Creating Joy in Learning: Deming in Education (Part 2)

“Deming helped me not be a victim of the system.”

This is the second of two articles about Deming in education, based on an interview with David P. Langford. Click here for the first article. You can find more discussions about Deming in education in a series of short episodes on our podcast “In Their Own Words” where David offers practical advice for implementing Deming in any learning environment.

Focusing on Quality

In a traditional classroom, time is rigid, and quality is flexible. Students can turn in “good enough” work and get a C or maybe a B. In David’s classrooms, they met the standard – got an A – or had to keep working. Time was flexible, quality was rigid. And students flourished, making teachers and families happier.

It works at scale too. David started working with a school in 1992 that still uses Deming. They grew from 30,000 to 50,000 students and have passed the Deming philosophy down through generations of teachers, students, and principals.

Using Deming, students learn how to learn and keep their intrinsic motivation to learn. They don’t learn how to game the traditional school system. So what happens when they get to college?

“Deming helped me not be a victim of the system.”

I knew I needed my own study group so by cooperating with others we optimized ourselves. Then we helped others do the same, because we were doing so well and others wanted to join us.”

“I’ve decided to be the best C student they’ve ever had. Some of the classes are really interesting but I can’t keep optimizing my learning and spend a bunch of time memorizing for multiple-choice tests. So I decided to just pick “c” on all the tests.”

Another student refused to cram for tests – he accepted whatever grade they gave him – and instead created portfolios for professors showing them how to do things differently. The Dean asked him to return the following year, sit in on classes, and coach willing professors in the new methods.

How do you make the change?

Teachers are learners too. Most of them are open to change, but they’ve been bombarded with new programs, arbitrary standards, and unreasonable expectations from parents and politicians. Deming’s focus on “constancy of purpose” is refreshing for many of them (once they are convinced that it’s not just a “flavor of the month.”) It helps even the scarier parts of implementing Deming’s ideas – like asking kids what they think is going well and what needs to change in the classroom – become less intimidating.

For example, a 3rd-grade teacher asked her students: “What is one thing I can change that would help you next week?” The answer came back that she should change her hairstyle. It seemed a ridiculous request, unrelated to learning, but she decided to try something new anyway. She returned with a new haircut the following week, and the students applauded! They also learned that she would listen and take their requests seriously. Trust established; they all turned their attention to creating a joyful classroom.

Deming insisted that everyone is entitled to joy in work and extended that to joy in learning.


In the Deming in Education with David P. Langford podcast series, host Andrew Stotz and David discuss practical ways to implement the Deming philosophy in classrooms and school districts. David has 40 years of stories from working with schools around the world, because each place “implements Deming” in unique ways. The episodes are small bites of around 15 – 20 minutes, and I’ve found each is delicious.

Videos of the podcasts are available to DemingNEXT subscribers.

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