Creating a Symbolic Heart for the Habits of Mind on Your Campus


By Nick Bruski, second in a series.

Ron Ritchhart of Harvard University says that everything you do sends messages about what you value. As you begin to think about the Habits of Mind and your environment, a community should ask itself, “What messages are we sending?” and “What messages do we want to send?”

Schools seeking to meaningfully incorporate the Habits of Mind into their school environment should consider developing a symbolic center or touchstone for the Habits somewhere on campus. In choosing a location and design, consider the following questions:

  • What messages are we sending by choosing this location/design?
  • What metaphorical connections might we make?
  • What connections to existing curricula, beliefs, or other school symbols might we

Is there an entryway or path where the Habits could be painted on individual steps? Students could connect to their growth in their understanding and implementation of the Habits as they walk up into the school to start each day. Is there a path where stones could be labeled to represent each habit and symbolize the path students are on in their journey towards developing the Habits? Are there pillars in your hallway that could represent the Habits and symbolize the foundation to becoming successful human beings? Are there trees in a garden that can be named and grow each year, just as one’s understanding of the Habits does? The list could go on and on.

At Montecito Union School in Southern California, students worked together with artist and parent, Jeremy Harper, to create a large mural in the center of campus dedicated to the Habits of Mind. It is a colorful landscape of local flora and fauna, with a large tree at the center. Hidden within the trunk of the tree is a depiction of Rodin’s The Thinker, representing the consciousness and critical thinking we want our students to have with the Habits of Mind. The scene has sixteen waterfalls, one for each Habit, and their names are also incorporated and spread throughout the scene. As students walk towards the mural, actual trees in the foreground frame the mural, creating a real canopy that brings the mural to life. It is a constant reminder that the Habits live on our campus and are a part of everything they do.

The mural is located at the very end of a highly traveled pathway near the lunch tables. This location ensures it is seen regularly and its proximity to the lunch tables also sets the stage for reflection in one of our most communal areas as students eat lunch each day.

Having a symbolic center for the campus sends a message to students, staff and families that the work of the Habits of Mind is an important piece of what you do as a school. Habits only become Habits with regular exposure, practice and focus. Having a visual reminder on your campus will help the Habits live on your campus, bringing them to the regular attention of your entire community.



Dr. Nick Bruski has served in various positions in education including classroom teaching, coaching, administration, training, writing, and higher education. His diverse work experience includes teaching in inner-city Los Angeles, serving as a principal in both high-poverty and high-affluence communities, extensive training of school administrators in the areas of culture, data, and teacher evaluation, and lecturing on leadership in UCLA’s Ed.D. program.

Read more posts by Dr. Nick Bruski.


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