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.
The time has come for hard conversations.
That’s the feedback we have been receiving from educators across the country. There are plenty of tough conversations educators are trained, taught, or feel equipped to handle with children and families - gently bringing up a developmental concern, facilitating a disagreement between students, or explaining what happened with the classroom goldfish are all part of a day in the life. But in the last year, since the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, educators are increasingly asking for help in communicating more comfortably with young children about diversity and difference.
I was supposed to be an architect, instead I was a teacher of young children; it felt like my calling.
When I started my coursework, they tasked me with visiting multiple classrooms. It overwhelmed me when in some classrooms, children were crying, teachers were frustrated, and no one seemed to enjoy the day. I thought I had made a mistake. Thankfully, I had a professor who inspired me to continue. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the behaviors I observed in both children and teachers, the professor charged me to uncover the root of those behaviors.
And so, my journey to support social-emotional development began.
This past year of hybrid and virtual learning due to the pandemic highlighted the gaps in learning and the inequities that we already knew existed. It is apparent, now more than ever, that there needs to be a narrow focus on bridging the divides (e.g., digital) that exist and meeting students where they are in order to promote growth and put less emphasis on standardized testing. This would allow teachers to concentrate on curriculum with greater impact, differentiate their instruction, and utilize effective strategies that they know make a difference for children’s outcomes.