I reviewed The Power of Habit in regards to my life, but I enjoyed the book so much I am writing about it in regards to teaching. I know teachers are swamped, but this book is powerful and since it is realistic and simple, I feel that many ideas will help in the classroom.
This is an overall take – and quick how-to for teachers looking for easy starts to implement ideas in a classroom. Reading The Power of Habit will give you a clearer idea of my examples, and you will enjoy the book too.
So, what ideas will work in a secondary classroom? I took three main points from The Power of Habit.
1. Small changes can make a big difference. Time and time again, Charles Duhigg explains how corporations changed employee behavior by focusing on one positive action, something everyone could support, like safety.
I did this behavior once, but didn’t realize I could repeat the action! I am kicking myself now. What I did was simple – I had every student walk into the classroom, grab an assignment, and start on it.
This is what tons of teachers do – bell ringers. After my students were finished, I asked them to take responsibility for their assignments. They put them neatly in the ‘to grade’ stacker, neatly returned the books to the shelf, and started the next task that I had put on the board. It was an action every student supported – they knew where their papers were, they knew what to expect every day in class.
It was a habit, they were good at it, and I praised them because they were so neat and orderly with their assignments and books.
2. They need a reward. Duhigg explains the habit loop: cue, routine, reward.
Students would walk in the room and pick up an assignment. The bell rang (cue) and they started. We reviewed and they finished the assignment. I praised them and would admire how great they were handling the task of organization.
The reward was simple. I was happy and would often verbally praise them. Their work was neat too. When I would return work, they would open the binder prongs and place the graded assignment. Reviewing before a test, students would flip to the correct place in their binder, and viola! No confusion or embarrassment.
The reward was simple. And inexpensive. And meaningful.
3. One good habit flowed into other aspects of the class. This was the best behaved class I have ever had. They worked together and I never caught anyone bullying another. The abilities were diverse, though. I had honors students and repeats (from not passing the class the prior semester). The class had a clique that could have been problematic.
BUT, this is the class that when I see a student from, I smile. Those students smile at me. I figured it was a magical teaching experience. (Teachers know what I mean – this class was great and years later, I remember all of their names).
There were twelve students, and I also attributed the cohesiveness to the small class size. I figured the personalities never rubbed wrong. After reading The Power of Habit, I think there was a bit more.
Once students had a positive behavior loop going, they were positive in other aspects of the class. They would help their peers who needed clarification and in return, would understand the material better. They understood they would have more freedom like sitting on the floor to read, or larger groups for group work if they got along. The class behaved, learned more than typical sophomore classes, and had more freedom.
After reading The Power of Habit, I realize that this “magic” from my sophomore English class years ago was based on the habit loop – students had a cue, they worked (the habit), and got a reward – good grades, positive verbal feedback from a teacher, new knowledge, freedom, and a peaceful class.
Like I said, I am kicking myself now. I attributed all of the greatness in the class to the small class size and luck. I could recreate that experience with work, and knowledge about habits.
The Power of Habit is not a “how to” book. It presents research from a variety of fields, and teachers would be remiss not to read it. The information is applicable to classrooms and students.