No school day is ever really “problem-free”. The principal might suddenly be confronted with an upsurge in thieving, or the pupils are bullying one another in cyberspace. One day the teacher realises that his pupils have “switched off” in their attitude towards school: test marks are plummeting and there are discipline problems in the classroom.
Quality management has the so-called Pareto principle to deal effectively and swiftly with problems. The principle is named after a 19th-century Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, who devised the “80:20 principle”. It is based on the premise that “20% of the causes produce 80% of the results”.
Think of the rowdy classroom. Most of the pupils are well behaved and it is a small group of between 10% and 30% which causes the chaos. Deal with that minority and almost all your behaviour problems in the classroom are solved.
Five simple steps for using the 80:20 or Pareto principle are:
Identify the problem
Describe what is wrong or needs improvement. In a maths teacher’s class, for example, the pupils’ marks are steadily dropping. The teacher states the problem thus: the maths marks are declining with each test.
Collect information on possible causes
What are the causes of the problem? It is important to ask those who are involved, or part of the problem, to offer reasons. There could be a brainstorming session or circle time during which everyone is encouraged to offer suggestions. In the example of the maths teacher, she gives every pupil a piece of paper. Each is asked to write down what he or she thinks the reasons are for the steady decline in marks.
Analyse the main causes of the problem
When people are asked to supply reasons, a flood of answers could follow. An interesting aspect of most answers is how many of them are fairly similar. The pupils’ responses can be grouped around a few main ideas. The different causes could be put on a sheet. Every time a particular cause is mentioned, a tick can be placed alongside it. A few causes will start to get most of the ticks. Main causes thus come to the surface.
The maths teacher notes that two reasons are mentioned by nearly all the pupils. Maths tests are done in either the first or second week of term, which means there is little time for revision work. Also, a section of work that had been done in term one was poorly understood. Subsequent tests have relied on a good grasp of that section.
Focus on solving the main causes
Once the main causes are known, decide what has to be done. Are other staff members needed? Should outsiders be called in? Is there a need for a change in class or school management policy? Be a good listener. Keep the focus on just the few main causes.
The maths teacher is able to deal speedily with the causes. School management decides that no maths tests in future are to be done until the third or fourth week of term. Revision work can then be done in the first fortnight. The teacher revises the difficult section of work that was done in term one.
Evaluate and monitor the results
Once the plans have been carried out, it is time to evaluate their success. Often there is a need to tweak plans as one carries them out. Once the main causes have been dealt with, attention can be given to the less frequently mentioned causes.
Problems can resurface. Do not be complacent because of initial success. Monitor the situation. Should it occur again, you already have a good sense of possible solutions.
Our maths pupils have had huge improvements in their test results, thanks to the teacher’s interventions and their hard work. The overall class average improves every term.
The 80:20 principle is a quality management one used in organisations, but it applies in our daily lives too. Deal with the few main causes of a problem first and you will see that the problem almost disappears.
Richard Hayward does leadership and management programmes on behalf of the South African Quality Institute. For more details, please speak to Vanessa on 012 349 5006 or email her at [email protected]. Alternatively, call Richard on 011 888 3262 or email him on [email protected]. Poor schools are sponsored.
Creating a pleasant school
Learners in a well-maintained school tend to be more motivated to work hard. International research has shown that in good environments, children behave well and bullying incidents go down. Teachers are also motivated to give more of their time to the school.
Seven areas make a school attractive:
- Reception area: Visitors are able to sit in comfortable chairs while they wait for staff to help them. Magazines are available. The area has interesting displays of the learners’ work.
- Corridors: Boring, long corridors are turned into places where stimulating education happens. The learners’ achievements are displayed. Walls are painted in a range of colours.
- Classrooms: Create a pleasant, stimulating learning and teaching environment. Desks don’t have to be in straight rows. A practical challenge in many South African classrooms is space. If possible, have quiet reading areas and spaces for group activities. Make sure that posters are age-suitable. No posters should be turning yellow with age!
Many classrooms have white walls. Break out into a range of rainbow colours! Franke Mahnke gives these guidelines for wall colours:
Young learners need a warm, bright colour scheme to go with, “their natural extroverted nature.”
High school learners need cool colours to help them to concentrate.
Libraries could have pale or light green walls in order to create an effect that, “enhances quietness and concentration.” Teachers need comfortable classrooms too, make it as homely as possible.
- Staffroom: The staffroom is a place of refuge and peace. Have comfortable furnishings. Ensure that tea, coffee and iced water are available. If it is possible, put the staff notice board and pigeonholes outside the room? Create a room that helps to take teachers minds off teaching during.
- Toilets: Clean toilets reflect the level of respect shown towards the physical environment. Learners and staff can design toilets that are attractive and bright. Everyone has a part to maintain cleanliness and be a ‘watchdog’ to report any instance of graffiti appearing on walls.
- Gardens: Plant flower beds. Put benches in the gardens and rule out any sport activities in such areas.
- Play and sports grounds: Many schools have too-small playgrounds. One suggestion is to have different break times for different grades. Also, have separate areas of the playground reserved for different learner groups.
Everyone in a quality school has a part to play in maintaining a quality physical environment — the principal, parents, teachers and learnes all have skills which can be of benefit. They can help in the gardens, do electrical repairs, paint classrooms and repair broken furniture.