The Pareto Principle, The Diffusion of Innovation, and Your Child’s School: There are Unicorns Out There! – Special Education Advocacy

The Pareto Principle, The Diffusion of Innovation, and Your Child's School: There are Unicorns Out There! - Special Education Advocacy

Yes, I believe in unicorns. And I am also grounded in stoicism. Please read on … Too often, school administrators describe their staff with over-reaching broad statements like “ALL of our teachers are on-board ….” as if the whole staff, whether it be at the school or district level, move collectively as one. This is not usually true. For this level of reasoning fails to follow along with basic human nature, social behavior, and the fundamental principles associated with emotional development: Teachers and educators are human and we all react and respond differently toward variables such as stress, challenge, obstacles, trauma, and accomplishment based upon our individual experiences and personal interpretations. Certainly, a team or a division can work with similar beliefs, but when the tire hits the road; not everyone is on the same page. So why am I bringing this up? Through the education advocacy work I do every day, I meet a number of “unicorns”; educators who stand out due to their exemplary service and compassion toward their students and their parents. It is both encouraging and uplifting. I will share more about this in a moment. But first …. Getting back to the initial point, the culture of education is grounded in a “one size fits all format”; outliners are few and far between in the staff room. As a result, the pronouncements by administration leans into shallow commentary such as “ALL of our teachers put their students’ needs first”, “EVERYONE at Brand X Elementary works toward inclusionary practices”, or “WE are all child-centered staff”. At the same time, we know that there are exceptions to these statements and in some situations, these comments only describe 20% of the staff. That’s when I am often called upon to assist parents. In social settings and organizations, the Pareto Principle highlights ” that 20% of the effort, or input, leads to 80% of the results or output.” This initally was developed by an Italian economist in 1906 named Vilfredo Pareto. Within a school, a church, or a business, the Pareto Principle amplifies the notion that 20% of the organization and its members perform 80% of the success attributed to the system. It is the idea that 20% of the effort, or input, leads to 80% of the results or output. For it’s simply not within the context of human nature for ALL members of a system to work toward 100% of the mission established. There are always innovators, early adopters, the silent majority, as well as laggards within every system, business, or organization. And this is true for schools. Specifically, this is addressed within the principle called “The Diffusion of Innovation”; highlighting the following: 2.5% are identified as “innovators”, 13.5% described as “early adopters”, another 14% identified as “early majority”, followed by another 34% as “late majority”, and closing out the model are laggards [16%]; those who refuse change and innovation; the reluctant ones. This model is more like what one finds within a traditional school setting. Take a moment and think about your school, organization, or other affiliation; doesn’t the Diffusion of Innovation seem to align with your experiences about human nature and your association? So, this week, like most others, I work with schools and districts across the state and country. And what was most impressive, I discovered a number of “unicorns”; educators who were staking claim toward doing something different,and presenting exceptional service. I see this all the time. Teaching presents a very challenging set of circumstances; it’s not a walk in the park. And in this light, we all don’t handle adversity in the same fashion. So when I do see a unicorn, someone who presents an exceptional level of service or practice, I want to call it out. I want to amplify the “unicorns” I ran into this week during the EVALUATION PROCESS :  SPEECH & LEARNING SPECIALIST: In preparation for a Communication Evaluation, the SLP presented a draft copy of the document a few days in advance for us to review; which is not unusual but so appreciated.  During the meeting, the overall agenda and presentation was highlighted within a powerpoint document with the most salient points featured so it was easy for other team members to follow along.  But what was most noteworthy, the specialist facilitated each section of the conversation with the following statement: “ Is this how you see the student at home and school?” to affirm the findings within the evaluation.  This facilitated a conversation and a discussion in contrast to creating limited dialog between team members.   By the time we completed the evaluation, we were all in agreement that the assessment projected an EXACT presentation of the student from the lens of testing but also from school and home perspectives.  So when we leaned into consensus addressing eligibility, the team decision was clear; her facilitation of the whole process from beginning to end was all about a shared-understanding using the evaluation as the foundation for DISCUSSION rather than serving as the final product.  And this all took place within a 35 minute meeting.  There was never a sense that the evaluation was a reflection of the specialist’s perspective and final eligibility decision but a collaborative starting point for discussion.   SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST: Again, during the same week, but within a different district, an advance draft copy of a “Formal Three Year Evaluation” was received. And prior to the meeting, both parents and myself were asked if we had guiding questions that needed to be addressed within the upcoming meeting as a reflection of the draft. By the time we met, the School Psychologist amended the draft a number of times to reflect a more complete understanding of the student. At the meeting, an agenda, which included formal assessments and related findings, highlighted ample time place-marked to assure we are all given time to address concerns and questions leading toward consensus related to eligibility. What was most extraordinary, was the extra time the School Psych spent with the parent the week before in review of the findings through a personal phone call to assure she had opportunity to ask questions without pressure of being in a “formal meeting” with time restraints. This created understanding but more so, trust. As a result, we were able to move through the Re-Evaluation without a hitch. Clearly, the School Psychologist understood the importance of the decisions being made and how critical it was to support the parent’s understanding of the Evaluation as part of her child’s IEP. It’s so encouraging to see educators lean into a perspective which is a bit outside of the box, beyond the ordinary. Especially, when it creates a more collaborative sense of partnership. It’s a lesson which we all could benefit from: Be a unicorn!