Is Your Focus On Optimal Teaching?
“A Good Teacher Is a Self-Abuser!”
My grad-school professor said this years ago. His words pierced right through me! “Yes!” I thought, “He’s absolutely right!”
I was still teaching in the classroom; every day ended in frustration. It was something different each day. Perhaps a lesson didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Or, maybe I ran out of time to get through everything I planned.
(“I didn’t know we had a school assembly today? When was that announced!?”)
And there were always those few students … my mind was in constant battle with dozens of “couldas,” “wish-I-wouldas,” and “how-can-Is.” I was miserable.
This is the song of every good teacher.
We Hold Ourselves to Impossible Standards!
We feel inadequate when we hear education gurus talk about how their work with students is so perfect. Government insists that there is no excuse for “leaving a child behind.”
We don’t want to leave any child behind, but that doesn’t match any premise of the real world!
(And if Harry K. Wong writes one more book, we;’ll feel even more inadequate!)
Why “80%” Is Really “Perfection”
Meet my friend, Pareto, founder of a law of the universe. You may not recognize his name, but you’re likely familiar with Pareto’s 80/20 Principle.
The 80/20 Law of the Universe highlights an unequal relationship between cause and effect. Some common “80/20s” include:
- You wear 20% of the clothes 80% of the time.
- 80% of your money goes to 20% of your bills.
- 80% of your time and energy is spent on 20% of your students.
The Education System Kinda Sorta Gets 80/20.
For decades, educators and psychologists noticed a common 80/20 pattern:
- 80% of students pass classes with “normal instruction.”
- Of the remaining 20% who do not pass, 80% will pass with additional assistance. But, that means the remaining 20% will still struggle.
- Of those remaining 20% that continued to struggle, 80% will finally understand the information with alternative instruction.
- But, 20% will still struggle…. and the pattern will continue.
In 2007, this 80/20 pattern caused the creation of Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI has three tiers; each tier represents an 80/20 trend in student achievement. RTI confirms the World of Education accepts the reality and existence of 80/20.
The Education System Kinda Sorta Gets 80/20.
Well, Not Really.
80/20 punches two holes in common expectations/assumptions held by teachers:
One teacher, with limited resources, a finite amount of training (none of us are Superman), and influence over a small fraction of students’ time in school (and students only spend 20% of their hours in school) can reach everyone. As RTI illustrates, there are SEVERAL layers of required intervention before the “bottom 20%” will likely respond. This is not a responsibility ONE individual teacher can shoulder on her own.
There is no excuse for leaving ANY child behind. Mathematically speaking, there likely will always be someone who does not achieve success. RTI may significantly reduce the number of students, but the fractals will continue on indefinitely in the grand scheme of things.
Harry K. Wong is just … wrong.
Are You a “Self-Abuser” Teacher?
I recently spoke to a teacher from Minneapolis using SOAR® for her school’s intervention program. Students with poor academic performance are referred to her program.
She has 60 students and is slowly expanding her program to other schools in the district. But, she had several concerns about students not responding to specific elements of the program. I must admit, I was a little confused.
I could tell she understood the material and was teaching it as I usually do, but the reactions she was describing did not match the reactions I typically see. I was sharing some alternative tips when she said something that finally clicked.
“Exactly how many students are you talking about?”
“Oh, about 4-6,” she replied.
That’s excellent… only ten percent! According to Pareto, she is well ahead of the curve!
“You must be doing a lot right to only have six students out of 60 that are struggling…” I then introduced her to the 80-20 Principle. I was not suggesting that she should “give up” on those six students. In fact, we discussed several alternatives options she thought would be helpful. But…
She needs to celebrate her 90% of successes! She needed to give herself credit and stop the self-abuse cycle so common for teachers.
3 Ways 80/20 Will Transform Your Life!
There are at least three ways 80/20 can radically improve your effectiveness in the classroom and provide you with far more energy…
80/20 for the Classroom #1:
20% of Your Students Will Take Up 80% of Your Resources and Time
Action Plan: Identify the 20% of your students who use most of your energy. Develop strategies, systems, and rules to streamline their challenges.
A small number of students always require a disproportionate amount of your time and energy. You’re probably thinking of a few right now.
There’s tremendous value in recognizing this pattern! Why? Because it eases a lot of frustration when you recognize the student who went through your mind a moment ago. It makes their challenges seem less personal when you see the bigger pattern. This is a key to make you an optimal teacher.
BUT you can still take it further! You can streamline some of their challenges. If you can minimize the impact that those 20% of students have on your resources, you’ll free up a tremendous amount of your own time and energy.
I observed in the classroom that many students were struggling to stay organized, turn assignments in, use their planners, and prepare for tests. That’s one reason I started teaching study skills in the first place; realizing the big chunk of my time that would be freed if students could actually handle work on their own.
Now, recognize the 20% who need the most from you, and develop strategies, systems, and rules to streamline their challenges!
80/20 for the Classroom #2:
You Will Not Be Able to Reach 20% of Your Students
Action Plan: Focus on the 80% you can reach and impact!
Teachers always focus on the students they can’t reach. They dwell on the times they can’t finish a lesson because of a schedule change, a behavior issue, an interruption…
Teachers don’t recognize their 80% successes every day! If I had this awareness in the classroom, it would have transformed my feelings of ineffectiveness.
I certainly didn’t have an 80/20 perspective when I was teaching! Education values the 100%, the perfect score, the A+. Most of us did not become teachers to be complacent with an 80% success rate!
It’s EXTREMELY important that we recognize this pattern of false assumptions.
The 80/20 Rule has been in effect since the universe was created. It was established long before you were born. 80/20 says we can’t expect perfection in our profession as educators!
This is where the distinction between excellence and perfection is extremelyimportant. Perfection means reaching every single student. The reality is, you can’t do that. That doesn’t mean you don’t try; instead, you strive for excellence.
It is essential to be kind to yourself. Remember, you are not giving up on students. You are simply giving yourself permission to be content with what you’ve achieved when you can’t reach that remaining 20%.
Most important, give yourself credit for your 80% victories!
80/20 for the Classroom #3:
20% of Content = 80% of Impact!
Action Plan: Identify the most important 20% of your content—then let your creativity and passion take over. (P.S. This takes time!)
20% of the content you have to teach will account for 80% of the impact on students’ grades and understanding. You can see it on standardized tests or even the tests published by your textbook companies.
Identify the 20% of the content that will have 80% of the impact; you will DRAMATICALLY reduce the burden you put on yourself when covering content throughout the year.
Study Skills Are the Essential 20%!
“This all sounds great, but who has time to research/create a study skills curriculum?”
Good News. You Don’t Have To. We’ve Done It For You!
There is one –and only one – complete solution available.
- Is proven to raise student GPAs by an average of 1 full point!
- Has been declared 98.5% effective by teachers.
- Covers 100% of the Common Core Anchor Standards.
The Solution is the SOAR® Soft Skills Curriculum, where students learn how to effectively:
- Identify students' strengths & “SuperPowers” (according to Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences)
- Set goals
- Establish priorities
- Manage time
- Organize papers, desks, lockers, & other space
- Speak & listen effectively
- Work with teachers & peers
- Read and understand textbooks
- Take notes
- Study for tests
- Write research papers
- Prepare for presentations
- Track long-term goals
The SOAR® curriculum is used in thousands of schools. SOAR® has been THE best-selling study skills book, in the world, since 2007!
Is Your Focus Also On…?
SOAR® Learning & Soft Skills Curriculum
The SOAR® Learning & Soft Skills curriculum includes our award-winning student workbook, student app, and popular Multi-Media Teacher's Guide. Explore the curriculum below...
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- a 0.5% GPA increase across your student body.
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