Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bad Habits

Like all imperfect people, I have a few bad habits.
  • my diet coke addiction
  • my inconsistent exercising
  • my love of bread and sweets
  • my messy desk
  • checking email and texts at stop lights
  • staying up too late
  • multitasking

Sometimes a habit happens slowly and creeps up on you.

I remember one classroom bad habit. It started with papers to grade. It turns out that I HATE stacks of paper.  I mix them up too easily and I don’t keep up with them.

So I turned to student notebooks. Great solutions, right?

Except that it turns out that notebooks are big and clunky and a royal pain to take home and grade.

So I’ll grade them less frequently, right? How about every two weeks?

Ugh. Grading 10-15 assignments at a time is awful!

How about every three weeks?

Now some real problems are cropping up.
  • Grading takes an eternity because I’m grading every paper that a kid deals with.
  • Every notebook takes 10 minutes. Times a hundred and twenty kids equals 1200 minutes -- which is 20 hours.
  • Who the heck has 20 hours to grade notebooks? Even every three weeks?
  • Add in the kid who lost his, the kid who had hers stolen, make-up work and “please can I have extra credit?” and it’s out of control

Aaaaaand ... That’s how you make a bad habit. Ta-da!

I watched an interesting TED talk by Dr. Judson Brewer this week about “A Simple Way to Break  a Bad Habit” (warning: one bad word that you probably hear multiple times a day).

Here’s what Dr. Brewer says about bad habits, whether they are smoking, sweet-eating, compulsive texting, or procrastinating grading.

Be mindful. Be curious.

Instead of just allowing yourself to feel the instant reward of your bad habit (“mmm... this tastes good!”or “Yay, Walking Dead is more fun than grading notebooks!”), instead, be curious about the bigger picture.

Why does this cake taste so good? What do I really get out of it? What’s the long-term and short-term benefit of it? How does my mind and body react to it? What effects come from it?

Be thoughtful and be intentional and mindful and curious -- and you can solve the problems of your own bad habits. Thinking mindfully about the causes and effects of your own classroom behavior can help you better understand why you do what you do.

And if you aren’t sure what your bad classroom habits are -- video yourself teaching. A whole period is best, but even 10 or 15 minutes can help you see what you don’t notice when you’re teaching. Set up a ipad unobtrusively on your bookshelf and hit “record” when the bell rings.

Seriously -- watch the TED talk -- with your classroom in mind ... And think deeply about the choices you make in your classroom (big choices and small ones) and

It turns out that we all have bad classroom habits. Some are hard to break.

Maybe it’s calling a kid out and embarrassing him in front of others instead of taking the time to have a less-public behavior conversation.

Maybe it’s procrastinating the grading of student work.

Maybe it’s doing whole-class or independent instruction instead of gradual release so you don’t have to tackle the management parts of that.

Maybe it’s letting kids work in groups instead of using clearly defined collaborative structures.

Maybe it’s doing more of the “work” in class and telling the kids what the text says, instead of letting/making them figure it out themselves.

Maybe it’s forgetting to wrap up your lesson and just hitting the wall when the bell rings.

Maybe it’s letting kids play on their cell phones instead of requiring that they participate.

Maybe it’s calling on the kids with their hands raised, instead of holding ALL students in the room accountable for learning.

Take some time this week and find a bad habit in your class. Then, after you watch Dr. Brewer (seriously -- I found it so thoughtful!), choose a bad habit and start thinking about it mindfully, curiously, intentionally.

Like a secular, classroom-based “lent” idea, spend time being curious about your bad habits. Examine them on a visceral level and see what those are all about.

Why do you do what you do in your classroom? What’s a bad habit you need to work on? Why is it a hard habit to break? Email me at

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