As any teacher and parent know, few children are naturally hyper-focused and highly disciplined without a little guidance. Even many adults still struggle with a task as seemingly simple as getting started. Yet, for those who struggle with procrastination in adulthood, their challenges likely started much younger.
It’s crucial that students learn the value of getting started on their tasks, not just to build habits for academic success today, but to ensure good habits that will carry them through life in the years to come. At St. Anne Parish School, teaching our students the value of getting started is high on our list of lessons meant to ensure their long-term success and happiness. Luckily, there are many simple strategies for imparting this vital lesson.
The Beauty of Starting
At its most simple, teaching students the value of getting started comes down to helping them see the beauty in beginnings. Humans are naturally change-averse creatures; we don’t like new projects and we tend to overestimate the work entailed in our tasks. By creating healthy mindsets from the start, we can teach students to see the beauty in getting started rather than get stuck in the default focus upon the obstacles.
Students can practice seeing the start of new tasks as an adventure, an exciting endeavor with a secret ending they can uncover only by getting started. Teaching a forward-thinking, courageous, and curious mindset puts students in the right perspective to enjoy starting rather than avoid starting.
This often-said simple phrase contains a lot of truth for merely two words: start small. It’s natural for all humans to get stuck on the outcome and become blind to the many miniature steps along the way. When you’re starting from zero and only focus on the endpoint, the task in front of you can easily seem too big and challenging to make getting started easy.
Instead of letting students get stuck on the big picture and feel overwhelmed, we teach our students the value of starting small. By breaking a task into various smaller steps, suddenly that daunting project has a clear path with small, doable steps from start to finish.
A Fixed Mindset versus a Growth Mindset
The famous psychologist Carol Dweck has contributed one of the most powerful pieces of research for education today: mindset. Her research found that two mindsets — a fixed and a growth mindset — comprise the way people approach many tasks, including learning.
Those with a fixed mindset feel that what they know and learn is already pre-determined by their innate abilities, while those with a growth mindset believe each experience presents the opportunity to grow and learn despite one’s current stance and abilities. It’s clear to see that a growth mindset drastically improves the willingness of a student to start new tasks and keep trying even despite setbacks, as they believe it’s the effort that determines their outcome.
Promoting a growth mindset over a fixed mindset entails teaching students that the sky is the limit and it’s hard work, not innate talents or abilities, that will make the difference in their outcomes. By empowering students to view their effort rather than their current ability as the determinant in their lives, starting a new task becomes much less daunting because any lack of knowledge about the task isn’t an obstacle, but instead becomes exactly why the task is worth completing.
The Buddy System
This is another method used by both teachers and adults when it comes to reinforcing the value of getting started. While some people are excellent at holding themselves accountable, others are much more likely to sneak that extra slice of pizza when no one is looking, our children included. By setting children up with a mentor, even if that mentor is a parent or teacher who checks in with them at various steps along the way before a due date, we can teach children to better manage their time and get started earlier.
Students who know they have someone important checking in on them and interested in their work will feel more compelled to take that work seriously and get started sooner rather than later. This process of outward accountability also sets the stage for students learning how to take that role on by themselves and hold themselves accountable for getting started and finishing their tasks later on in life.
There is no better gift than education — except for an outstanding education. At Saint Anne Parish School, we make it our mission to expand our students’ education from the textbook to real life by teaching the larger lessons they’ll need to succeed in the different stages of life. Getting started on challenging tasks doesn’t always come naturally, but that’s where great teachers and a great education come into play.