It’s undeniable that students with positive learning habits are well-prepared for success in school and beyond. To be able to foster and develop these, there needs to be an understanding of habit formation, and this needs to be applied particularly to the learning and education context.
There are many researchers from diverse fields working on how to best align people with productive habits and many industries eager for the results. We have seen principles such as the 5 Whys to help to build cultures that drill down into specific actionable goals and root intentions, or statements such as Amazon’s leadership principles that guide a culture towards implementing these goals efficiently and with the right priorities and focus.
Harry Fletcher-Wood is an educator working with teachers directly and indirectly, with a current role focusing on reviewing teacher development with the Ambition Institute . He’s recently written a book entitled Habits of success: getting every student learning where he has consolidated a number of study findings in the behavioural science sphere and applied them directly to student (and increasingly more broadly to teacher and institutional) education. Primarily this is through creating an environment for good habits to form and prosper, and through his own framework encapsulated by the mnemonic SIMPLIFY and numerous practical examples he details ways for teachers to apply this directly to their classrooms, learning to make change both easier and more tempting.
What is a habit?
It is hard to summarise Mr Fletcher-Wood's ideas any more succinctly than he does in his regular blog posts, where he defines a habit as “an automatic response to a situation” . Much of students’ daily behaviour (and everyone else’s) is already habitual: students face similar situations each day and their responses become increasingly automatic, such as when they face a new challenge and either habitually engage with solving it or default to shrinking away from the problem.
Psychologists consistently debate, hypothesise and experiment on how to manifest positive change in people and to have these changes continue to persist into the future. Large insights were published by Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow (Kahneman, 2012) which detailed the effects of alignment and misalignment between System 1 (fast instinctive) and System 2 (slower deliberative) thinking. Building on this work, James Clear describes in Atomic Habits (Clear, 2018) a framework for understanding aligning these processes with best practise by starting with small actionable changes. In this he describes 4 Laws of atomic habit forming – making the change obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. This is not the only framework for approaching this change, with other prominent frameworks including COM-B (capability, opportunity and motivation) or EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely) and nudges.
What's the book?
Mr Fletcher-Wood in his book has taken inspiration from the research behind these behaviour management strategies listed above and many others, and applied them directly to the field of education, developing a clear framework for behavioural interventions by teachers to aid their students in developing good habits for achieving their learning goals and outcomes. Briefly summarised his suggested framework is:
S IM Pl I Fy :
- Specify a single powerful habit to pursue
- Inspire and Motivate to act on the behaviour leading towards this specific habit
- Plan a commitment to a specific time and place to act
- Initiate action – this is primarily where the overlap between ideas within Atomic Habits overlap in trying to start tangibly and easily
- Feedback into action / Follow Up – establish and implement ways to monitor the progress of the habit formation
For a far more in-depth discussion, I’d highly recommend listening to Mr Fletcher-Woods describing his book in the wide-ranging interview with Ollie Lovell on the ERRR podcast . Here he was able to illustrate the ‘brutal singlemindedness’ of Specifying the greatest priority with the idea of the ‘Marginal Minute’ - what are you going to spend any extra free time on with one free minute in the classroom? Inspiration and Motivation could come in many forms, including how a visit by Michelle Obama inspired students to perform better academically . Planning was illustrated by changing an instruction such as “write your homework down in your diary” to “write your homework down in your diary and include when and how you’re going to do it at the same time”. Initiate action was framed in terms of teaching practises such as gradual release of control of explicit instruction, easing students into harder steps by revisiting past successes and building confidence as a collective before attempting the habit as an individual. Follow Up had useful examples such as getting students to reflect in the last 2 minutes of a class on a question such as “what’s something you understand now that you didn’t before?”
Excitingly, Barker Staff have had the opportunity to learn directly from Mr Fletcher-Wood as part of the school’s teacher professional development in Term 3, 2022. The Professional Development team at Barker in partnership with the Barker Institute interviewed Harry regarding applying these insights to our specific Barker context.
‘Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones’. James Clear, https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits. Accessed 10 June 2022.
Burgess, S, n.d., ‘Michelle Obama and an English school: the power of inspiration’, viewed 7 June 2022, https://simonburgesseconomics.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/EGA-paper-20160627.pdf.
Clarifying the ‘5 Whys’ Problem-Solving Method. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrlYkx41wEE. Accessed 10 June 2022.
‘Designing Professional Development for Teacher Change’. Ambition Institute, https://www.ambition.org.uk/research-and-insight/designing-professional-development-for-teacher-change/. Accessed 10 June 2022.
EAST: Four Simple Ways to Apply Behavioural Insights. https://www.bi.team/publications/east-four-simple-ways-to-apply-behavioural-insights/. Accessed 10 June 2022.
Fletcher-Wood, Harry. Habits of Success: Getting Every Student Learning. 1st edition, Routledge, 2021.
‘Getting Students Learning 6 – Habits: The Key to Success’. Improving Teaching, 4 Sept. 2021, https://improvingteaching.co.uk/2021/09/04/getting-students-learning-habits-the-key-to-success/.
Kahneman, Daniel. ‘Of 2 Minds: How Fast and Slow Thinking Shape Perception and Choice [Excerpt]’. Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kahneman-excerpt-thinking-fast-and-slow/. Accessed 10 June 2022.
Kahneman, D, 2012, Thinking, fast and slow, Penguin Books, London.
‘Leadership Principles’. About Amazon Australia, https://www.aboutamazon.com.au/about-us/leadership-principles. Accessed 10 June 2022.
Lovell, Ollie. ‘ERRR #057. Harry Fletcher-Wood on Habits of Success’. Ollie Lovell, 1 Sept. 2021, https://www.ollielovell.com/errr/harryfletcherwood/.
Michie, Susan, et al. ‘The Behaviour Change Wheel: A New Method for Characterising and Designing Behaviour Change Interventions’. Implementation Science : IS, vol. 6, Apr. 2011, p. 42. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-6-42.
The Science of Behaviour Change. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=154OttZtQ8w. Accessed 10 June 2022.
What Is Nudging? www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLBgjd8bbQw. Accessed 10 June 2022.