Remember the fleas? From each passing moment we can set behaviour for the future. Set behaviour for a few minutes and it can last an hour. Set if for a few hours and it can last all day. Set it for the day and it can last all week – and so on and so on. The point is, the way we set behaviour for the smallest of moments, actions or thoughts can influence how we set behaviour for life.
If you let the children come running and screaming into your classroom on the first morning and let it last all day, you will be spending weeks turning them around. If you don’t bother to try and change their habits for the first few weeks – trust me, you’ll be spending the rest of the year trying to change them.
When you become a teacher, your first month can dictate how the rest of the year will go. Sometimes, that first year can dictate how the next few years will go. Once we collect habits and believe there is a certain way of thinking, feeling and behaving in the role of a teacher, it can be very hard to shake them off as our career progresses.
There’s two magic words that can help you master how to shake this off.
Be aware of how you think, feel and behave. Take a step back and look at how your thoughts, feelings and behaviour influences those around you. Are you habitually tutting or rolling your eyes at the same children? What message is that sending? What can you do about it?
The way you think and feel shapes what I call your internal habits. You can become habitually prepared to feel irritated in the presence of a specific person. Flip it the other way around and you can become habitually prepared to smile and laugh in the presence of a specific person.
Your internal habits include how you think, feel and talk to yourself. They influence your external habits. This includes how you behave and how you talk to people. Your external habits will influence the internal habits of those around you, and they influence their external habits – and so on and so on.
The simple fact is if we take control and responsibility for our internal habits, then we can change our own external habits and support the children in our class to form positive internal habits.
So there is the magic moment of revelation – it all starts with you. You can be the one to start a wave of positive internal and external habits. Simply by being self-aware and realising there can be another way.
When we learn habits, we also learn to forget that there can be a different way. We can teach ourselves to walk into the classroom in the morning and prepare to be amazed by what unfolds in front of us.
How do we do this? We decide to do it. It is that simple.
The simple truth is it is far too easy to join in with the negativity of others in order to fit in. And this is it. This is what society does to us.
We are all born the same in this world. But not always equal. Family circumstances, geography and economic reasons ensure that in the immediate moments after we are born. At birth we are a blank canvas. Every moment and experience we have adds to the layers of the self-portrait that is our personality. When we are young we have no control over this. So this is the moment where you, reading this as an adult, can take control of the experiences of the young people you meet.
The children who enter the gates of your school will come from all walks of life. Some of them will come with layers and layers of difficulty and challenge. Our job as teachers is to make sure that those children all have the same chances and opportunities in school. If we leave them to continue to add layers then they will become just like the fleas trapped inside the jar.
You might be the only enthusiastic person a child meets on a particular day. You might be the only person who is willing to give that child a chance on a particular day. Imagine if you don’t take that opportunity. You would be acting just like society, and pushing that child to become the same as everything and everyone else.
Don’t let any child climb into society’s jar and have their behaviour and mindset fixed in place for the rest of their life.
Don’t let them be mediocre, or bog standard, or beige. This all starts with you. It’s time to get a leg up and jump out of the jar.