“The Law Of Threes”

The Giants won again last night, giving them a perfect record in their division and a two game lead over second place Washington. According to at least one pundit, their success is due to something called the “Law of Threes:”

Our friend Mike Lombardi did a tremendous job describing Tom Coughlin’s coaching style over at the National Football Post last week: “He is using a very simple leadership strategy called the ‘Law of Threes.’ On each team there are three types of players. The first are the ones who will do anything that is asked, willing to help the program. The second group are the undecided players, the players who are not sure what to do. And the third are the malcontents. These are the players who want to buck the system all the time and try to break down the team. As a leader, there is a tendency to try to win over the players in group three by trying to make them happy. But all that does is move the players from group two into group three, and cause you to start to lose the players in group one. What Coughlin has done is focus on group one. He pays no attention to group three and what has resulted is that Plaxico is on an island and no one wants to join him. The team is bigger than Plaxico.”

I never knew it had a name, but same idea applies very well in the classroom. In every class, I have students who want to learn, and probably would learn even if the class was taught by a trained monkey. Then there’s a group who will do what everyone else does, without a whole lot of initiative of their own. The final group are the ones who refuse to do anything, and – worse – take every attempt to get them to learn as a personal insult. Aks them to take their book out, and you’ll get is a scowl and grumbling in return.

He’s right about how to spend your energy, too. If you spend all your time pushing the malcontents, what’s most likely to happen is they’ll just get more resentful. If, though, you do get them to do a little work, the return will not be worth the time and effort invested. In other words, you could spend all your time and energy trying to get them to succeed, and they might return some mediocre work. Meanwhile, the motivated kids are asleep and the group in the middle is drifting towards the malcontents. Much better to focus on the kids who actually want to learn. It rewards the kids who deserve it and brings the middle group along as well.

It sounds harsh, like I’m rejecting a group of students. The truth, though, is that these kids have rejected the idea of an education. Until they change their own minds, I can’t do much for them. And I think one of the best ways to change their minds is not to constantly attack them, but to let them see what successful students actually look like.

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