There is no doubt about it: when you infuse your practice, your classroom, your assignments, your relationships, and your culture with the five key beliefs, watch out! The refreshing breezes of inside-out motivation are coming, and your class is about to feel a bit more like the life-giving place you’ve always envisioned.
It won’t be perfect, but it will be better.
But at the same time, wherever and whenever you can, you want to create the routines and procedures that make motivation unnecessary. Motivation, after all, is about enlisting the will. But routines and procedures? These harness the granite strength of habit. Once established, little will is required.
For example, let’s consider the start of class. It’s possible to have a class culture where students know the teacher is good at what she does, know the work is valuable, know that they belong, know that they’re all beginners, and know that they can succeed. In such a place, you can feel it — students are generally glad to be there. It’s a good feeling for them and a good feeling for their teacher; coming to class is a kind of coming home.
Again, it’s not perfect — but it is alive.
BUT if those students don’t have anything that they’re used to doing at the start of class, even the most motivated and kind-hearted groups are going to struggle eventually. They’ll get antsy, distracted, jittery. Without a consistent routine to start class, they have to look to you — day in, day out. And that is a lot of pressure on you — the kind of pressure that drives a lot of folks a little bit crazy after a while. The kind of pressure you don’t need.
But a well-run routine? It can change the whole deal.
But here’s the most important thing about routines: since they depend so much on consistency, they’ve got to become habitual for you, too. At first, you’ll have to try at them, of course. For example, at first you’ll have to work to remember to think of that writing prompt that starts class each day. But as it becomes habit for you, you’ll need less and less effort to make sure you’ve done your part to keep the routine going today.
In nearly all areas of teaching, perfectionism is uncalled for. But when it comes to reinforcing habit, it really is a good idea to be perfectly consistent. And the only way to make that sentence a source of life for you — rather than an undue burden — is to habituate it for yourself.
Thus for both us and for our students, the idea is straightforward: habituate what we can, then motivate what we can’t. And throughout it all, simplicity wins the day.
Need help with habits?
James Clear offers the simplest reminders for how to make the routine-to-habit pipeline run smoothly in your setting.
For whatever you would like students to do, make it as
- easy, and
as you can.
Bad habits getting in the way? Inhibit those by reversing the above. In other words, make bad habits
- difficult, and
(Clear’s book is excellently wrought and broadly applicable. Try it in hardcover or audio.)
The gist: We want motivation-rich environments all across a student’s school day. The five key beliefs methodology works great for that. But wherever you can, mess around with habit creation, too. This lets you save motivation for tougher stuff (e.g., debates or writing or text-centered lessons).
Ryan Kirchoff says
Dave, I love this important post and encouragement for teachers. When students have a directive as soon as they enter the classroom, the atmosphere shifts from herding sheep to sparking curiosity. Also, Atomic Habits is probably the best book I read over quarantine last year…so many easy, practical ideas for making and breaking habits to improve your quality of life. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!