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The Power of Habits

August 07, 2018
By Billy Handmaker

“Sorry, it’s a habit.”  “Creature of habit.” “Force of habit.”  How many times in our lives as parents do we attribute something that either we or our children do to habit?  We act or say something with such ease, and with so little thought, that we may not even realize until later that it happened.  

As we know, habits by themselves can be value neutral. Some are good; we want our children to say “‘please” and “thank you” automatically or to do their homework or chores without our having to remind them.  However, we are equally aware that some habits are not beneficial; “please stop biting your nails,” or “please stop using the word ‘like’ in every sentence!”

As a bibliophile, I consider reading to be one of the most beneficial habits we can develop. Obviously, it expands our vocabulary, allows us to learn something new, or escape to another world, but some studies have shown that reading literary fiction can also make us more empathic human beings. A rationale for summer reading in particular is to ensure that students continue immersing themselves in good books when school is out of session so they don’t have to revive the habit of reading in mid-August when summer ends and the academic year begins.  

To help us begin the year with a shared mindset at Keystone, every member of the Keystone faculty and staff read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit  this summer. This highly readable study of habits, how they develop, and how they can be changed has applicability for all of us, no matter what role we play in the school. As part of our week of professional development this year, we gathered together on Monday evening, August 6.,  to discuss our habits at Keystone-both the ones we like and maybe some we wish we had. Just as we ask our students to reflect on themselves and continually seek to improve, we’re all looking at what we do well and what could be even better.

This habit of reflecting on one’s self and always striving to improve characterizes excellent school like Keystone and will inform the work we will do this year in our Independent Schools of the Southwest (ISAS) Accreditation Self-Study. In a spirit of what I call “healthy dissatisfaction,” we will analyze how and what we do, commend what we do well, and recommend how we could be even more effective.  Every self-study committee will have what we’re calling an “outsider,” someone from outside the usual group who asks the hard questions that force us to look deep and hard at why we do what we do and either reaffirm our rationale or seek to make change. This is exciting and invigorating work that will make Keystone an even stronger school than we are now, and we look forward to the work ahead of us.

For parents and students, one of the beautiful things about school is that every August, we have a chance to reinvent ourselves. We can shed or change bad habits and create new ones that will help us. I have linked below an article that may be beneficial as you ponder how to begin the year on the right foot.  In “15 Steps on How To Get Ready for School Quickly,” Laura Richards offers tips on the little things we can do the night before so the mornings aren’t quite as rushed.  Perhaps we should set that dreaded alarm fifteen minutes earlier to give ourselves a little more time in the morning or maybe students should set out their clothes the night before so they’re not panicking because they “have nothing to wear” while their ride is outside waiting. While each of these habits in isolation may seem small, taken together they can determine whether our day starts out well or we’re leaving the house already on edge and anxious.  I hope you find it helpful.

I’ve enjoyed seeing  so many of you around campus as we approach the beginning of school, and I look forward to connecting with even more of you in the days ahead.  We will have a great year as we celebrate Keystone’s 70th birthday and join together in the meaningful work of helping bright and motivated children pursue academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership.

John Covert says:
August 09, 2018 01:15 PM CST
This is wonderful Billy. We are so glad that you decided to come here. If Carol and I can ever help you do not hesitate to call, even after the guys graduate! Sincerely, John Covert
Courtney Green says:
August 09, 2018 07:18 PM CST



Good evening. I read this book for the first time last year and thought it amazing! It made me take a long hard look at things I do and how I can undo things, i.e., habits that do not have a positive impact on me. I loved the seciton about Coach Dungy. Your blog post reminds me I should re-read this book. Now, if I can only get Ethan to read this book.

Dawn Keogh says:
August 11, 2018 07:27 PM CST

Hi Billy, thank you for writing & publishing your blog. I’d like to subscribe to it, if that’s an option.

I attended Keystone from grades 1-3 and 10-12, graduated in 1973. I’ve watched my alma mater adapt and evolve over the years, and appreciate the opportunity we alums were given to participate in the process of recruiting our new Head of School. 

I feel excited about this new phase, with you at the helm. I’ll keep watching from a distance, relying heavily upon my classmate Dawn Lee Wakefield to nudge me if I miss something.


Dawn Keogh, Hoquiam, WA




Dr. Kalpana M. Iyengar says:
August 16, 2018 09:53 AM CST

Welcome to the Keystone community and I look forward to meeting you soon.