Consistency before challenge

Establishing effective routines

Hey 👋

Hope your week is going well. A HUGE welcome to the 3000+ Evidence Snackers who got stuck in the sign up pipeline and are finally joining us today (sorry about that folks)! This week's big idea is the last in our series on routines. Here goes...

Big Idea 🍉

Routines can be hard to establish. We can increase our chances of success by focusing on being consistent before ramping up the level of challenge. Let's break it down:

As we've explored in previous Snacks, classroom (& school) routines have a range of benefits, but there are several reasons why we're prone to giving up before they've had a chance to bear fruit:

  • To begin with, routines require additional attention and effort.

  • Initially, we lack fluency and so they can feel awkward.

  • During this time, our students will also lack familiarity and fluency.

One strategy to increase the likelihood that our routine survives this vulnerable phase is to focus on consistency before challenge. Consistency refers to the regularity of our execution of the routine. Challenge refers to how ambitious we are with the mechanics of the routine itself.

Trying to maximise both to begin with can quickly lead to cognitive overload, but over time, consistency will actually reduce cognitive load (because the more we run a routine the more automated it becomes), enabling us to focus on other things (challenge).

"If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection."

James Clear

What does consistency before challenge look like? A few examples from beyond and within school:

  • To establish an exercise habit, focus on just showing up to the gym to begin with. Hold back on pushing yourself physically until showing up becomes easy.

  • To establish an effective reading habit (for yourself or your students), get folks reading on a regular basis before starting to tackle more challenging texts.

  • To establish a strong classroom entry routine, initially focus on being at the door, before pushing yourself to embed high quality interactions with students.

Caveat → Of course, you may well be able to achieve both aspects straight away. In that case, great. But if things begin to go awry, restart with consistency as your anchor.

Bonus → It's fine not to show up every once in a while, but the moment you do so twice in a row, you're establishing a new habit (of not doing it).

🎓 For an evidence informed framework around establishing routines, see Better teacher habits for better student learning, by Fletcher-Wood.

Think about a routine or habit that you've failed to embed (I have many). If you were to try again, but focussed on just showing up to start with, might things turn out different?


• Trying to be both consistent and ambitious in the early stages of a routine can overload cognitive capacity.

• For a greater chance of success, we should focus on just showing up before ramping up the challenge.

• It's okay to not show up occasionally, but if we do this more than once, we're basically establishing a new habit.

Little Updates 🥕

Thanks to everyone who voted in the poll last week. Based on your feedback, from here on in, Snacks will follow a theme for ~80% of the time.

Peps 👊

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