Why Good Habits?

Good Habits, Good Students began as a one-page handout for students in my high school classes. I had by then spent over 20 years teaching in Canada, the United States, and in several international schools in Morocco, Switzerland, Austria, and The Netherlands. For nine of those years I had been a teacher-administrator in small K-12 private schools, giving me a chance to observe students as young as four years old, right up through high school graduation.

During those years I saw what so many other observers have seen: the progressive discouragement of young people as they move from grade to grade. Even those students who did well in school rarely enjoyed it, especially once they left the primary grades. By the time they reached secondary school, most of them had lost their natural inspiration to learn and were just trying to navigate the system.

Good Habits, Good Students does not attempt to solve all the problems students face in school, nor does it offer yet another scheme to reform education. It offers, more modestly, the knowledge and skills students need to improve the habits that are essential to success in school. Many students have only a vague idea of what good habits their schools expect, and their teachers, busy teaching history or science or math or English, have no time to tell them. So I began with my one-page handout, an annotated list of good habits for students.

But a mere list did little to help students actually acquire good habits, or change their bad habits. My handout began growing, and before long I saw that I had a book on my hands. Students need to know how to acquire the good habits that will help them to succeed in school, and Good Habits, Good Students shows them how, step by step.

I discovered early on that the standard advice on setting goals offers little practical help. Students need guidance and practice setting goals that will actually work. What does it mean to say that a goal should be ‘specific’ or ‘measurable’? Good Habits provides numerous examples, and sample goals for many of the recommended habits.

Finally, anyone trying to break a bad habit or establish a good habit needs support. In my own classes I support students by checking daily to see that they are reading, and the check itself reinforces the other essential good habit—daily use of a homework diary. Support can come, too, from parents, friends, and even electronic reminders. Readers of Good Habits will find additional support here, where I will respond to their questions and comments.

Millions of young people have been convinced by their school experiences that they are dumb; no good; bound to fail. This is a terrible lie that Good Habits, Good Students attempts to debunk. My own students have benefited from its wisdom and proved in my classroom that its methods work. I hope my book will help many others to believe again in their own abilities and find success in school.

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