Lessons from Louis Pasteur: Classroom Management Under A Microscope

On every container of milk, there’s a label that states that the milk has been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process that was invented by a man named Louis Pasteur, who is also known as the father of microbiology.

In this post, we’ll dive into how we can use this seemingly unrelated discovery and some of its concepts to improve classroom management.

Louis Pasteur’s Story

In the summer of 1856, in the town of Lille in northern France, M. Bigo was frustrated at his distillery. Much of the alcohol that he was making out of beetroot was spoiling instead of fermenting into alcohol.

He eventually approached Louis Pasteur, who was a professor at Lille University at the time, to help him solve this problem.

Fascinated by the problem, Louis Pasteur took his microscope and started doing his usual investigations. This became the beginning of the discovery of germ theory: recognizing that there are tiny microbes in the containers of beetroot juice that were infecting the alcohol and spoiling it.

Subsequently, he suggested that Bigo wash out the beet juice containers in order to see a drastic decline in the amount of alcohol that was spoiling.

This later led to the idea that by washing your hands, you can minimize germ spread, and continued to have tremendous effect on the medical industry, immunology, microbiology, bacteriology, and more.

Classroom Management Under A Microscope

So what does that have to do with classroom management?

When we look at a classroom, there are so many different things that are going on. As a result, we often don’t see the microbes – those little things that you really need a microscope to recognize.

One such question that we can use this lens for is, what are those microbes that cause children to struggle, to be overlooked, to become frustrated? In order to answer this question, we need to use a so-called figurative microscope. And in order to look deeper into the activities of these children that are struggling with a microscope, it really comes down to interactions. How are they interacting with teachers, and with each other?

If we can look at these interactions under a microscope and really break them down, we have a better chance of recognizing problems earlier and finding effective solutions – just like the simplicity of washing your hands. Before Louis Pasteur, surgeons wouldn’t even wash their hands. Looking back now, it’s such an obvious, simple solution to spreading germs. But before Pasteur identified it, it wasn’t public knowledge.

Imagine if we can figure out something as simple as that and apply it to the school setting to drastically reduce the number of children that are dropping out. Imagine if we could discover the equivalent of “washing hands” for a classroom and drastically reduce the number of failures that we have in our school system.

Of course, the initial reaction to that thought is: But what is it? Is there even such a thing? Washing hands is obvious and simple, sure. But what is the equivalent of that in the classroom?

The ClasStars “Hand Washing” Solution

Here’s the ClasStars answer to that question: If we document every interaction that a child has, and then look at the trends and the patterns of behavior, we will probably notice a lot more about them than we’re doing with the traditional way of documenting behavior.

Now, the problem is that it’s impractical to document every single interaction that a child has – especially in what we know is a hectic classroom. Unless you’re going to put a camera on them and record everything that happens, you’re not going to be able to document everything.

A psychologist by the name of John Gottman actually did film couples when he studied them for a divorce prediction study. By observing couples interact on that kind of “microscopic” level, he was able to discover that there is a high correlation between the ratios of positive to negative feedback that they give each other and the quality of their relationship.

As a result, he came to discover that he is able to watch a couple discuss a disagreement for three minutes and, with over 90% accuracy, predict whether they’ll still be together in 10 years – simply by counting the number of compliments and criticisms that they give each other.

In a good relationship that will last the next 10 years, even while arguing, couples will still give five compliments to every criticism. But in a poor relationship that will not last, they give only 0.8 compliments to every criticism. In other words, a 1-1 compliment to criticism ratio is very close to a divorce.

Essentially, this is putting a relationship under a microscope. And if we apply that to the classroom environment with a struggling student, we can similarly look at the ratio of positive to negative feedback that this student is regularly receiving.

But in a classroom with countless things going on, how does a teacher track, record, pay attention to, and analyze these compliment-to-criticism ratios for every single student? It’s extremely difficult, and there’s no silver bullet.

What we can offer is the following: Let’s try to be more cognizant. Let’s try to notice the way we are interacting with our students.

If you’re able to keep track of interactions on a piece of paper, you can take a class list and just put a mark – like a dot or a tally – every time you give a compliment or criticism to a child (whenever you remember to). And typically, if you do it with some level of consistency, you’ll compile enough of a sample size to inform you of how much positive feedback you need to give this child to balance out the ratio.

And at the end of the day, you can see who’s gotten more positive feedback and who’s gotten more criticism. You can mark who needs more positive feedback the next day to balance out the ratio from the previous day, and take it day-by-day.

So this was the idea that inspired me after reading about Louis Pasteur and how he found solutions by looking at the microscopic level. Let’s try to take a little bit of a microscopic look into the behaviors and interactions of students that are struggling, and let’s see what we discover.

Learn more about ClasStars and how it helps you track each compliment and criticism that you give to every student in your classroom.

On every container of milk, there’s a label that states that the milk has been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process that was invented by a man named Louis Pasteur, who is also known as the father of microbiology. In this post, we’ll dive into how we can use this seemingly unrelated discovery and some of its concepts to improve classroom management.

Louis Pasteur’s Story

In the summer of 1856, in the town of Lille in northern France, M. Bigo was frustrated at his distillery. Much of the alcohol that he was making out of beetroot was spoiling instead of fermenting into alcohol. He eventually approached Louis Pasteur, who was a professor at Lille University at the time, to help him solve this problem. Fascinated by the problem, Louis Pasteur took his microscope and started doing his usual investigations. This became the beginning of the discovery of germ theory: recognizing that there are tiny microbes in the containers of beetroot juice that were infecting the alcohol and spoiling it. Subsequently, he suggested that Bigo wash out the beet juice containers in order to see a drastic decline in the amount of alcohol that was spoiling. This later led to the idea that by washing your hands, you can minimize germ spread, and continued to have tremendous effect on the medical industry, immunology, microbiology, bacteriology, and more.

Classroom Management Under A Microscope

So what does that have to do with classroom management? When we look at a classroom, there are so many different things that are going on. As a result, we often don’t see the microbes – those little things that you really need a microscope to recognize. One such question that we can use this lens for is, what are those microbes that cause children to struggle, to be overlooked, to become frustrated? In order to answer this question, we need to use a so-called figurative microscope. And in order to look deeper into the activities of these children that are struggling with a microscope, it really comes down to interactions. How are they interacting with teachers, and with each other?

If we can look at these interactions under a microscope and really break them down, we have a better chance of recognizing problems earlier and finding effective solutions – just like the simplicity of washing your hands. Before Louis Pasteur, surgeons wouldn’t even wash their hands. Looking back now, it’s such an obvious, simple solution to spreading germs. But before Pasteur identified it, it wasn’t public knowledge.

Imagine if we can figure out something as simple as that and apply it to the school setting to drastically reduce the number of children that are dropping out. Imagine if we could discover the equivalent of “washing hands” for a classroom and drastically reduce the number of failures that we have in our school system.

Of course, the initial reaction to that thought is: But what is it? Is there even such a thing? Washing hands is obvious and simple, sure. But what is the equivalent of that in the classroom?

The ClasStars “Hand Washing” Solution

Here’s the ClasStars answer to that question: If we document every interaction that a child has, and then look at the trends and the patterns of behavior, we will probably notice a lot more about them than we’re doing with the traditional way of documenting behavior.

Now, the problem is that it’s impractical to document every single interaction that a child has – especially in what we know is a hectic classroom. Unless you’re going to put a camera on them and record everything that happens, you’re not going to be able to document everything.

A psychologist by the name of John Gottman actually did film couples when he studied them for a divorce prediction study. By observing couples interact on that kind of “microscopic” level, he was able to discover that there is a high correlation between the ratios of positive to negative feedback that they give each other and the quality of their relationship.

As a result, he came to discover that he is able to watch a couple discuss a disagreement for three minutes and, with over 90% accuracy, predict whether they’ll still be together in 10 years – simply by counting the number of compliments and criticisms that they give each other.

In a good relationship that will last the next 10 years, even while arguing, couples will still give five compliments to every criticism. But in a poor relationship that will not last, they give only 0.8 compliments to every criticism. In other words, a 1-1 compliment to criticism ratio is very close to a divorce.

Essentially, this is putting a relationship under a microscope. And if we apply that to the classroom environment with a struggling student, we can similarly look at the ratio of positive to negative feedback that this student is regularly receiving.

But in a classroom with countless things going on, how does a teacher track, record, pay attention to, and analyze these compliment-to-criticism ratios for every single student? It’s extremely difficult, and there’s no silver bullet.

What we can offer is the following: Let’s try to be more cognizant. Let’s try to notice the way we are interacting with our students.

If you’re able to keep track of interactions on a piece of paper, you can take a class list and just put a mark – like a dot or a tally – every time you give a compliment or criticism to a child (whenever you remember to). And typically, if you do it with some level of consistency, you’ll compile enough of a sample size to inform you of how much positive feedback you need to give this child to balance out the ratio.

And at the end of the day, you can see who’s gotten more positive feedback and who’s gotten more criticism. You can mark who needs more positive feedback the next day to balance out the ratio from the previous day, and take it day-by-day.

So this was the idea that inspired me after reading about Louis Pasteur and how he found solutions by looking at the microscopic level. Let’s try to take a little bit of a microscopic look into the behaviors and interactions of students that are struggling, and let’s see what we discover. Learn more about ClasStars and how it helps you track each compliment and criticism that you give to every student in your classroom.