When considering the benefits of your new initiative, think also of the costs.
In business this can be a simple calculation: what are the projected costs? What is the expected revenue or saving? Does the revenue / saving exceed the cost? If so, profit.
It’s rarely ever so simple in education, but the principle is the same.
Towards the end of Elizabeth Green’s book Building a Better Teacher, she tells a story of a teacher who deals with a recalcitrant child by tolerating her slightly abusive tone, and engaging in her game until she ultimately guided the pupil to the point she had wanted all along: asking a question about a film clip they had seen, and with a more responsive tone in her voice. Green describes the exercise as being like ‘a Tai Chi deflection.’ Her telling of the story is a positive one – this is a teacher to be admired.
Green explicates the benefits, however, without listing the costs. How much of the other pupils’ time was being wasted while this child played her games? If only a minute, that’s half an hour of learning time in total (assuming a class of 30). That number scales up rapidly if they spent two minutes, or three, in this back and forth conflict. What lessons was this child learning throughout? That her poor choices and negative actions carry no negative consequences in turn? That this is positive behaviour, in which she should often engage?
Green outlined the legitimate positive outcomes of the teacher’s decisions, but didn’t pause to list any of the potential costs. If she had, we could pose the equally legitimate question ‘did the benefits exceed the costs?’
We’re now at a point where we can see that the costs can take on many forms:
- Money, in the form of time
Cost-Benefit Analysis is like an advanced version of Effort:Impact ratio. Where the ratio is a very simple heuristic for good decision making, the analysis can be a more formal exercise.
Financial cost-benefit analysis
We can’t necessarily set forth all our costs and benefits quite so quantitatively, but the principle is the same. All benefits carry associated costs, and we need to be on the look out for them, in whatever form they take, before making our final decisions.