20 Aug 2021
It’s funny how much an accumulation of tweets over time form a character of someone, isn’t it? When I opened this book, I was picturing its author like I knew him. Harry Fletcher-Wood. So calm, so measured, so bloody thoughtful. He’s the guy in The Hangover who has a plan. He’s the one in the group task who quietly mentions that gravity might break the spaghetti. The guy in Early Lockdown who extolled the importance of masks when the rest of us still thought they were the garb of paranoid tourists. (This last part is true!)
However, that thoughtfulness isn’t without its down side. Habits of Success took him three years to write. Yeah, he had other things on (jobs, babies, blah blah blah), but seriously? In my prime, I was firing out a few books a year, and I am only two members short of a volleyball team in the child department. Three years for a 132-page book. That’s eight days per page, or two longish sentences a day – an output that some year one teachers would delight in, to be fair.
Luckily, it’s worth the wait. The book has very distinctive formatting ̶ each chapter has an opening roadmap, discussion prompts, worked examples and tweet-length call-outs. Only missing are Spotify playlists and recipe cards, but you can’t have everything.
One of Fletcher-Wood’s previous books focused on checklists, so there’s some serious “break-it-down-into-its-individual-parts” fetishisation going on. I bet he loved LEGO as a child! And just like LEGO, you can’t fault the model. Each section would be easy to share with a mentee, or to use as a study prompt.
What the book gains in accessibility, you could argue it sacrifices in readability. Each component section works really well, but the staccato structure breaks the overall flow. But then it’s not designed to be read cover to cover like that.
The chapters are intentionally and cleverly separated, breaking the central theme down into seven questions all teachers are likely to ask themselves at some point. Unsurprisingly, Fletcher-Wood does well to recognise that his readers will be confined by the strictures of their schools’ policies, so his suggestions centre on class-based remedies. There are copious illustrative examples from practising teachers and real-life classrooms, all carefully curated to support the book’s central message.
That message is that learning better is a matter of habit, and that habits can be taught. Interestingly, the points often feel valid for teaching better too, something Fletcher-Wood alludes to several times.
Sadly though, the one habit that seems to me to be a precursor to all the others gets short shrift. I imagine poor behaviour and low-level disruption are the first things a new teacher turning to this book would be looking for help with. Yet the chapter in question, “How can we help students to stop?”, is only a few pages long and tucked near the end of the book. With fewer than 20 references, in comparison to the 40+ that complement the other chapters, it’s a pity this section wasn’t either dropped or considerably fleshed out.
So, if I were forced into a corner about who to recommend this to, I’d have to say it was best for someone who has a few years under their belt. A level of confidence in behaviour management seems assumed in the pursuit of becoming a habit-former.
But all things considered, Habits of Success is an excellent prompt for looking at all the stages it’s necessary to go through in order to improve students’ habits for learning. It made me consider how I address different learning scenarios in my own teaching, and I’m quite a creature of habit myself.
I was helped in that by the fact that Fletcher-Wood has fully included primary teaching, which is a refreshing change. And with a tone that’s realistic, honest, and grounded in classroom practice, it’s no less than you’d expect from the Twitter character we know and love. With more books like his, we might break a lot less spaghetti.