I love reading fiction. It is my escape from the world, my way to relax. I very rarely read nonfiction for “pleasure” because it feels like work. But recently I checked out an e-book from the Jefferson Madison Regional Library called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
This book by Charles Duhigg has ended up being one of those books that really rings true for me, both personally and professionally. The author presents a very few key ideas, which he illustrates with fascinating examples from many venues, from the football field to Wall Street, from ones’ personal life to the classroom. Each vignette drives home the efficacy of the concepts Duhigg puts forward about how habits are formed and changed, as well as how key habits influence our success or failure in…well everything.
One of the concepts that the book explicates is the idea of “small wins.” Duhigg explains,
Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. “Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.
The author goes on to give examples of the “small win.”
- The new Alcoa CEO whose focus on improving safety records across the company, lead to Alcoa recovering from a multi-year slump to a thriving corporation willing to make changes based on the excellent suggestions of its workers
- Michael Phelps who became one of the most successful Olympic athletes by employing a visualization technique suggested by his coach
Which started me thinking about how the small win applies to students and teachers at Burley.
Remember Rick Stiggins, the Assessment for Learning guru? One of his major points was about how it is no surprise that some students give up. In our “old” view of assessment, the test at the end of the unit constantly reminded some students that they didn’t measure up. Who would keep trying when all the numbers were telling him that he was a failure? Enter assessment for learning, where the student, through timely, targeted feedback and multiple attempts, had many opportunities to end up a winner.
But I think the small win has power way beyond this context. What about the student who has trouble staying on task in class? Think about ways you have structured his learning environment to help him make the small win, by giving him the tennis ball that he can squeeze when is body needs to move, or breaking a larger task into discrete parts so that he has an excellent chance of attending and feeling good about himself.
I also recall a first grade teacher who I walk with on weekends who described to me how you get a whole class of 5 and 6 year olds to do independent reading. Sounds impossible, right? You start by having students tell you what it would look like if every student where actively engaged in independent reading. Then you set a small challenge. “Class, how long do you think we can all read silently?” When you get to sixty seconds the first day, it is a win. When you get to 2 minutes, it is another win.
I think about all the ways Burley teachers provide those small win opportunities for Burley students. How we can change a downward spiral for a student into an upward spiral by challenging them to set those small goals and celebrating with them when achieve them.
But it also makes me ponder how our own success and progress as educators is built on small wins. All that PD is not about completely rethinking our educational philosophy and practices. It’s about being willing to try out a new tool here, or take a strategy that you saw or heard of from another teacher and giving it a go in your classroom. It’s about the constant acknowledgement that how you practice your craft is never going to be perfect, but continually searching for better ways to reach students and help students reach for success.
So each day, we don’t have to take on the world. We can feel satisfied with all the small wins we can claim.
- Connecting with the student who previously saw us as “the enemy”
- Seeing the light come on for the student who couldn’t grasp a concept until we found a way to break down an overwhelming jump into smaller manageable steps
These are the satisfactions that move us forward and keep us learning.
Sorry, I am in danger of getting maudlin here. Try the book! I think you will like it!-