Tiny Habits for School Leaders

This morning I stood at my refrigerator, pressing my water bottle up to the water dispenser, with two fresh limes wedges squeezed in, and thought, “Why don’t I do this every morning? I definitely need to drink more water. It’s so easy.”

This experience reminded me of my friend, Julia (name changed to protect the innocent), who joined me this school year in the quest to try to install a habit of drinking enough water daily as she led her large elementary school.

These practices seem like they should be easier to do than they are.

Our bodies and our health are suffering.

Yet, we continue to struggle to prioritize healthy habits.

“Tiny Habits” by BJ Fogg was one of our BLBS Mastermind book studies this year. It offers valuable insights and strategies for creating lasting behavior change. I needed a refresher, so here are five tips from the book that school principals can apply.

Start with “tiny habits.”

Fogg’s approach emphasizes starting with small, achievable actions that require minimal effort.

As a principal, identify tiny habits that align with your goals or values. For example, if you want a culture characterized by connection, belonging, and relationships, you might consider habits of greeting each student by name as they enter the school or writing one personalized note to a faculty member each week.

By starting small, you increase the likelihood of success and build momentum for more significant changes. In my experience coaching school leaders throughout this school year, I have to say, “tinier” and “tinier still” before we get to something accessible.

This posture or mindset stands in direct contradiction to the hustle culture, give a 110%, or ‘leave it all on the field.’ Yet Ovid reminds us,

“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”

Anchor habits to existing routines.

To make habits stick, it helps to anchor them to existing routines or triggers. One of my newest discoveries is the time it takes me to make a coffee. During that time, I’ve learned I can pour my daily water or tidy the kitchen.

Identify existing routines in your school day, such as morning bus duty or staff meetings, and find ways to incorporate new habits within those moments. For instance, you can develop a habit of recognizing and appreciating student achievements during morning announcements.

Celebrate and reinforce success.


We’ve talked about this so much amongst the women leaders in my group. We have difficulty celebrating ourselves for much of anything.

However, celebrating even the smallest victories can significantly impact motivation and habit formation.

When you or your staff members successfully complete a habit, take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate it. This can be as simple as giving verbal praise, sharing a positive email, or creating a habit-tracking board to visualize progress. Or with a fist pump, whisper a simple, “YES!”

Celebrations help to reinforce positive behavior and create a sense of accomplishment.

Foster a culture of experimentation

Encourage a culture where experimentation and iteration are valued. Recognize that not all habits will work for everyone or in every situation. You can change up what you’re doing. Also, as part of the experimentation, you can start and re-start.

We also have discussed the big life circumstances or disruptions that derail everything.

Rebuilding is part of everyone’s journey. Shame doesn’t help us restart or iterate. If something is not working, try again.

Glory in the art of the start!

In case you need encouragement, I’ve restarted a meditation practice so many times, I think I’m both practicing persisting despite my inconsistency, as well as practicing meditation. Maybe that’s part of the secret. Persist. Even if it’s inconsistent.

This culture of experimentation creates a supportive environment where habits can be refined and optimized over time.

Design your environment for success.

The physical and social environment plays a crucial role in shaping habits. As a principal, we know how the school environment supports desired practices or does not. For instance, if you want to encourage more collaborative work among teachers, create shared spaces or schedule regular collaboration time. By intentionally shaping the environment, you make it easier for habits to take root and thrive.

What habits do you want to encourage for your own health and well-being? How are you going to design the environment? To continue the daily drinking water habit, I have to pick up and wedge a lime or lemon each week to infuse my water with flavor. This design supports my success.

Consider attendance. This has been a late and post-pandemic challenge many of us face. How can we help our students apply the ‘tiny habits’ to arrive on time? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Remember, the key is to start small, anchor habits to existing routines, celebrate successes, foster a culture of experimentation, and design the environment for success. By applying these principles, school leaders can cultivate positive habits and drive meaningful change within their schools.

For the sake of the children,

Karine 🌱