In recent weeks I have shared about how we can identify what is most important and urgent by utilizing The Eisenhower Matrix. I have shared how we can follow the models shared by BJ Fogg to create prompts that help to remind us of our skills and motivations. But how do you determine what you can eliminate from your life so that you truly can Focus on the Focus? How do you ensure that you are maximizing your use of resources to enhance your efficiency while not sacrificing your effectiveness?
In schools, we are all familiar with the concept of initiative fatigue. Each year we are provided new guidance, new tools, new “Best Practices”, new scripts, and new mandates, yet nothing ever seems to be removed from our ‘to-do lists’. We are fearful of stripping away what might work so in our quest for better, we simply pile more on without ever stopping to analyze our perceptions of quality.
You may have been taught to teach students using the thoughts of Piaget and developmental psychology. perhaps this was supplemented with learning about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Later you were introduced to Bloom’s taxonomy of learning and more recently exposed to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. Maybe you were in a school focused on student engagement, then the focus shifted to quality questioning, then to Social Emotional Learning, and now it’s Project Based Learning. Perhaps you had a focus on formative assessment, then you shifted to an adaptive assessment model, and now you are working on performance tasks. New initiatives roll in, but nothing ever leaves. New ideas are introduced, but nothing is forgotten.
If this sounds familiar to you, let me introduce you to some good news. This isn’t how it has to be, nor is it how it should be. The best leaders recognize that in order to add something to someone’s plate, something else must be removed. We must be seeking efficiency at the same time that we seek effectiveness. Science supports this and research actually tells us that this shouldn’t be that hard to do.
Enter, the Pareto Principle.
Popularized through economics and replicated through countless organizational structures, this principle asserts that 80% of all outcomes are a result of 20% of the causes/actions. For example, 80% of your retirement fund growth is a result of 20% of your investments. 80% of your weight loss is a result of 20% of your diet. 80% of your personal stress is a result of 20% of your decisions. And 80% of student learning is a result of 20% of your pedagogy. That’s right, the vast majority of your success, and that of your students, is a result of 20% of the decisions you make daily. Not every decision, not every program, not every assignment. 20%!!! You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to do it all. You just have to identify what is making the impact and focus on that.
John Hattie, in his monumental meta-analysis, reminds us that 95% of all decisions we make in our classrooms are good for kids. The vast majority of what we are doing is helping to move students forward, however, not all things are equally impactful. Some things are…ahem…gooder than others…Some things have a greater effect on student learning than others. Some things should be our focus when we cannot focus on everything. Of the 252 influences studied, some things just matter more:
In a world where teachers are overwhelmed, where students are disengaged, where demands are countless, and initiatives evolve each year, make a commitment to Focus on the Focus. You don’t have to do it all, nor should you. All of it doesn’t matter. Focus on what does. Each school and each community needs something different. We are not all the same. Identify what works, eliminate what doesn’t, and focus on the focus.
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