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How do you make the right thing easy to do? That is the question any seasoned educator asks in their quest to help students grow, thrive and succeed. I ask myself this question every day as a way of guiding my own actions and responses. Plans and strategy are great tools but there is that pesky thing called reality that doesn’t bend to my will.

Students have the same problem as teachers. Knowing what to do or what needs to be done are not the same things as doing them. So how do you get to where you want to go with a student or a group of students?

The answer, of course, can only be discovered in the moment. And we can begin with some nudging to make the right thing easy to do. I came across an article by Sarah Sparks entitled “Small ‘Nudges’ Can Push Students in the Right Direction”. Sarah is a kindred spirit and you should check out what she has to say along with her wonderful examples. She describes them as no-cost opportunities for decision making. For myself, the matrix is hands down the best nudging tool I have ever come across.

Nudges are in-the-moment opportunities that allow people to make decisions. They don’t look like a big deal but they pay big dividends down the road. In our elusive search for the quick fix or the destination we may miss the many opportunities along the way to “nudge things along”. Destinations are important but when stuff gets in the way we can’t time travel to the future or rewind to the past.

Enter the matrix or what is known as the “workability point of view”.  All you need to do is simply notice what is going on. No force. No coercion. Just being aware in the moment, perhaps in the presence of feeling stuck and where you want to be heading. That is the way nudges weave their magic. Slowly. In-the-moment. Patiently. Repeated.

I use the diagram and language of the matrix to build in “noticing nudges”:

Student: “I’m tired”

Teacher: ” Cool, you just noticed feeling tired. What would you like to do now?”

Or a “nudgy” dialogue:

Student: “I don’t want to be here”

Teacher: “Oh, so the thought ‘I don’t want to be here’ just showed up in you. where are you right now?”

Student: “Here I guess”

Teacher: “So now that you’re here, what can you do to keep moving toward your education ?”


Later scenarios may be:

Teacher: “Hey, I noticed that you just wrote a great opening paragraph. Way to take that tired feeling with you!”

Teacher: “Hey, I am noticing some restlessness in our group today. Let’s use the matrix to sort out what’s going on and maybe make some changes”

Student: “Hey, I am noticing that instead of freaking out about my grades I can use the matrix to help me keep going”.

Students: “I notice that when I listen to the teacher and look at her, she smiles at me. I like that feeling and I also understand things better”.

Student: “I felt like quitting school. I use the matrix to remind myself that graduation is important to me. I am showing up each day and my grades are going up”.

The best kind of noticing is student-driven noticing of course. Regular matrix use (i.e. “noticing-in-the-moment nudges) builds this up over time so students can learn to nudge themselves. When students experience the value nudging brings they go on and use it. Nudging leads to decisions and then action. The more opportunities students have to practice and experience making decisions and their consequences, the more they move toward who and what is important. Rather than have the nudging come from outside of them, they can provide their own nudging. Once a student starts stringing a whole bunch of nudges together, there is no telling where they will take off too.

With the group or what we call the prosocial matrix, there can be whole groups of students noticing and nudging each other. Recently, a group of students noticed that they didn’t like the lunches at their school. I nudged them by suggesting they use the matrix. They noticed that complaining was a move away from their being upset and that nothing was happening. They nudged each other to come up with ideas. A few volunteers later they managed to get the attention of the administration with a petition they crafted.

A meeting was set. More nudging came from staff who volunteered to help them prepare their presentation. The students noticed the urge to prepare and nudged each other to practice. The student-led presentation panel was ready and the school officials were impressed and responsive. Nudging gave them a voice and they experienced the satisfaction of coming together as a group and accomplishing something they could not do individually, the power of a group to change things for the better. There is more nudging that will be done but they are on their way.

So yes, a little nudging can get things started and get all of us moving toward empowerment, satisfaction, and success.