How about you? Have a habit or two you’d like to get rid of? Is there a behavior in someone else you are trying to change but have seen little success? The answer is likely YES, and YES!
In fact, our work in delivering professional development (PD)/professional learning (PL), is ultimately about changing habits – changing existing practices.
However, I often find myself being the poster child for Einstein’s definition of insanity….
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
Whether in my personal life or professional, I tend to get into the “habit” of something – and think if I do it more, or louder, or with greater conviction…I’ll get a change. Sadly, this is never quite the outcome.
So, whether we work at the preservice and inservice level (or both), our job is to mold, shape, and support providers to move from ideas and research, to actions and implementation of effective practices.
We are essentially trying to change existing habits and create new ones.
But, how many times do we see the same practices being implemented, and providers engaging in the same actions (and reactions) despite our best training and coaching efforts?
Why is it that our existing habits and ways of doing things, are so hard to change? And, how did our current habits become just that…a habit?
Along with Misty Goosen we have written a three part blog series on habits.
Part 1 (this post)
Part 2 (click here)
Part 3 (click here)
Specifically, we explore the role of the conscious and subconscious mind, learn about the neuroscience behind the formation of habits, and offer strategies that can be applied to our personal and professional lives.
To kick things off, I asked Misty a series of questions. Her answers set the stage for why habits are necessary and over-looked when we are trying to change our own behaviors, or the behavior of others.
Question 1: Why talk about habits as a key aspect of professional development and working with adult learners?
Misty: I have worked as a professional development expert for the past 20 years, with the primary task of increasing the knowledge and capacity of others. I have witnessed and personally engaged in active resistance to change; however, we live in exciting times, and we now know, that major changes in personal beliefs and actions are required to see a change in practice.
An effective way to support change is to help shrink the task into very small pieces, and encourage others to carry out that very small step for a long enough period of time that it becomes habitual. As the saying goes, the most effective way to eat the entire elephant is to do so one bite at a time. Similarly, the most effective way to implement a new practice or skill is by taking very tiny steps over time (thus creating a new habit).
Question 2: How did you get started thinking about habits as a key ingredient?
Misty: I love to read, listen to podcasts, and soak up any information related to the brain and human behavior. Writers I am interested in, range from neuroscientists, business writers, health experts, teachers, to family members. A common thread among authors was related to the effectiveness of making small changes in behaviors over time.
There are, however, few examples that apply to education….so I started to see how the principles might apply when I delivered PD. My first trial was with a group of 76 EI/ECSE professionals. The format was a 75-minute conference break-out session. It was the last session on a Friday afternoon. I intentionally scheduled this training to occur at that time, thinking that the participant numbers would be low; however, the room was packed. My primary goal was to float the ideas behind forming habits, and to create a “Tiny Habit Plan” for individuals to try. Given this was a very short training, a very new subject, and that I had no ability for follow-up with the participants, my expectations were low. However, the following year, I was greeted by a handful of past participants who shared stories of their success. These responses were totally unexpected, but very exciting.
Question 3: How has thinking about habits transformed your own delivering of PD?
Misty: The biggest shift in my work is that I now provide time for reflection and planning around their own well-established routines. I also deliver new content by breaking the information down into very small actionable steps and help adult learners see how they can embed the information into their existing routines, one small step at a time.
Question 4: What are you hoping people will get from this blog series?
Misty: My greatest wish is that professionals, family members, and others, will walk away feeling inspired to begin a professional/self improvement plan. I understand the overwhelming amount of work that people are involved in, however, with additional study about habits, I can speak to the powerful sense of accomplishment that occurs when one begins on a “tiny habits plan”.
Question 5: What are you most excited about in terms of your own learning and growth regarding habits?
Misty: Having a greater understanding of how and why our brain “protects” us from change, has shifted my perspective from a negative to a positive one. In the past, my inner voice was quick to warn against taking on something new, telling me things like “this is so complicated, it will be hard to remember, you will spend all of your time on this; and, in the end, you won’t get to your real work!” The times when I did try to implement a change, but didn’t follow through, the voice came back with a vengeance. “You weren’t cut out for this, you can’t change who you are, you couldn’t cut it, you failed, remember this the next time something new comes along!”
My mindset has since shifted, and I have come to understand that my inner voice has been trying to protect the supply of my cognitive energy. I have learned to quiet that inner voice, by identifying very tiny steps that I can take towards the new practice, and whenever possible, embed these steps into something I already do well. I feel a great sense of accomplishment sticking to a plan that is ridiculously easy to carry out. Critics would argue that a “tiny step” is not the full implementation of the new practice, and they would be correct. However, I am one tiny step closer to full implementation, have yet to give up, and next week will be another tiny step closer.
Since 1994, Misty Goosen has worked as the Project Coordinator for the Kansas Inservice Training System (KITS), where she provides training, technical assistance and consultative services to adults working with children with disabilities (birth through age 8). Areas of focus include Primary Service Provider approach to service delivery, Routines Based Interview/Intervention, Results to Intervention, Challenging Behavior, Evaluation/Assessment, Curriculum/Standards, and Conflict Resolution. Misty has served on the Division of Early Childhood Executive Board, is a Past Kansas Division of Early Childhood President, and received the 2008 KDEC Award of Excellence for making significant contributions to the field. She has chaired and/or organized numerous conferences (e.g. KDEC, Transitioning into Developmentally Appropriate Practice, KITS Annual Summer Institute) and has participated in activities such as Head Start monitoring and NAEYC validation. As a past member of the Kansas Multi-System of Supports (MTSS) Core Team, Misty worked to integrate preschool into the overall state supported model. Before coming to KITS, Misty worked as a school psychologist, and early childhood coordinator for the Turner School District, in Kansas City, Kansas.