In our fast-paced world, where speed and instant results often steal the spotlight, there’s a quiet but profound virtue that often goes unnoticed—the courage to go slow. This is particularly relevant when we embark on the journey of developing or refining instructional strategies, especially those that are entirely unfamiliar to us. The question then is, how do we develop and sustain a new habit?
The answer may seem counterintuitive, but instead of rushing to implement, we need to slow down. We need to pay attention to the importance of patience in the process of habit formation and the significant role that educational leadership plays in modeling the value of taking it slow and steady. This journey is guided by the timeless metaphor of the tortoise and the hare.
The Habit-Formation Challenge
Impatience for quick results creeps in when we set out to establish new habits or make positive changes in our lives. We want to see dramatic shifts overnight, much like the hare in the famous fable. The research on this approach is sobering. One study found that habit formation can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to take hold.
When was the last time we allowed a professional learning community to focus slow and steady for three months on one or two strategies to improve? Barak Rosenshine shares that the degree to which teachers spend time in guided practice and checking for understanding to ensure high levels of success for students is the greatest difference between highly effective and less effective teachers. Do we take the time to focus on sustained practice in these areas? Or is it on to the next thing?
The uptake of a habit often depends on the difficulty of a new habit we are attempting to form and the current habits we have surrounding the new habit. For instance, if we are adding vegetables into our lunch versus removing meat from our diet, the time for the latter will take longer.
Akin to a minor change to our lunch, adding a new probing question into our approach for checking for understanding will likely take less time than a whole new approach to asking questions in class. Leaders can assist in this process by encouraging staff to name the degree of change when we embark on a new approach. Is this a slight adjustment or a significant move in our practice?
Additionally, leaders need to narrate the importance of leeway in habit formation. The good news about the long runway with habit formation is that this time frame for acquiring and consolidating new habits accounts for errors in the process. In other words, we can mess up every once in a while.
Habit formation is a process that requires patience and persistence. It’s about the gradual accumulation of small victories that eventually lead to significant changes. So how do we go slow and steady?
The Power of Leadership
Educational leaders play a pivotal role in setting the tone for how staff approaches new habit formation.
Leaders who emphasize and model the importance of patience in learning something new, consistency in the routine of new practices, and the appreciation and respect of forgetting or messing up a new practice create a space where staff feel supported and encouraged to start and progress toward a new habit. Educational leaders can use the following strategies to ensure that their staff is on the right path:
Lead by example: Leaders who embody patience and persistence set a powerful example for their teams. When leaders take the time to develop their own habits deliberately and publicly, they demonstrate that success is not about rushing but about steady progress. This means they name the degree of change, discuss when they forgot or created errors, and share how they have stayed small and focused over a series of weeks.
Foster degree changes: Educational leaders who encourage getting better at current practices illustrate that not everything is about starting something brand-new, but rather can be about improvement. As Rosenshine shared, the difference between the most effective teachers and the less effective teachers is about the degree to which they implement and inspect particular, well-known practices.
When educational leaders say that they are refining their practice, they demonstrate this aspect of habit development (e.g., improving their use of protocols to elicit more feedback from staff).
Provide support: Leaders who champion the importance of going slow but starting offer support and guidance to those under their leadership by modeling, providing time, and checking in with individuals and teams on progress. They recognize that everyone has their own pace and tailor their approach accordingly, fostering an environment where individuals feel valued and motivated.
The Tortoise’s Lesson: Patience in Practice
To truly embrace the courage to go slow in habit development, consider the following steps.
1. Start, shelter, and subtract habits. Understand that habit formation takes time and requires testing, reflecting, and adapting. Set systems that focus you and your team and organization on the implementation and impact on a few key practices. Make sure to protect those few practices by eliminating other initiatives or practices.
2. Push consistency over intensity. Focus on maintaining consistent effort rather than pushing for rapid, unsustainable changes. It’s the slow and steady progress that leads to lasting habits. This occurs because the enduring habits that are selected are implemented every day and reflected upon routinely.
3. Embrace small wins. Celebrate each small victory along the way. These moments of success, no matter how minor, are the building blocks of lasting change.
4. Seek support. Surround yourself with individuals who support your journey and value the importance of patience. Lean on their encouragement during challenging times.
The Strength in Going Slow
In a world that often glorifies speed, it takes courage to embrace the wisdom of going slow. As we develop habits, patience becomes our greatest ally. Leadership that models the significance of taking it slow and steady further empowers individuals to navigate this journey with resilience and determination.