Encoding Success…

Eggs in Baku

I had the distinct pleasure of serving on an accreditation visit for a school in Baku, Azerbaijan this past March. They put me up in a really nice hotel called the Boulevard located seconds from the Caspian Sea. As many hotels do, breakfast was included and this hotel, in particular, had a really fantastic breakfast buffet.

Each morning, a really kind gentleman named Fuad would make me a one egg omelet in a tiny pan. He’d include jalapenos, onion, green pepper, masala, and cheese. It would take approximately 3-4 minutes to make the omelet and it was delicious.

After returning back to Al Ain from Baku, I decided that I would make the same omelets each morning before going to school. After all, I had watched Fuad do it 7 straight mornings and had the process down.

The first morning I tried I burned the egg. The second morning, I added milk to the egg and then when I tried to fold it over, it turned to mush and broke apart. I couldn’t get the right temperature. I couldn’t figure out how to get both sides to cook at once, or to flip the egg halfway throughout the process so I could cook the other side well. One week in, I was extremely frustrated.

How could something so easy be so difficult?

The answer was two-fold. Firstly, it wasn’t easy for Fuad. He just had an awful lot of practice making omelets. He was really good at it. I’m not sure if he had hit the 10,000 hours of practice Gladwell-ian threshold for how long it takes to become effective at something but he had been doing it for a while. People who are really good at things make them look really easy. Have you ever seen the Michael Jordan fadeaway, the Cristiano Ronaldo attack, or the Tom Brady touchdown pass?

Secondly, you have to know how to do it right to practice it effectively. Simply put, because I didn’t know how to make a good omelet, I couldn’t practice making a good omelet. You must practice doing the right things to get good at whatever it is you are aiming to achieve. Doug Lemov describes this as “encoding success”. Lemov discusses encoding success and 41 other strategies for effective practice in his 2012 book “Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better”.

K-12 Implications

Encoding success is really important for students also. Let’s think about homework for a moment. If a student is assigned an hour of homework in math but doesn’t have the skills down to encode success through practice, it is conceivable that the practice we send for homework is actually doing more harm than good.

The same concern can be said with how students fare with formative assessment within the lesson. As teachers, how do we ensure that students are getting better at making the omelet because they have learned different and specific aspects of the process (correct temperature, amount of egg, consistency, when to flip, etc.)? As leaders, how do we support other leaders and teachers in encoding success through their practice? We must show people the right way to do things, which may sound simple, but I believe is often overlooked.

UPDATE: I am really, really good at making omelets now.

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