Wednesday / May 22

Using the Einstein Principle to Increase Hope and Achievement

When dealing with concerns about learning loss, teacher shortages, and growing stress and anxiety levels in schools, most leaders’ first reaction is to seek out and adopt new ideas and programs. Thus, as administrators struggle to balance various demands and concerns, schools tend to operate on an increasingly intimidating list of goals and initiatives.

In a world where schools are asked to do more with less, there is an opportunity to grow hope and achievement through utilizing the Einstein principle.

The Einstein Principle 

Shortly after Einstein left college, he struggled to find work. He took a short-term job at a patent office while studying to earn his Ph.D. in 1906. During this time, he published numerous scientific studies in theoretical physics. He was a jack of all trades in the theoretical physics world, but as he reflected on his work, he saw he was making surface level progress.

Einstein wanted to have more of an impact on the world. At this time, he stepped back and decided to stop contributing to the general knowledge of the field and focus on his work in general relativity. He stopped his other projects and dove deep into figuring out how the influence of gravity was impacting his progress on general relativity.

As time passed, he became more and more fixated on formalizing general relativity. From 1912 to 1915, relativity was all he worked on academically. He let go of other opportunities to dive deeper into general physics. Despite giving up on generalized research, he made new leeway.

In 1915, he finished and released his whole theory of relativity. His dedication paid off, and his theory is regarded as one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century. Most credit his outstanding intellect with the discovery, but Einstein’s story reveals an underlying principle schools can adopt to make more progress and achievement.

The Einstein Principle for Hope and Achievement

Schools tend to generalize and multitask to care for all the needs and problems that arise in a school year. As new issues arise, new solutions are offered. The problem? By trying to do numerous things well, schools only get surface-level impact, like Einstein in his early career. To really achieve and make deep progress, the solution lies not in what new solutions a school can adopt, but through prioritizing and minimalizing the goals and tasks schools take on to have an impact.

The reason minimalizing and prioritizing goals can improve achievement is that the hope of a school diminishes as attention becomes fleeting. Snyder’s Hope Theory states that hope is a life-sustaining cognitive process composed of three components:

  1. Goals Thinking – having a clear idea and defining valuable goals.
  2. Pathways Thinking – the capacity to plan ways to reach those goals.
  3. Agency Thinking – the ability to start and maintain motivation to implement and use a plan to achieve those goals.

Suppose a school has multiple goals and initiatives that are all high in value by the very nature of the term value, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “rare or of importance.” In that case, the goals and initiatives lose their importance just by having multiple value goals.

On top of that, as teachers and staff work to implement new goals and initiatives, they lose sustained motivation causing initiatives to half work and some to fail. If the motivation of school staff were a car and hope filled its gas tank, the more stops and detours added to the trip of achievement, the quicker the school will run out of gas. The Einstein Principle can transform a school because eliminating and prioritizing what matters gives a staff more fuel or hope on their journey.

The Einstein Principle in Action

There are 4 steps to putting the Einstein Principle into action.

To start, school leaders should direct the staff or leadership teams to list all the initiatives, goals, and programs in a building. Then, have the team look at the list and decide collectively on which initiatives, goals, and programs work and which could be cut, eliminating things that may be taking away time or focus from schools working effectively on goals.

With the goals, initiatives, and programs left, prioritizing is the next vital step to help improve focus. What’s left should be put in order of importance to help staff understand where they should focus on driving goal progress.

If you’re unsure where to start prioritizing could look to the work of John Hattie on Visible Learning to align goals to what is proven to positively impact on student achievement.

Once the list is prioritized, the last step is to discover the extraneous things that consume time and focus and problem-solve to cut them down. There are a lot of activities/tasks that eat up the time and energy of school staff. These include duties, meetings, e-mail management, working from home, etc. Have staff list the things that divert their focus and energy. Should staff have any extraneous duties or meetings, cutting or reducing the burden is essential to success.

It’s impossible to reduce everything that eats up our focus, but through collaborative problem-solving, school staff can regain the time and energy to dive deep into the goals that matter most. The Einstien Principle will not fix everything, but it will renew energy, renew focus, and, most of all, renew hope.


Written by

Cathleen Beachboard is a teacher, author, and researcher. She writes and creates content for Edutopia and has been featured by TED-Ed. After adopting five children out of a case of extreme abuse and neglect, she has been on a mission to improve outcomes for those who experience trauma and anxiety. Cathleen has taught middle school English for the past 15 years. She also works as a part-time researcher holding an M.A. in Psychology. Her research focuses on psychological tools schools can use to help students and staff increase psychological hope, resiliency, achievement, and happiness. You can find her on Twitter @Cathleenbeachbd.

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