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As an educational leader and guest blogger I asked how leaders go about changing well-worn habits in “Be the Leader of Your Learning” (read post here). One reason is that if a leader’s overwhelming stress results from anxiety about how to be successful in education’s new environment of accountability, then increasing one’s effectiveness could decrease stress. Daskal advises that “Successful leaders have successful habits” (Website). This suggests that educational leaders may need to revise well-worn habits in order to increase success and to be effective in 2013.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, reminds us that every habit is really made up of a routine, preceded by a cue in our environment and followed with a reward that satisfies a craving we may or may not even be aware of (2012).

Identify the Current Routines You Practice. Too often, classroom observations and performance conversations get delayed or dismissed because of the other routines we’ve developed: disciplining students, resolving parent concerns (that teachers could be empowered to address), completing paperwork, attending emergency meetings called by others, responding to emails, and the list goes on. While each of these typical routine tasks are important, and need to be completed, they do not always need to be the school or district leader’s habit. Often, we’ve adopted these routines because they satisfy a craving, even though they keep us from more productive behaviors.

Think through Your Routines and Ask, “What am I craving?” For example, think about the routine of disciplining a student and ask, “What am I craving when I discipline a student?” Perhaps I’m seeking to be known by my students and viewed as a compelling principal. What am I craving when I rush to an emergency meeting called by a colleague or district leader? Am I craving the fulfillment of knowing I fulfill obligations or that I’m a team player?

Determine Impact on Student Learning. Fulfilling obligations, being recognized as a team player, and being known by students are all valuable accolades. However, do they lead to increased student learning? That is, question whether what you are craving (e.g., being recognized as a team player) directly impact s student learning. Below is an example where I reflect on my own leadership experience:

As a principal I can easily remember receiving the cue of a parent’s desperate phone call, then investigating and resolving a classroom situation in which a student was uncomfortable, and along the way cancelling an important performance conversation in order to “get to the bottom of the situation.” Is it important that students feel safe in the classroom? Yes. Was it essential that the principal step in to resolve the issue?  Not necessarily.

In this case, as in many others, my tendency to respond was a craving for the sense of accomplishment that resolving the situation brought me. Moreover, I replicated this responsive routine with every “crisis” that arose, even those which could be resolved by someone else. Why was reacting to each “crisis” my habit/routine? It satisfied a craving for accomplishment.

Change Your Routine and Satisfy Your Craving. Duhigg tells us that to change our habits, we have to experiment with how changing our routine could still satisfy our craving. This suggests if our general craving is to achieve success and the respect of others, then we may need to broaden the definition of what it means to be “successful” and “well-respected.” Returning to the example above:

Cues from my colleagues and my routine as a principal defined a successful and well-respected principal as a “solver of problems.” Today’s education environment demands breadth to this definition—a successful and well-respected principal is a “leader of learning” in our new environment—and subsequent action from the leader to now delegate being a “solver of problems” to focus on “leader of learning” habits which harvest wins, increase performance and engagement, and reward effective teachers (see Pilcher and Largue, 2009).

As leaders, if we risk experimenting with well-worn habits that have limited impact on success in the new environment of accountability and focus on habits associated with being a leader of learning, then we bolster professional accomplishment. For example, our time in rounding conversations allows us to identify employee challenges; responding to those challenges makes our employees more effective and our schools more successful. What follows are leaders with strengthened self-confidence who recognize their success and effectiveness as leaders of learning, and thus satisfy the craving for success and accomplishment.

I love the way Leo Babauta (2013) puts this; he says, “Stop thinking of a new habit as something you have to do, but as something you are allowed to do.” Many of us wish we were allowed to talk teaching and learning every day with new teachers, effective teachers, and low performing teachers. We can and must! Simply, most leaders have not allowed these habits to become routine because we have prioritized other activities that we think will fulfill our craving to be excellent at what we do. Take a deep breath and experiment with just one new daily habit to see if the reward brings a similar sense of fulfillment; I’m willing to bet it will bring even greater satisfaction as it leads your teachers to be great, and your students to amazing success.




Special thanks to Guest Blogger Melissa Matarazzo for authoring this post. View Part 1 of Melissa’s post, “Be the Leader of Your Learning” here.

Melissa Matarazzo is a Research Fellow at Studer Education and a doctoral candidate in the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Urban Superintendents Program. Melissa most recently served as the Executive Director for Achievement and Accountability in the Charleston County (SC) School District.  Prior to her work in South Carolina, Melissa served as a middle school principal in the Peabody (MA) Public Schools, and as an 8th grade teacher and assistant principal in the Derry (NH) Cooperative School District. Melissa has served as a supervisor of teacher interns at the College of Charleston, SC and an adjunct instructor at American International College in Springfield, MA.

Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit. New York: Random House.

http://www.lollydaskal.com/blog/ or @LollyDaskal on Twitter

Babauta, L. (2013). Habits: A simple change in mindset changes everything. Blog post: http://zenhabits.net/allowed/.

Pilcher, J., and Largue, R. (2009). How to Lead Teachers to Become Great. Gulf Breeze, FL: Fire Starter Publishing.

Our mission at Studer Education is to provide students with a great place to learn, teachers with a great place to teach, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. Visit us online at http://studereducation.com. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, ranked for the fifth straight year on the Best Small and Medium Workplaces by Great Place to Work® and a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.