Seven Habits that Activate a Great School Year

Year’s ago, I heard my boss John C. Maxwell say, “All’s well that begins well.” What he meant was the way we start a project often determines its outcome. I think he’s right. I also think it’s true with the school year. Students often judge how well a new semester is going to go within the first month (or even the first week).

students in classroom

Some years ago, Nalini Ambady, an experimental psychologist at Harvard University, wanted to examine the nonverbal aspects of good teaching. To do this, she wanted to film clips of various professors teaching for a minute each, play the clips with no sound for outside observers, then have those observers rate the effectiveness of the faculty by their expressions and physical cues.

Unfortunately, she could only get about 10 seconds worth of tape for each professor and thought she would have to abandon the project. But her adviser encouraged her to try anyway, and with only 10 seconds of tape each, the observers rated the teachers on a 15-item checklist of personality traits. Interestingly, when Ambady cut the clips back to five seconds and showed them to other raters, the ratings came out the same. In fact, they were even the same when she showed just two seconds of videotape. Anything beyond the first moment was superfluous.

Speech Coach Sims Wyeth reports that Ambady’s next step led to an even more remarkable conclusion:

She compared those snap judgments about teacher effectiveness with evaluations made after a full semester of classes, by students of the same teachers. The correlation between the two was astoundingly high. A person watching a two-second silent video clip of a teacher he’s never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who sits in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.

Similar experiments have been conducted on other campuses over the years with the same results. The fact is, first impressions are potent — they work for us and against us. In other words, the way things start very frequently determine how well they go.

Seven Habits That Help Students Begin Their Year Well

So how can we equip our students to lay the groundwork for a great school year? As young adults, kids can become victims of their emotions or the whims and opinions of others. They are at the mercy of outside forces… unless they choose otherwise.

  1. Make up your mind before you make up your bed.

You have to choose the right attitude. Fighting a victim mindset means we have to be intentional about our outlook. We must make up our minds to make it a great day before the day gets away from us.

  1. Choose to give.

This will sound cheesy to students, but challenge them to give something away anonymously to another student weekly. Get in the habit of generosity. Studies show that the happiest people are the ones focused on others.

  1. Determine your River.

Rivers and Floods is one of our HabitudesÒ for students. Most students are a “Flood” — they move in multiple directions without focus. Successful students must be “Rivers” — they find a single direction and flow toward a specific goal.

  1. Decide on outcomes, then work backward.

Stephen Covey used to say, “Begin with the end in mind.” Help students determine where they want to end up, what their target is at year’s end. Then, help them ask themselves, “What steps do I need to take to get there?” Finally, encourage them to take the steps.

  1. Schedule your priorities.

Successful leaders know: The issue is not prioritizing your schedule, but rather scheduling your priorities. The time to decide how the day or week will go is when calendars are still blank. Put your most important activities in first.

  1. Treat deadlines like accountability partners.

One of the chief reasons we disappoint ourselves is because we fail to meet deadlines we agreed to meet. I have found deadlines are lifelines — I treat them like a friend who’s asking if I will finish in time. Write them down and take them seriously.

  1. Choose who you lose.

Be intentional about your friends. Choose them wisely, knowing you can’t be close with everyone. You will choose who you “lose” as a friend by where you invest time. Keep the ones who make you better close to you.

What do you think?



Looking to develop leadership skills in students this school year? Check out

Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes


Seven Habits that Activate a Great School Year