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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One Response to Zombies lurking in Education!

  1. Very well said! Can you please start teaching again? I think my son would thrive under your instruction. Many of the “zombies” you mentioned are the same areas my son is struggling in. For example, his current Language Arts grade is a very high D, if it were any higher, it would be a C. The cause of this low grade? Spelling tests. He struggles with spelling tests. The rest of his grades for work in this class are always A’s and B’s. Thank you for taking the time to put these revolutionary ideas out there. A crashing wave of change gets it’s start as a small ripple. We need to prepare our children for the world they will be living and working in, not the world we grew up in.

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