The Happy Teacher Habits by Michael Linsin (Summary & Review)

Happy teacher habits
You too can be a happy teacher.

Do you feel tired and exhausted during the school year and not sure what to do about it?

Do you wish your lessons were better, but you just don’t have the time for late-nights planning at home?

Do you wish you had time each work night to enjoy family dinner and the hobbies that, prior to teaching, were once part of your life?

Michael Linsin, a teacher-in-the-trenches of over 25 years and the writer behind Smart Classroom Management, has answers for your most burning teacher questions. In his book The Happy Teacher Habits: 11 Habits of the Most Effective Teachers on Earth, Linsin shares the 11 tips for teachers success. While I provide a brief overview of the tips here, it’s worth it to buy The Happy Teacher Habits, a bundle of manna for teachers.

Here is a brief summary of the Happy Teacher Habits.  For a more detailed summary of each habit, keep reading:

  1. Narrow- Focus on the essential practices that get the most results.
  2. Decline- Say “no” to coaching, meetings, gossip– anything that would burn you out.
  3. Tidy- A clean classroom= better student behaviour and focus= better results.
  4. Inspire- Get rid of class rewards. Focus on a positive classroom environment.
  5. Improvise- Let the natural brilliance of teaching shine through by improvising.
  6. Bridge- Breathe life into stale curriculum with stories, anecdotes, mystery, etc.
  7. Envision- Visualize, each morning, a successful teaching day (lesson, management, etc.).
  8. Shift- To ensure students develop grit and real confidence, shift responsibility to them.
  9. Sway- To develop good relations with your students, be consistently pleasant and trustworthy.
  10. Listen- Talk less, both in your classroom and in staff meetings.
  11. Seize- Happiness in this career does not happen by accident. You must seize it.

An Overview of the 11 Happy Teacher Habits:

  1. NARROW- The Pareto Principle applied to teaching– focus on the 20% that is responsible for 80% of your results. Don’t worry about the mess of contradictory educational philosophies: cut out the time-gobblers to focus on the results-producers.  Linsin frankly outlines how teachers have lost much of their control and sense of autonomy with mandated teaching practices, etc., and this loss of control makes many teachers miserable, but he believes the fix for teachers is focusing on timeless teaching principles. (For more on this, read: More Time &  Better Results: Apply the Pareto Principle to Your Teaching).

“Successful teaching isn’t big, complex, and time-consuming. It’s small, simple, and efficient.” (pg. 10)

Here is an overview of the Pareto Principle:

2. DECLINELinsin argues teachers must be willing to  say “no.” In this chapter, he tells of his experience as an overworked and miserable outdoor educator who eventually snapped and started to set personal boundaries. As he writes, “I said no to GATE coordinator, homework club, and after school tutoring. I said no to coaching basketball, no to being on the school play, and no to going to the next reading conference. I said no to distractions, wasting time, and boring meetings (again, those I didn’t have to attend). I said no to gossip, idle chit-chat, complaining, and negativity” (pg. 13).

For teachers that cringe at the thought of saying “no” (the feeling of guilt can be too much for some of us), Linsin reminds us that we are the best teachers when we are at our best. Ultimately, we say no for the benefit of our students.

Linsin suggests that people respect a person who says “no” more, not less. He offers the following phrases for the overburdened teacher:

“I’m sorry, I wish I could, but I’m really focused on my classroom.”

“No, thank you. I appreciate you thinking of me, though.”

“No, I don’t think I’m the right person for that.”

“No, I’m sorry. I don’t have the time.” (pg. 13-14)

A video to inspire your next “no”:

3. TIDY- Linsin recommends teachers keep their classrooms neat– even Spartan– to enjoy smooth classroom management and better results. According to Linsin, his first year teacher mentor was right: the quality of a teacher’s teaching can be reliably guessed at by looking at the neatness of his or her classroom. While I’m not sure I agree with Linsin here (I had some  teachers who were great but somewhat untidy),  I can understand his reasoning: If the room is free of distraction, if the posters on the wall are neat, orderly, etc., then the atmosphere of the room is one of order and high standards. We can’t help but be affected by our surroundings: Are you  and your students being positively impacted by your classroom?

“The most effective teachers are fanatical in their commitment to neatness.” (pg. 25-26)


4.  INSPIRE- Linsin is opposed to class rewards systems. As a former psychology student, Linsin outlines how the giving of rewards for good behaviour cheapens the classroom experience and actually demotivates in the long term. Students should do good because of intrinsic motivation, not because of extrinsic rewards.  Instead of giving out prizes, Linsin suggests we give out the gift of inspiration and joy of learning.

“The minute you do away with all the rewards and prize boxes and tokens and such, the act of teaching steps on center stage.” (pg. 44)


5. IMPROVISE- Linsin argues that all the PD training teachers sit through stifles their ability to improvise– the creative spark that draws students in. Because teachers are well-versed in the latest edu-babble and latest best practices, they struggle to act naturally and spontaneously in front of their classes. As a result, the magic of learning is squashed. The solution, according to Linsin, is to practice improvisation in your lessons: know what you are going to teach each day, but improvise your words and stories to draw your students in. Have the concept you want to teach in mind, know your subject well, but don’t batter it to death with minutiae.

” School districts pour millions of dollars into training teachers how to implement curriculum, how to conduct guided reading groups, how to use manipulatives to teach math, and so on. But this isn’t what inspires students to learn. You do. It’s the teacher that makes the difference.” (pg. 50)


6. BRIDGE- Linsin argues it’s crucial for teachers to bridge the often lifeless curriculum to their students with interesting anecdotes, stories, enthusiasm, mystery,  etc.  Bridging involves three steps: 1) defining the topic of the lesson and the specific learning objective, 2) finding something noteworthy about the topic, and 3) draw on all of your knowledge– academic and personal– to teach the topic of the lesson in-depth.

“Although details and descriptions add great interest to your lessons, and by themselves are remarkably effective, it’s storytelling that puts students over the edge.” (pg. 65-66)

Here’s an interesting video about five types of stories you can tell:

7. ENVISION- Key to a master teacher’s success is daily visualization of the school day. Linsin recommends carving out time in the morning before school to sit down and visualize your lessons going well. When dealing with a particularly difficult student, include him or her in your daily visualizations, but imaging him or her cooperating and enjoying the lesson. You can visualize any aspects of your teaching: the lesson, classroom management, orderliness, saying “no” etc. until the visualized actions become automatic.

“The fact is, what you visualize tends to come true–not because  of any magical process, but because you’ve practiced beforehand.” (pg. 75)

Here’s a great video explaining the science behind the success of visualization:

8. SHIFT- Linsin argues that the self-esteem movements of the past decades have put excessive pressures on the teacher to over-help to ensure students achieve. What teachers must do to grow grit, hard work habits, stamina, and true confidence in their students is shift responsibility to them. Teachers, of course, should be available to help, but they should avoid overdoing their helpfulness, which encourages helplessness among students.

“The secret to improving grit is to shift responsibility for learning and behaving in full to your students.” (pg. 87)


9. SWAY- In order to sway your students for the better, a teacher needs to develop two key things: consistent pleasantness and trust. To be likeable, a teacher does not have to be cool or popular, but consistently pleasant. And to be trustworthy, a teacher must do what she said she would do, calmly and dispassionately. When students can rely on your pleasant demeanor and on your truthful words, you create sway. [For more about strictly adhering to your classroom management plan, read: Please, Please, Please, for the Love of God– Dare to Be a Strict Teacher]

“It’s striking how intense and uptight so many teachers become when they step in front of their students. They are open and lovely people who turn unrecognizable at the sound of the morning bell….The two principles of influence will free you to be yourself every moment of the day.” (pg. 103-104)

Part of sway is following through on what your classroom management plan. One of my favourite Youtuber teachers, TooCoolForMiddleSchool, offers good advice very similar to my own classroom management plan:

10. LISTEN- Linsin argues that most teachers would benefit from talking less in their classrooms. When teachers talk too much, their words lose power. Be economical with your words, not only in your class explanations and instructions, but also in your interactions with your colleagues. Listen, and others will listen to you.

Here’s a helpful video teaching listening skills:

“Over the years I’ve had the chance to observe many classrooms. Teachers will ask if I can come in and ask how they might improve. In almost every case, the first thing I tell them is they talk too much.” (pg. 112)


11. SEIZE- Linsin suggests that teachers need to seize their happiness; if they wait for happiness to fall into their laps, they are bound to be disappointed, burnt out, and exhausted. While it’s good to know what politicians and educational gurus are saying about education, and it’s worthwhile to read the research, ultimately we must stay true to what we know works. The essentials– not the fluff thrown onto our laps– will reap rewards and preserve our sanity.

“Happiness in teaching doesn’t mean that you’ll always have a smile on your face. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to make tough decisions or be involved in heartbreaking decisions. IT does mean, however, that you’ll have a definite path to follow. It means that you’ll have the knowledge and skill to make an impact on your students that will last a lifetime, like a photograph that never fades. It means you’ll have time for a life outside of school– to build a family, enjoy other interests and passions, or sit and relish the quiet of an evening at home.” (pg. 126)


Is Michael Linsin’s Happy Teacher Habits worth buying?


Trench-worthiness (How applicable is this book to teachers in the trenches? Is it practical?)

9/10– I deduct one mark because some of Linsin’s ideas were too vague. I wish he had more concrete steps for listening, saying no, etc. Overall, however, all his ideas were practical, and I can tell he is a teacher entrenched in the realities of today’s classroom. This man knows what he’s talking about.

Quality of writing (How engaging the writing was, and how well it was organized)

8/10- Overall, this book was easy to read and understand. Linsin writes well. However, I did not enjoy the numerous stories in the book. Sometimes, I just wanted Linsin to get to the point. I wanted the meat, but he would throw me more candy (another story).  Moderation is key.  The numerous stories in the book, however, were interesting and may be useful in the classroom.

Overall rating (Out of 5 stars)

4.5 stars- After reading the Kindle version of the book, I bought the audiobook because I enjoyed this book so much. I highly recommend reading this book over the summer if you are burnt out or a little crusty around the edges. When it comes to professional reading, nothing beats books by teachers for teachers.

Are there any teacher books you’d like me to review? Leave your ideas in the comments!

Coming up next: a review of Dave Stuart Jr.’s Never Finished.

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