The Secret to Success: A Little Goes a Long Way

Neil GuptaBlog, Connect Better, Differentiate Better, Innovate Better, Lead Better, Lesson Plan Better, Survival


  • Some cooking advice that also applies to remote teaching.
  • Steps and questions to consider when planning for distance learning.

Cooking is a hobby I enjoy, as well as a pleasant distraction from life.  After eating an enjoyable dish at a restaurant, I make it a goal to try to achieve success and replicate the recipe, but make it even better.

I scroll through Pinterest and YouTube for hours to see how others have made the dish before I begin tinkering with it myself.  I find myself blending different techniques and recipes to make it suitable to my cooking prowess, budget, and cooking utensils.

Honestly, I can say that I’ve mastered making Chicken Marsala!  I’ll still order it at a restaurant, but find myself disappointed with their dish. Only to affirm, and even proclaim to all those seated at the table, that my dish is still the best.

When I was first making this dish, I asked my friend Matt, who is a chef at a top restaurant, for advice since my dish didn’t taste good at all.  When he asked how I prepared it, I started by revealing the ingredients: chicken, marsala wine, mushrooms, onions, etc.

Before I began sharing my steps, Matt asked me for the amounts of each ingredient.  Upon sharing the quantity of each item, he stopped me even before I finished.  He told me I was using way too much of the seasonings.  Then, Matt shared the secret to success for all his dishes…

A Little Goes a Long Way.

That seemed contrary to what I thought would make the dish taste good, but I relented to his culinary skills.  You’d think more wine, mushrooms, and onions could only make it better!  The next night, I reduced the amount of some of the ingredients to his advice. It was an immediate success!

What does this have to do with teaching?

The same could be said of our work as educators during this time.  In our determination to be the best we can be, we might overdo it.  It may seem contrary to what we might want to do (I really wanted to add more salt), but during this pandemic, less is more.

It may seem contrary to what we might want to do, but during this pandemic, less is more. Click To Tweet

As we move to remote learning, it’s hard to gauge how much work to give to our students.  Even when we are in the classroom, we sometimes find that students are confused with the learning.

But then, we have the ability to redirect quickly.  Without seeing our students and knowing their various needs and supports at home, a little bit goes a long way.

If you think you’ve shortened the assignments, cut it even more.  Here are other reflective questions to help as you plan for your upcoming lessons.

Send assignments at the same time each morning.

We are all losing track of time, and it may be in the evening that the spirit moves you to work on an assignment.  While it’s fine to create the assignment in the evening, resist the urge to send it in the evening, at night, or over the weekend.

Students, and families, need a consistent routine they can expect.  Think about your students who might be anxious and feel the need to begin work immediately when they first see it.  Trust me, I have one of those learners in my home.  Allow them time to rest and have structured “off” time from school work.

Send a weekly schedule in advance.

I know we are all still trying to “build the plane in the air”, but providing assignments in advance helps students, and families, to plan ahead.  It’s okay if students do all of the assignments at the beginning, or even wait until the end.

We don’t know their schedules or their other obligations, so giving students time to prepare helps them to plan.

Don’t count off points for late work.  

Maybe this was part of your classroom guidelines before the crisis, but it cannot be this way now.  We are all adjusting to remote learning, and what may seem as something reasonable to you, may not be to them.

From watching my two teenagers engage in remote learning, they spend a significant amount of time just trying to understand the directions, the question, or how to submit their answer. This doesn’t even include time working on the answer.

Remember to let “learning be the constant and time the variable”.

Don’t make students have to print.

While districts are working to find ways to get devices into the hands of students who may not have one at home, printing is a whole other story.  Look at other tech tools or apps that may not require students to print.

After I felt that I had perfected the Chicken Marsala recipe, Matt invited me over to his house to watch him cook his version of it.  His kitchen was spotless.  All of his utensils, knives, pots, and pans were of the best quality, and his ingredients looked and smelled even more fresh than mine.

I was mesmerized as I watched him cut vegetables, saute the onions, and cook the dish to perfection – all while talking and laughing through the evening.  With admiration for him and a newfound sense of humility, Matt gave me this last piece of advice:

Give Yourself, and Your Students, Grace.

Just like I didn’t have the cooking training or resources like Matt, we weren’t trained for remote learning.  And neither were our students.

The cool thing about educators is that we strive to be the best for our students each and every day.  This may be one of our hardest times, but make it a goal to decrease the focus on content to make even more room to just check in your students.  Really ask them how they are doing, how they are feeling, what they miss, and even pleasant surprises from being home.

Be vulnerable with them in sharing your current journey to model perseverance, grit, empathy, and even hope.  And, when you get that itch to work on your lesson plans, remember: a little goes a long way!


Dr. Neil Gupta has served as a teacher, building administrator, and district-level administrator for over 20 years. Neil has presented at the state, national, and international level in the areas of leadership and coaching. Dr. Gupta has a passion for coaching leaders and working with teams employing effective strategies. Dr. Gupta is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.