Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Power of Habit...in the Classroom

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business is one of those books that I can probably read over and over and over again in my lifetime. It was the one book I read during my concussion because when I was allowed to read in 10-15 minute spurts but unable to commit to a story, this was the perfect genre for me. I'm not even sure how I came across the book, but the idea of habits became instantly fascinating to me, especially at a time in my life when I had to give up most of the habits I knew so well.

At the Choice Literacy Writing Retreat last week, Brenda Power talked a lot about our writing habits and I began to reflect specifically on those and how the things I learned in The Power of Habit related to my life as a writer. The time at the retreat gave us all time to refocus on that aspect of our life.

When I got back home, I didn't have much down time before the work on my classroom began and I found myself realizing that after 25+ years of teaching, there are lots of habits built into what I do in getting ready for a new school year. This can be a good thing and it can be limiting. The thing this year is that after reading The Power of Habit, I am aware that I do have habits as a teacher and I imagine I have them during all times of the year. Just as Choice Words by Peter Johnston really pushed me to pay close attention to every word I speak in the classroom with children, I think The Power of Habit is making me very aware of those things I do without even thinking. Some of them make my teaching life very efficient.

Some of them are things I understand about young readers and learners that make my teaching work. My habits around setting up a classroom library are fascinating. The whole family is actually involved in those (although it is my habit, not theirs!). The ways in which I rethink, reorganize, label, replace, weed, etc. is pretty habitual each year. But there are other things I do every year that do not seem quite as purposeful.

 I am planning to monitor myself for those things I am doing to get ready for my year when my brain seems to be in auto-pilot. It is those things that deserve some thought. Am I doing them because I've always done them or because they are the right decision for this group of children right now? When you revisit a book like this at different times, different things stick. Because I revisited the book during the writing retreat, I was really able to look closely at my writing habits. But because it was fresh in my mind when I went into school to work the next day, my habits of teaching started to become clear to me. I think many of my habits of classroom teaching work well. I believe there are things that become habitual in a way that makes me efficient and effective.

But I also think that when my brain goes into auto-pilot, I just need to be aware--it will be my clue this year to make sure it is a habit that makes sense. Just a quick time to ask myself--does this still make sense or is it something I haven't rethought in a while--a habit I need to change? I think sometimes in our classrooms routines become habits as teachers and I am suddenly quite aware of that and looking forward to paying attention to those habits of language and routine in the classrooom.

 After reading Choice Words, I found myself reflecting constantly in the classroom, asking myself the same questions over and over. This year, I've created a little list of questions to keep in mind this year. 

What are my habits as a classroom teacher?
Which of those are good habits? Which are not?
Do I have habits in the ways in which I talk to students?
Do I have habits in the ways I set up the room?
Do I have habits that work?
Do I have habits that give students the wrong messages about learning?
Do I have habits I need to rethink?
Why do I do this? Is it something I've always done?
What would happen if I changed this habit?
What triggers this habit?

As someone who has remained a classroom teacher for 27 years, I know how important it is to stay thoughtful and purposeful. The Power of Habit has helped me to see why this is so important as a teacher. Habits matter and I think they do us lots of good. But if I am not aware of them, they can be the thing that keeps me from moving forward as a teacher and from looking at the group of children in front of me. Being aware of the power of habit in the classroom may help me change and grow in ways that better meets the needs of my students. Being aware will help me see those "things I've always done" in a new way and continue to grow and learn as a teacher.

4 comments:

  1. I have taught for 18 years. I, too suffer from the power of habits. I am eager to hear what your specific habits are that benefit and others that deter you from moving forward. This is such a powerful conversation. There is so much time we spend with the kids (rightly so, it is what we do.) But how could we benefit by looking at the habits of others and questioning our own. What a wonderful opportunity to have.

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  2. What a timely post! I have been thinking about my back to school life habits and wanting to make a change. I am stuck in my habits. I am going to Amazon right now to get this book!

    EmilyK

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  3. Habits can be bad in that they stop us from changing but they can also help us move forward. If there is a new behavior you want to do - tie it to an old habit. ( example: when I take attendance -old habit- I will add a new vocabulary words into our daily conversation - new habit)

    It is interesting to think about how our old habits can help us make changes in our daily life. (This idea comes from BJ Fogg - Tiny Habits)

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  4. Franki,
    I packed this book in my bag for this week's visit at my mom's house. I was hoping to get it read before I start school. The beginning of the year is always a hard time as the habits of writing, reading, and exercise (well, not that one this summer) I've established over the summer collide with force into the school year. I'm hoping reading the book will help me to rethink about habits in a way that allows me to create new habits to keep family, writing, reading, exercise (ugh!) and school in some type of balance.

    Loved your points about habits in our teaching lives and this will give me a little different lens as I read the book. Last year we were fortunate to get a new teacher on our team. She's amazing! I remember getting ready for Open House and talking to her about "habits" I have for preparing. Often, sincerely, she'd ask "Why do you do that?". I'd realize I do it out of habit --- a habit that doesn't necessarily fit the world I'm teaching in today. Your question will push this thinking, "Am I doing them because I've always done them or because they are the right decision for this group of children right now?"

    Thanks for giving me a new lens to read through this week.
    Cathy

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