Habits of Mind and Resiliency: Tools for Success


Hello Habits of Mind community! Welcome back to this new school year. I hope that the summer gave you time to ponder and to find wonderment and awe in just relaxing, managing your impulsivity by basking in the summer sun, remaining open to continuous learning by taking adventurous trips, thinking flexibly in creating summer time meals you would not normally make during the school year, and of course, thinking about your thinking on how to make the most of your time off. I hope this left you feeling more resilient due to a lack of pressure, stress, and anxiety. It should feel great…and you definitely deserve it!

In my case, this summer I had an outstanding opportunity to speak in Orlando at the ASCD Conference titled Building Resilient Schools, I was able to share and collaborate ideas with thousands of educators across the county. Moreover, I was able to reflect back on my year and how the importance of resiliency played a role in the overall success displayed by my students. Although it was not an easy concept to infuse on a daily basis, I learned that the more I strategized by weaving the Habits of Mind together with resiliency, the more effective and smooth the process went. That being said, the more I dovetailed these two ideas, the more creative and focused I was in developing strategies, activities, environmental designs, and school wide approaches that allowed students to be able to “bounce back” easier while producing productive behaviors.

Now, I would like to share a few activities, strategies, and ideas with you.

Two Risk Taking Activities to Build Resilience

Personalize about “Bouncing Back”

Practice the habit of Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision by telling a personal story when you failed at something, struggled, or came across a hurdle. Although, when all was said and done, you found success. I often speak about my experience in mastering the art of surfing and competing. It was not easy. It took persistence, drive, and focus. Over many years I endured wipe outs and crashes. When I entered surfing tournaments and watched competitors riding like pros, I just wanted to throw in the towel…thinking that it just was not worth it. My first tournament I lost, the second one I came in 5th place, third one I came in 4th place, and my last one I finally came in first place. I did it! Overcame many obstacles and struggles in order to achieve my dream of winning a surfing competition.

The obstacles do not have to be school or work related, it can be any experience where you demonstrated resilience……and a few Habits of Mind! Now, talk about it.

Optimistic Scenario Response

In life it is always important to focus on the bright side. Think flexibly by turning a negative into a positive. Offer stem statements like, “Although this terrible event happened it is important to focus on the positives, such as, ………..” This can be demonstrated through cartoons, personal stories, picture prompts, and even related to news stories.

Here is a great example with some responses:

In class Billy receives his test back and is surprised by the letter grade – F. Ask the class to finish this statement, “Although Billy received an F on his test, a positive is that…..?”

  • Although Billy received an F on his test, a positive is that he can practice Metacognition by taking mental notes on what he can do to improve on his weaknesses..
  • Although Billy received an F on his test, a positive could be that Billy can try a new study technique of Thinking Interdependently in a study group.
  • Although Billy received an F on his test, a positive could be that he can learn more about what he can do next time to receive a better grade by simply Questioning and Posing Problems to his teachers and classmates.

Two Instructional Strategies that Promote Resilience

No “7s”

When covering a new concept, idea, or topic in the classroom there is always going to be some students who do not understand yet pretend they do. Ignoring to ask for clarity due to embarrassment tends to force students to just throwing in the flag. A simple way to monitor student understanding is by means of thumbs down or up on a scale from 1-10 (1- being the lowest level of comprehension to 10 – being the highest level of comprehension). Thumb up symbolizes “I get it” (the number has to range from 8-10). Thumb down means “I need more clarity” (the number has to range from 1-6). Here is the kicker… cannot rate yourself a 7 – it is absent from the scale. Why?

The number 7 (on a scale of 1-10) is an extremely telling measure that resonates a feeling of “on the fence with something”… other words, it connotes a sense of uncertainty about something or someone. Think of it like this. If I asked you to rate a student from 1-10 on their leadership within the classroom for an award, and you rated them a 7, what does that tell me? It just really leaves me with no clear cut answer. Although, if you gave me an 8 or 6, I could make my decision with ease.

When you ask students to rate their understanding of a topic in this manner, they are forced into Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision, Metacognition, and Striving for Accuracy –  all in one. Eliminating the “7” is also opens the door to building resilience as a learner and striving for that accurate understanding.

Stop in the Middle

Always end class or a lesson in the middle (if you can). Why? It allows students to come back next class with the habit of Remaining Open to Continuous Learning. Wanting to find out more, adding deeper thought after a day of reflection, and just leaving some curiosity (or your students in limbo) about a topic allows them to think. Plus, the opportunity of “time” allows students to bounce back and be resilient in picking up from where they left off.

One Unique and Resilient Building Classroom Design

The Walking Classroom

According to research conducted by Active Living Research, children within the classroom who move around often have greater brain activity which leads to deeper and more effective learning. This is true!

So what does the Walking Classroom look and sound like? The teacher selects a topic to discuss. It must be a topic that allows all participants to be actively engaged while on the walk. A time limit needs to be set with the focus on “intentionality”- that being, everyone in the class will practice Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision by way of answering questions and engaging in conversation about the topic. Make expectations clear and have the questions written out. On the walk build resiliency through positive reinforcement, engaging attitude, and consistent focus on the task at hand.

This is a great design for vocabulary review, novel comprehension questions, and brainstorming.

One Powerful School-Wide Practice

The Resilient Weekly Email

By sending a positive weekly email to a parent in regard to their child is always a plus. Although, what about incorporating Habits of Mind and Resilient statements? Not only are you explaining the behaviors and actions of their child, there is substance and connections to the culture and common language within their classroom. The joy in the process is that it is simple yet powerful — use any Habit of Mind and blend it together with Resiliency.

One of my many emails that I send to parents:

Hi Mr. Jones,

I am reaching out to you in reference to Sean’s amazing impact and personality within my class.

Sean is a pleasure to have in class. He is respectful, determined, focused, resilient, optimistic, and has an awesome sense of humor on a daily basis.

On top of that, he is an amazing leader in the classroom. He models striving for accuracy, persistence, taking responsible risks, and remains open to continuous learning on a daily basis.

It is exciting to see the success that Sean is displaying within the classroom.

Dan Vollrath


It’s right around the corner!

Whether you want to believe it or not the school year will be here before you know it. Start thinking about your classroom culture and ask yourself, “What behaviors and actions do you want your students to display and model on a daily basis?” The practice of modeling resilient behaviors and displaying the Habits of Mind with consistency and intention can make a world of difference in the learning environment.

So, enjoy the rest of your summer, but think, reflect, and build some ideas that will make your school year a success.


Read more from Dan Vollrath.


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