The Pareto Principle for Teaching


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How can teachers do less and achieve more?

The Pareto Principle (or the 80/20 principle), named after the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto; that 80 per cent of consequences come from 20 per cent of causes.

Working smarter in a challenging profession

In a profession that lacks sufficient time and investment, anyone who has worked in a classroom will know that teachers are juggling hundreds of different balls in the air at any one time. I started teaching in 1991, so after three decades of many highs and lows, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the way it will always be for those working in the classroom.

It’s a hard career, albeit extremely rewarding, but the nature of the job itself places significant demands on the individual teacher. Balancing the needs of 30 pupils all at once, the endless marking, assessment and reporting, and emerging technology and non-stop emails, the life of a teacher can be hectic.

Always find the marginal gains…

This experience has taught me to always seek marginal gains to optimise the way in which I work. As a teacher, as a leader and now as an educator who has many different hats. Running this website is also a full-time job, and whilst I still see it as a hobby, it is far from that; I am always seeking new ways to work smarter.

Switching from an education perspective towards economic, the Pareto principle offers teachers something to consider. That 80 per cent of consequences come from 20 per cent of causes.

Using this mental model, we could achieve more by focusing more on this 20 per cent of our work. I’ve offered a few suggestions to see if they may ‘spark’ an idea for you to see how you may change the way you work in the future.

For teachers

  1. For example, that 80% of our marking could be done in 20 per cent of our contact time
  2. 80 per cent of all behavioural issues found in any school are caused by 20 per cent of the pupil population.
  3. 80 per cent of what we write on pupils’ reports is not read. Reduce the text body by 20 per cent.

For leaders

  1. 80 per cent of emails sent by school leader is ignored because 20 per cent of the content is too long
  2. 80 per cent of a school leader’s time is spent dealing with 20 per cent of the same staff(ing) issues
  3. 80 per cent of the school’s budget is wasted on 20 per cent of the things you don’t need

For students

  1. Rather than asking students to revise 80 per cent of all topics, students should find the core 20 per cent of material and understand this in greater depth.
  2. What if 80 per cent of pupils did 20 per cent of your school’s litter picking immediately after break?
  3. What if 80 pupils volunteered for 20 local community projects this year?

I could go on, but you get the idea. How can we identify more of our 80% consequences and 20% causes?

For teachers adopting this principle as a workload strategy, when planning for the week ahead, if the most important tasks are identified and completed, there is less pressure to complete everything else because the most essential tasks are done.

Where possible, do the most important tasks first!


One thought on “The Pareto Principle for Teaching

  1. Also: for teachers: It’s possible that 80% of what you teach is mostly extraneous to what’s really important. Find the 20% of what you teach that’s most important (as a core understanding, essential question, and/or key skill) and concentrate on that as your core goal for student learning.

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