During the summer the 25-mph speed limit sign was moved up the hill a few hundred yards. This morning on my way to school I realized that, once again, I cruised through it at a higher speed, only slowing down as I approached the bridge that had previously marked the lowered speed zone. A habit formed from thirty years of traveling that road five days a week is hard to break.
My thoughts then traveled to the habits we want our students to form. We are at the beginning of a new school term. Now is the time to work on the habits we want to see and perhaps work on breaking the old habits from previous years. The first step in forming a new habit is to become aware that it is necessary. Then we need to put effort into performing that habit continually until we do it without thought. Good habits take much more effort than bad habits. One must be vigilant and persistent to form good ones.
Many habits we want to see in school are not necessarily good or bad but are just the method we want to see something happen. It does not exactly matter where on a paper the student puts his name, but most of us do want to see it at a consistent place each time. So, we need to show, remind, and possibly reinforce where to write one’s name. It doesn’t really matter which on side of a desk students get out of but many times one side works into the classroom flow more easily. The habit needs to be practiced. Many school routines should become habits to help the classroom function smoothly and efficiently.
We need to help our students form good habits on the playground. Good sportsmanship does not come readily to most children. It takes teaching, modeling, and trying again to help students learn to play fairly, honestly, and kindly.
Reinforcement must be given to help students form good habits. At times reinforcement will be negative in recognition of not following the habit. (If the local town policeman stopped me for forgetting to slow down soon enough, I would remember for a long time.) Just as important is positive reinforcement when a student demonstrates a good habit.
The other day our junior high teacher asked me, “Do you still make your first graders hold their pencils correctly?” Well, I try but sometimes the effort it takes to form a correct grip habit is greater than the time I have to spend on it and students slip by without forming the correct habit. She always reminds me of what I did to help her and her classmates correct their wrong grip when she was in first grade. To help it stick in their minds, I used Frank Gilbreth’s (of Cheaper by the Dozen fame) idea for teaching his children to type. He stood behind them and whenever they made a mistake, he thumped them on the head with a pencil. So, in my class, a wrong pencil grip while they were writing got a mild thump on the head. It did help her to form a good habit, though I haven’t tried it since because I’m not really sure it was a good idea.
Teachers, too, need to develop habits in the classroom. We need the habit of being consistent in discipline. We need the habits of kindness, punctuality, neatness, organization, fairness, and persistence just as much as our students do. With new school procedures put into place because of COVID, I’m finding it takes work to change my old habits to fit the new. It takes effort.
I have driven through the new speed zone enough now that I do remember most times. But I have to consciously make the effort to remember. If my thoughts are elsewhere, I do not remember until I find myself automatically slowing from habit once I get to the bridge. This habit is going to take a lot more work until it has changed to something I do without thinking about it.