When I was a student, our class teacher once told us that it’s possible to exercise willpower. Go to a candy shop, she said, admire all the wonderful ice cream they sell and then leave without having some. Back then, it sounded like an interesting personal experiment but, to be honest, I’ve never had the willpower to try it.
Despite this little failure of mine, I’d describe myself as a strong-willed person. At least that’s what my mother says. However, I’m well aware of the fact that there are limits to my willpower since it is linked to control and exercising control requires a lot of energy. Eventually, it can be very exhausting and one simply gets tired of it, especially when they lose motivation.
Well, it’s not exactly fortunate that willpower is so closely connected to motivation in my case. Neither is it encouraging for me to know that once my motivation is gone, my willpower will inevitably fail me too. But I think there is hope. I want to believe. :–)
This summer I’ve been thinking about motivation and willpower intensely. It all began when I started to work out and adjusted my diet a great deal. I dare say that these are two areas which require a lot of motivation and mental energy at the start and a lot of self-discipline later on. Anyway, over the past few weeks, I’ve slowly come to realize that I’m creating various habits: of having a certain type of breakfast in the morning (whereas during the school year, I don’t have breakfast until I get to work and sometimes I don’t have breakfast at all), or of jumping in the pool and swimming for at least 30 minutes (whereas I drive to work on school days and walking is the only physical activity I do).
I cherish these little habits and do my best to strengthen them – by not breaking them. Although for many people habits don’t only have positive connotations (there are bad habits, annoying habits, unfortunate habits, nasty habits, dangerous habits), and they can be boring and repetitive, I believe habits can be very useful because once we manage to condition our bodies and/or minds to expect something at a certain time of day/week/month, or under certain circumstances, we are likely to stick to these habits no matter how strong-willed or motivated we are. This doesn’t mean our lives will become boring; ‘in between’ our usual habits, we can be creative and innovative. In fact, our hands will be less tied once we surrender to the positive habits we have created.
Where am I headed with all this? Well, simply put, next school year, I might want to experiment with some useful, sustainable habits in the classroom. If motivation and willpower are not 100% reliable, habits may well replace them, especially when we are tired and demotivated and feel like giving up. In short, I’d like to focus on the following areas, listed in no particular order:
- seating arrangement
- warm-ups and wind-ups
- board work
- use of L1 vs. L2
- use of coursebook vs. tailormade, ‘homemade’ activities
- types of assessment
- testing (time, length,…)
- language drills
The list lacks detail at this stage, but I have something in mind already and I hope more stuff will emerge soon. The simple logic behind it is this: try something new with a specific class and if you think it could be useful, consciously turn it into a routine. Stick to it and don’t let anything or anybody break the habit for long enough to prove it’s something truly valuable. Later, provided it is feasible, you can transfer it into a different classroom environment.
Any other thoughts on what areas of ‘classroom life’ can be built around useful, sustainable habits?