Study Finds that Habit Formation Could Block Teacher Improvement

For teachers, the development of habits is a necessary concession to the unpredictable nature of their job. Morning assignments, class transitions, even behavior management need to be governed by routines that are as predictable for kids as they are effective for adults. But according to new research, these habits may be responsible for the slowing rate of improvement after teachers’ first few years on the job. As classroom practices become more automatic, they are also harder to change when they stop achieving their desired results. The profession is consistently subject to so many ambitious reforms — from the Common Core to the science of reading to implicit bias training — that practitioners need to be open to new methods. 

If teacher habit formation is closely correlated with the timeline of teacher improvement, then teacher professional development should be more intentionally designed to break old habits and form new ones that better align with increasing student learning. Standard professional development, which often focuses on making teachers aware of improved techniques — for example, encouraging teachers to wait longer after posing a question to students — would be unlikely to succeed unless reinforced by repetition in environments that resemble real-life classrooms.

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