Last week I came up with a call to action for myself "changing teaching habits". Then I thought that someone else might be interested in joining , so I called it Teachers Changing Habits Together (#tcht). The idea came to me while reading a book called "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. In essence, the book, based on extensive and fascinating research, explained how the actions we perform over and over again become habits. Once habits, they are done automatically, without that element of consciousness. Another key point was that individuals are not the only ones who act based on a set of habits; institutions and organizations develop and operate on habits, too. Lastly, when individuals or organizations want to change or improve their performance, they need to look for one keystone habit; once that habit is consciously modified or replaced, a whole set of other habits , and therefore actions, change, too (for example, a new habit of starting to exercise often changes eating and sleeping habits ). All that made me want to reflect on the habits I have developed as a teacher. I also wanted to critically look and identify the habits that should be modified or changed all together to make me a better educator. I am excited to be starting this journey, and here is my first new habit:
Habit #1: Always Start with a "WHY?"
While asking "WHY?" may sound like a common sense question (after all, why to do anything for no obvious reason, right?) we, humans, often do things we promise not to, such as smoking, checking social media, eating ice-cream, etc. It's easy to fall into a habit, and teaching is not an exception. Maybe we have always done it this way, or maybe this is the only app we know how to use, or because everyone else is using it, or because this is in the book...
I admit, I have taught lessons guided by a textbook. Had I asked myself "Why am I going to teach this?", I would have never used those materials, because the answer would have clearly been "because it's in the textbook". Some units or chapters offer little value or relevancy, yet I feel I have to use them to simply justify their existence.
Here is one example of a lesson without a clear WHY. Last week we had a unit about schools around the world. It sounded like an interesting topic, so I decided to use it. We did different activities, talked about different countries, and then got to the reading. The reading discussed schools in the U.S., Kenya, and France. Sounds exciting, right? Except for the fact that the only details my students learned from the text were at what time students start school in those countries, how many breaks they have between classes, and how long those breaks are. The most important details in each paragraph was that each school starts at 8 or 9, lessons last 45 or 60 min, and the school year lasts 270 days. As the students were reading the text, questions were popping up in my head: How is this interesting? How is this meaningful? Are these the only details my students can learn about schools in different countries? Why on earth am I using this unit? Yes, my students are beginners of English, and they don't have much vocabulary, but they are college level, and they can process information which is more meaningful, more useful, more relevant!
Again, had I asked myself WHY I should use this lesson, the answer would be clear: it's in the book.
Lesson learned: Never teach it if the only reason to do it is "because it's there".
In case you want to read this book:
PS. What habit would you start with?