On the Three and a Half Habits of Highly Effective Teachers

Habits can be a help and a hindrance. In the context of teaching, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ can be summarised as follows: Good habits make effective teaching and learning practice more effortless; bad habits are those effortless actions that are a drain on effective teaching and learning practice.

However, what are we doing to form good habits, and break bad ones, both in ourselves and the communities we build in our classrooms? This Forbes’ piece here and James Clear’s thoughts here and here neatly summarise popular theories on habit formation. But, I’m interested in the types of habits we should seek to form. Inspired by Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, here’s my slightly more mundane, anecdotal Three and a Half Habits of Highly Effective Teachers.

#1) Eat Lunch with Colleagues, Everyday. You need to eat. You also need to press pause, even if it’s only for ten minutes. More importantly, eating with your colleagues is a fundamental social ritual that unites and builds community. Read this Atlantic article for some more family-centric thoughts.

#2) Be Flexibly Inflexible. Rules are rules. Except when they’re a) not and b) they have nothing to do with student learning. A highly effective teacher knows that the most flexible part of the system controls that system (think “steering wheel” and “car”); you know when to bend and when to pushback.

#3) Think Lose-Win(ish). You will always lose. Always. You cannot win and the sooner you unburden yourself of the ceaseless pressure of striving to, then you can start winning-ish. As Dylan Wiliams said, “This job you are doing is so hard that one lifetime isn’t enough to master it.” What does he mean? Your job satisfaction derives from embracing continuous improvement, so, let imperfection be your catalyst for future success.

#3 ½ ): Never Stop (exception, see rule #1). This is the meta-rule, the one rule to rule them all. Highly effective teachers are much like (most) sharks: if you stop swimming, you’ll drown. You must always be updating your practice otherwise the knowledge, understanding and skills that you are uncovering for your students will become swiftly irrelevant before you even know it.

Need this visually? See here.The Three and a Half Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Slide 1 The Three and a Half Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Slide 2 The Three and a Half Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Slide 3 The Three and a Half Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Slide 4 The Three and a Half Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Slide 5

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On Building Classroom Culture

It’s the start of a new academic year, so it’s time to forge those classroom communities. In my experience (filled with success and failure), to build a community you need to give students a sense of belonging, a recognition of potential adversity, ownership, and a vision that binds them together. To do this, try my 13 To Dos:

  1. Meet and greet students at the door, and be present to wish your students well as they leave. Always. Get to know what makes them wonderful.
  2. It sounds counter-intuitive, but make your classroom focused on embracing challenge, the possibility of failure and the potential uncertainties on the way to a common goal (aka students learning things). Nothing forges a group more than adversity.
  3. Be sure students understand that their individual input is required for any group success.
  4. Ask for, and act upon, student feedback on how the class is run.
  5. Be the passion you expect and…
  6. …. regularly allow students to share theirs in student-led presentations from their favourite book to current affairs. I have used this protocol – Hot Reads.
  7. Have fun together, with whole class quizzes and low-stake, friendly competitions, e.g. Kahoot or Quizlet Live. Even better, compete with other classes…
  8. Actively and intentionally coach students to collaborate in whole class, small group and paired discussions, for example with the 7 norms of collaboration.
  9. Reminisce at least once a year. I’ve run this Memory Cafe lesson to do this.
  10. Place student work on your walls, showcasing both exemplary work and on-going, imperfect products.
  11. Allow students to work in ways that honour the differences in how they might best contribute to the community. Sometimes this is alone. Often it’s as part of a group. Create classroom space for both.
  12. Maintain a comfortable, clean, welcoming classroom.
  13. Take and display photos of students working, smiling, having fun. The Google+ photo assistant will even create a GIF if you photo burst your target.

In summary, ask yourself the following three questions:

  • Do you have routines in place that allow the group to experience a sense of community?
  • Do you have a shared vision for success? 
  • Does the classroom space mirror and promote a community you all value?