Teaming for Success

A look at building good habits

For Middle Level

One great way to build competence and autonomy in adolescents is to focus on a set of good habits all students should have. If students are shown how something is to be done, and get enough guided practice, they'll build their competencies and be able to handle more autonomy.

Students learn good habits over time. They usually need to be modeled and practiced often before they become automatic. Substituting good habits for bad ones is more difficult, and takes longer: the bad habit tends to get in the way and needs to be unlearned before the good one can take hold.

Good habits support important classroom and school-wide routines
Here are some examples of times when routines are important to establish good habits.
Start of class: E.g., signal for silence; getting materials
During class: E.g., sharpening pencils; handing papers in/out
Working: E.g., partner learning; raising hands, gaining the floor
Ending class: E.g., moving furniture; recording assignments in planner
Outside of classroom: E.g., hallway movement; playground procedures

Steps to creating good habits in students
Teams may devote planning time prior to the first day of school to identify habits they'd like students to develop. After coming to consensus on a small set that everyone agrees to model, teams then create implementation plans for each.

  1. Teachers gather for a team planning meeting before the year begins to address this question: What habits do we want our students to have from the very beginning of the year? Generate an a list.
  2. Teachers target three or four habits for implementation during the first term. Once these have been successfully established, the team can start concentrating on another group of three or four.
  3. Teams examine each habit from all angles to describe it in detail.
  4. Team members create a plan for introducing, supporting, and maintaining each learning habit. To guide the implementation plan, teams can use some of the following questions:
  • What modeling will we do to show students how to develop each learning habit? When will we model and practice it (day, date, class period)?
  • What title will we give a look/sound/feel chart to support each habit? What will you say to students as you introduce the look/sound/feel chart?
  • What strategies will we expect students to use to support each habit?
  • What teaching strategies will we use to support each habit?
  • How might each habit help students connect to and achieve their goals and declarations?
  • How will each habit reinforce and connect to the Social Contract?
  • What opportunities for reflection on each habit will we build into our schedule?
  • How can students lead parts of our good-learning-habits initiative? Which students?
  • What means will we have of maintaining school-wide habits, e.g., in the hallway, cafeteria, playground, and restrooms?
  • What extra support might we offer students for whom acquiring the selected habits proves difficult?

Survey results: sample list of important learning routines
A survey of teachers attending a Developmental Designs 2 workshop in July indicated that the routine that team of teachers considered the highest priority for modeling and practicing was helping students stay focused during individual classroom work. The teachers' second priority was managing that work time for productivity, and the third was responding when someone makes an inappropriate remark. Other routines high on the list of must-do modelings were:

  • Making everyone feel included during group work
  • Asking for help during work time
  • Sustaining effort
  • Reflecting on your work
  • Taking good notes from text or lectures
  • Creating a good presentation
  • Organizing papers and work
  • Responding to criticism
  • Interpreting assignments

Each of these routines can become habitual for students if they are carefully presented, modeled, practiced, and maintained through reminders and re-modeling after breaks and whenever else students start to slide. Team solidarity about the habits students will develop can change school climate dramatically.