Professional Learning

Essential Habits of an Excellent Educator

As an educator, you are what you do, so establish a good workflow, make assessment a routine, and develop personal habits to sustain your excellence.

July 28, 2015

You are what you do every day. Simply put, the habits of an excellent educator are that they have positive habits, and students are usually the central focus. When I become intentional about my own habits, I level up my performance. The Power of Habit says that habits power excellence. Taking this to heart, I’ve used apps like 30/30 to build routines until they are automatic.

As you prepare your classroom, plan your routines. Consider:

  • Paperwork
  • Student movement in the classroom
  • Setting appointments with yourself to tackle essential tasks

Winning teachers seem to do these things like magic. Their magic is in their routine. Here are some helpful habits to consider.

Establishing Winning Workflows

A workflow is as it sounds: how the work flows in your classroom. There are as many ways to set up these routines as there are stars in the sky. A few things that work for me:

Classroom Procedures

THE Classroom Management Book by Wong and Wong outlines the necessity of classroom procedures. Procedures aren't rules. They're habits shared by the whole classroom. How do students ask to excuse themselves? How do they retrieve make-up work? How do they enter or leave the room?

Substitute Teacher Manual

Create a substitute teacher handbook to document:

  • Class procedures
  • Lesson plan items
  • Attendance
  • Everything the substitute needs to do

Have some emergency lesson plans ready for when (not if) you get sick.

Student Work

Today's classrooms inhabit a physical space (bricks) and online space (clicks). Students should know where to put completed work in both. They should receive graded papers while the work is still fresh.

Makerspace Items

If you're into #geniushour or makerspaces, it helps to have items organized and labeled. Students who use items should pack them up and put them away. Without this procedure, you'll become a janitor, not a professional educator. (I even have procedures for the 3D printer.)

Lesson Planning

Sketch out your year. Then plan down to the month, week, and day. You can't hit what you don't aim to hit. Start planning next week's lessons on Wednesday or Thursday. It's hard, but planning ahead helps us get more rest on the weekend.

Task Management

High performers need a task management system. Most task management systems include:

  • Processing paperwork
  • Putting to-do items on lists
  • Setting priority tasks for the next week or month

While some people use David Allen's GTD, I have a slightly different method. Anything that helps you manage your tasks is a good thing.

Parent Communications

In my experience, teachers who don't communicate with parents become frustrated. Non-communicative teachers get upset with parents who always beg for more information. Students rarely tell their parents what the teacher wants them to know. Communication with parents is our job, yet we depend upon kids who may or may not have a strong relationship with their parents to do it for us.

Whole-class communication: Proactivity prevents negativity. Know your parents and how they like to receive teacher communication. I send out bi-weekly emails to each class or when I give a major assignment. Parents don't like surprises.

Build rapport: Parents also like to celebrate when their child succeeds! Take time to email each parent when you see a child do something awesome. Paving the path with positivity will help when you have a problem.

Becoming a Routine Assessment Machine


Have an appointment for processing paperwork and entering gradebook data. Timely assessment and communication with parents can prevent poor performance.

Formative Assessment

Students should know several quick ways that you assess, so if you say, "Go into Kahoot" or "Prepare an exit ticket," they can respond quickly. Formative assessment should be part of your routine many times during the week.

Student Feedback on Assignments

Professor Dean Shareski has his students evaluate their assignments. This practice is genius. I have used student focus groups at the end of a grading period. Asking for student feedback on each major assignment helps me improve so much!


"The unexamined life is not worth living," said Socrates. The unexamined classroom does not improve. Journal. Reflect. Make notes for next year. Make notes for the upcoming week. I keep a teaching idea journal by my desk to jot notes during the week. I use these as I plan the next week and review them at the end of the year.

Personal Habits of Excellence

PLN Building

Readers are leaders. Build a PLN to win. Your personal learning network (PLN) may include:

  • Books
  • Magazines,
  • Flipboard magazines
  • Facebook groups
  • Twitter chats

Your school may have a formal PLC. Whatever you add to your PLN, you should have one. In the U.S. South, we say, "When you're green, you're growing. When you're ripe, you rot." So to grow, you have to learn. To learn, you need to bring excellent resources and people into your life. You become like those you hang around the most -- so hang around with winners, or you may be hung out to dry.

Sharing Best Practices

Educators who care always share. If you're reflecting and learning, take time to share what you've learned.

Physical Health Routine

Even five minutes of physical exercise can boost your mood. Sitting is being called the new cigarette. Exercise improves how we handle stress and can help us sleep. And you must rest to be your best.

Ordering Your Private World

The level of order in your private world impacts your life at school. For so many of us, when we stress at school, everything at home becomes a mess. Things that help me on the home front:

  • Planning meals ahead
  • Planning my calendar on a monthly basis
  • Having chores around the house

Some educators seem perfectly happy with a mess at home. I'm not one of them. Know yourself. Take steps to reach the level of excellence that you need for peace of mind at home.

Routines Free You Instead of Limiting You

Your habits make you exceptional. Your habits can also make you struggle. The iron law of the universe that you reap what you sow is never truer than when it relates to habits. In my career, I've learned that the better my habits, the better teacher I'm free to become. Dependable habits can free your mind from clutter and let you perform at higher levels.

As you plan this school year, ponder and plan key habits to help you improve. One word of caution: habits can be hard to change. Pick a few or practice habit stacking as you assemble routines of success. Change your habits, change your classroom, change your life.

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