After the summer break, I was always filled with good ideas and good intentions. Inspired by workshops and readings about teaching language arts, I was ready to try new strategies. I’d set goals like:
And then the grading and planning would pile up, a crisis would distract me, or students would respond to my nifty new grammar plans with yawns and rolled eyes. About December it would hit: I was not going to achieve my goals.
I know now that I set myself up for failure. Those goals were so big, they quickly became overwhelming (by about the 17th postcard). Research shows that to actually follow through on goals, we need to break them down into specific, concrete steps that are time-specific. Psychologists call these implementation intentions, but I prefer the term when/then statements, because it helps me remember to keep them focused.
When I first learned about when/then statements, I was skeptical about how well they worked, so I decided to try them out in my yoga class. I set my intention—when I’m between poses, then I’ll do a sit-up—and went to class. At first, I just caught myself not doing a sit-up. But within just a few days, I was regularly doing sit-ups between poses, and after a few weeks, it became routine. Now, I don’t even have to think about doing them; I just find myself doing them. The when/then statement helped me first notice what I was doing (or not doing!) and then—finally—to change the behavior.
Take my big goal of providing positive communications. By breaking it down into the behavior I wanted to achieve (send postcards to all students) and adding the how and when I could achieve it, I could actually be successful. Here’s what it would look like:
When: At the end of each day,
Then: I will write two postcards to students and their families about their achievements
That’s much less formidable than the idea of writing 125 postcards!
We believe in the power of when/then statements to help change behaviors—and we’ve made them a part of our new online program, Instructional Support Strategies for Teachers. Your small steps can add up to big improvements in your Instructional Support interactions.
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in September 2014, but has since been revised to keep the content relevant and accurate.
Shared physical presence is a large part of how we’re used to connecting with each other. Strong connections and relationships are important for children who may have recently experienced loss, high stress, or trauma. As teachers connect with children in a virtual setting, it can be more challenging to think about how to create a safe space for learning, sharing experiences, and taking risks.
As a CDA with CLASS facilitator, I now recognize that CLASS also helps us think about how we can be present and responsive in supporting the curiosity, engagement, and persistence of adult learners.
I am blessed to be able to support CDA learners, many of whom are returning to formal education for the first time in many years. Some of these learners come from previous educational experiences that were not supportive, that left them feeling that they weren’t good at school or weren’t competent students. But with the right support, these learners can grow their persistence as well as their sense of competence and confidence.
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Data from the National Survey of Students’ Health (NSCH) indicates that almost half of the students in the United States have experienced one or more forms of serious trauma, such as poverty, homelessness, or abuse and neglect. This means that an estimated 35,000,00 students, from infancy through age 17 are at risk for not only school failure, but for a number of social-emotional and physical complications (e.g., PTSD, heart disease, etc.) that may have life-long consequences to their health and well-being. The effect of COVID-19 has surely increased the percentage of young people who are experiencing trauma. And while people of all races and socioeconomic statuses have been affected by COVID-19, poor communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, adding an additional level of trauma to a population already traumatized by systemic racism.