Leadership, Well being

Creatures of habit

high angle view of people on bicycle
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Judy Murray tweeted recently “If you don’t like something, move. You’re not a tree.”  I really like this, it fits in nicely with our SBL mantra #BeTheChange.  Judy’s comment was linked to a tweet about being unhappy with your place of work, but I think it can also apply to our daily routines.  If you don’t like them, change or alter them, you are not a tree!  Our school’s focus this year is “Know thy impact”.  During discussions, it was highlighted that if we are doing something because we always have, but we know there is no positive impact from our actions, then we should change what we are doing.   We also discussed marginal gains, those slight tweaks which combined have a significant improvement overall.  If you’re a lycra wearing cyclist or know someone who is, then you will have heard of Sir David Brailsford and the success he had with Team SKY cycling.  They analysed in depth the whole process of cycling in a race, identified slight tweaks to their habits, routines and processes to realise marginal gains.   So, if we understand the positive impact of our actions, we can then repeat the successes, build on them and encourage them in others (always tricky if you have change resistant colleagues).

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit.

Habits are amazing, read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg to increase your understanding of just how our lives are dominated by habits.  The basis of all habits is a loop of a cue, a routine and a reward. An example of a habit loop, for the last four years, our SLT have met on a Thursday after school.  This year we are meeting on a Monday after school.  Following our SLT meeting on Monday 3rd September, I struggled all week with the fact that Tuesday wasn’t Friday. All week.  Demonstrating I’ve become a creature of habit and associate SLT meetings as a trigger or cue for my reward, Friday.

As school leaders, much of our work is encouraging behaviours or good habits amongst staff and children to comply with “must do” procedures (H&S, SCR etc..), “should do” procedures (complete your appraisal documentation prior your appraisal) and “may do” procedures (freedom to change them based on the specific circumstances).

Since April, we’ve been encouraging our staff to create a new “must do” habit of locking their computer screen when they leave their desk.  To help embed this new habit, we’ve shared the new Data Protection Policy, delivered awareness training, we’ve reminded via weekly communications and we’ve put little labels on every screen reminding them to press Windows button + L.  And yet at least once a week I spot an unlocked unattended screen!  Every time I raise this with the individuals, I cannot let it go, after all the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.  (More importantly not creating the habit of locking your computer screen could lead to a data breach).  We have recently introduced a new signing in system, a habit which again is taking time for everyone to remember to use.  It doesn’t mean that the system isn’t right, we just need to have time to get used to it.  Unsurprisingly, systems and procedures do need updating and reviewing in light of new policies, ideas, thinking, goals.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

On #SBLTwitter we encourage each other to get into the habit of #SBLLunch.  Hayley Dunn’s #BeTheChange is encouraging collaboration amongst SBLs to share their proactive habits and support each other to improve outcomes in their schools.  It is also about recognising the change required in yourself to develop as a leader.  So what good habits could you share with your fellow SBLs? What tweaks do you need to make to realise some marginal gains? Duhigg believes that once you understand how a habit operates – once you diagnose the cue, the routine and the reward – you gain power over it.


Helen Burge

Academy Business Leader

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