top of page

How Can We Make School More "Attractive" to Students? (154/365)

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I shipped How Can Student Behavior Be Used to Fuel a Culture of Learning? While it's crucial this work happens in classrooms, it's of equal (if not greater) importance for this to happen in school community-wide. Building a culture of learning is a responsibility to be shared by all adults: teachers and administrators alike.

Success will only result when we work together, and put students at the center of this work.

The period between Thanksgiving and the New Year represents an important period in school. At this point, adults know their students. And students know the adults in their school lives. Each is generally familiar with one another's predictable routines. And they know what to expect of one another in a typical shared classroom and school experience.

This is also the point where either a) we share cohesive aligned routines as a classroom and/or school community, or b) there's a clear gap that exists between what's delivered and what's expected. This is true for students with adults and for adults with students.

What is the typical response?

Survival Mode, and that's true for students and/or teachers: Either fight, flight, or freeze.

Rather than fall into our natural survival tendencies, why not take a step back to review and recommitting to the four-stage habit loop? This will yield better results, and will remind us of how important systems and progress are in our shared learning spaces. I've simplified these ideas in this blog post, through my commitment to forming a daily writing/publishing habit.

What does this look like, in a classroom or school community?

For starters, let's go back to what Clear refers to the first step of "The Habit Loop: The Cue. If you've already established this "first law of behavior change" in your classroom or school (Make it obvious), you're on your way.

And if you haven't yet, now's an ideal time to start...or even restart.

Now, a follow-up on the second law of behavior change: Make it attractive.

One extremely important aspect to this is that it has got to be designed in a way that a student or group of students is motivated to do it. The adult's job in this? Model what building this habit looks like and set it as an expectation for himself/herself.

Where have you seen this before? I can think of two recent examples.

Example 1:The Field Trip

We've long taken an overnight school field trip. Leading up to the trip, adults could be heard, for days, weeks, and even months repeatedly explaining how the trip runs, and what the students would be expected to do, to ensure a safe and orderly trip. To me, the funny part always was seeing all of this was tested at our first rest stop. If the majority of students boarded the bus after using restrooms, purchasing fast food lunch, and visiting gift shops, they returned to the bus, as expected, we were a success. I do wonder how much influence the adults actually had on that outcome.

Example 2: Hallways and Health

In recent years, it's become increasingly more important in schools to adopt certain health and safety practices. Two examples are avoiding walking in clusters in the hallways and wearing face-coverings over mouths and noses. Again, we can (and did) write letters and emails and create videos for families, explaining how this will work. And we can tell students what "to do" and what "not to do". Ultimately, however, it's up to each student to decide that he/she is willing to make this commitment.

It's interesting to note, that neither example involves a threat of a consequence or more than typical adult supervision. It's also cause for wonder, if these two examples are working, are there other areas in which we typically struggle in school, thinking requiring or demanding compliance will yield a similar outcome.

Why It Works

Simply put, it's about "making it attractive" in a manner that each student may motivate himself/herself to commit to it. (Motivation is a topic unto itself, written about a great deal by James Clear, and will likely be a topic I take a deep-dive in future blog posts I write.)

5 Questions Based on Atomic Habits:

How Do We "Make Learning Attractive" to Every Adolescent:

Question 1: Where are kids spending their time?

The culture (classroom, grade, team, club, organization, school) where we spend our time determines which behaviors are attractive to us. As we make habits obvious for our students (habit-stacking classroom routines, for example), we can make it attractive by connecting a reward to the completion of a task. The key is making it more intrinsic than extrinsic in nature, so it's more meaningful to the person doing it.

Question 2: Why will kids commit to a habit at school?

It's the anticipation of a reward, not the fulfillment of it that causes us to act. According to Clear, "Without some level of motivation or desire—without craving a change—we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers." In school, when students make contributions to their learning, it positively impacts the greater good of the overall learning experience.

Question 3: Who are we being influenced by?

We tend to adopt habits that are praised and approved of by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong to the tribe. In almost every case, we see adolescents wanting to "fit in", rather than "stand out". In schools, this happens in both positive and negative ways. Field trips,social distancing, and face masks are positive examples. When students face and give into social pressures (see TikTok challenges involving vandalism) we've got an opportunity to course-correct, so this behavior is the exception, not the rule of what Clear refers to as "the tribe".

Question 4: Who do we imitate?

We tend to imitate the habits of three social groups:

- the close, (family and friends),

- the many (the tribe), and

- the powerful (those with status and prestige).

In schools, our influence is limited to who students sit near or next to, or who work in groups together. In cases when a teacher observes certain dynamics serving the habit formation of one or more students, he/she may make seating or furniture arrangements that serve the desired outcome. Administrators have greater limits to influencing classroom dynamics. However, student groupings may be optimized through careful design of a master schedule.

Perhaps of greatest value is a teacher's and parent's teamwork, close communication, and coordination, so the efforts are aligned and a student can easily see this home-school partnership at work. The quality of the impact is deepened when the student is involved.

Question 5: What else do we need to keep in mind?

A highly effective way to build better habits is to foster a culture where 1) the desired behavior is the normal behavior and 2) we already have something in common with the group. This works, because, according to Clear, a group's typical behavior overpowers the desired behavior of an individual.

What might this look like in schools?

It's about belonging. When students invite one another to join groups (academic, community service, leadership, athletics, for example) and adults facilitate this through modeling and encouragement, the behavior gains the group's approval, respect, and praise.

Between now and January, what commitments will you make so learning and school are more attractive to each and every student?

This is part six of a ten-part blog series, based on the book, Atomic Habits by James Clear.

A few "writing to learn" posts on the topic of being more "gameful" with learning:

Click here to visit the Learning Leadership 365 site, where you may read all posts I've written.


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page