The Stop Rule

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The Stop Rule


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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When should we rethink a decision?

According to author Seth Godin, what sets successful people apart from everyone else is their ability to give up. Winners quit fast, quit often and quit without guilt – until they commit to beating the right dip for the right reasons. I wonder how true this is of those working in teaching…

How do you rethink bad ideas?

For years I’ve been trying to quit bad ideas in the classroom.

Too much marking? Right, let’s work out a more efficient way to mark faster!

Students are not responding to my feedback? Okay, let’s work out a better way for students to do more work than me.

Can’t seem to achieve whole school consistency? Right, let’s design a teaching and learning policy which supports teachers with what they should and shouldn’t do.

The above three are a small example of the countless things schools and teachers try to achieve. Often, we create problems for ourselves rather than stripping away the details, rethinking how we should approach complicated ideas.

Working smarter …

I’ve always been an advocate for teachers working smarter, developing clarity, yet at the same time stripping away as much detail as possible so that time-poor teachers can access practical strategies quicker, which have not only been developed by others working out the same problems but that they can go off and use them immediately in their classrooms.

The same applies to school leaders. The real challenge is how to quit ideas we know have little or no impact.

In The Decision Book, it is recommended that we should consider Simple Rules by Kathleen Eisenhardt and Donald Sull, developing a few simple yet effective rules for people to get the best out of the most complex problems.

Simple rules are more effective than complex ones because they shorten the amount of time needed to process information. to give an example: How do you know when you should revise a decision?

The Stop Rule is a hard and fast, almost universally applicable alternative to a more laborious process of weighing up any pros and cons. In The Decision Book which offers 50 models for strategic thinking, a book I have slowly been working through to help shape some of my day-to-day work …

“The legendary investor Gerald Loeb formulated a simple but powerful Stop Rule for the eternal question asked by all investors: “When it should I sell?” Loeb’s rule: if an investment meant loses 10% of its value, sell it!

No questions asked.

The beauty of this rule is that it is unconditional. It prevents headaches and in some cases, may save lives. One example provided, mountaineers you stop rules to ensure the safe return. For example: if we don’t reach the summit by 2 PM, we need to turn around. “When such a rule was broken on Mount Everest in 1996, eight people died.”

The Stop Rule

The Stop Rule in teaching …

So, how can ‘the Stop Rule’ apply to teachers and school leaders?

In most cases, the lives of children are not in danger, except when safeguarding decisions need to be made in support of safeguarding procedures already in place. However, let’s consider a classroom intervention. For example? Pupil premium students are selected to attend a booster class for the maths GCSE exam.

At what point should the stop rule be considered:

  1. In the next academic year when evaluating outcomes?
  2. Or during the course when the student no longer needs an intervention?
  3. Or perhaps when students are not engaging with the booster class?
  4. Maybe when a student fails to attend the lessons? or,
  5. If the teaching and the data analysis doesn’t suggest sufficient progress is being made?

Surely, not having a ‘stop rule’ to assess at any point of the intervention would be detrimental to the support being given?

There are countless other examples we could use. Of course, the difficulty for teachers and school leaders is that we are working with people, not necessarily products, components and other numerical assets which a business can quite easily push to one side. We are dealing with people, and as we know, children only get one chance.

It is up for us to consider which interventions they should have, and when to abandon any initiatives that are not working…

One thing we should take away from using the ‘Stop Rule’ in our work in classrooms and schools, is that when we consider trialling any initiatives, we must also consider ‘at what point we should stop and rethink our decisions’.

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