Habits of Mind: Dispositions of Success


By Arthur L. Costa Ed. D. and Bena Kallick, Ph.D.

As we study the habits of mind, we are impressed by the international response to the questions:

“What is it about your students that makes you think they need to learn how to think?” and “How would you like them to be?”

These questions have been posed with teachers of all grade levels in numerous schools and in countries around the world with surprisingly similar and consistent responses:

“They just blurt out answers. They should think before they respond.”

“They are afraid to take risks. I’d like them to be more creative; more adventuresome.”

“They depend on me for their answers. I wish they’d think for themselves.”

“They give up so easily with difficult tasks. I’d like them to hang in there.”

“They can’t seem to work in groups. They’ve must learn to cooperate and work together.”

“They don’t apply their knowledge. I want them to use what they know in other situations.”

Once we introduce teachers to the Habits of Mind, they are amazed to find that, while the terminology may be different, the Habits of Mind we list is what they desire in their students, is what we have identified.

The 16 Habits of Mind are the dispositions of successful people in many walks of life (Costa and Kallick, 2009). They are:

  • Persisting
  • Managing Impulsivity
  • Listening with understanding and empathy
  • Thinking flexibly
  • Thinking about thinking
  • Striving for accuracy
  • Questioning & posing problems
  • Applying past knowledge to new situations

What is a Habit of Mind?

A “Habit of Mind” means having a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems. When humans experience dichotomies, are confused by dilemmas, or come face to face with uncertainties—our most effective actions require drawing forth certain patterns of intellectual behavior. When we draw upon these intellectual resources, the results that are produced are more powerful, of higher quality and of greater significance than if we fail to employ those intellectual behaviors.

While the Habits of Mind are never fully mastered, as continuous learners, they are continually practiced, modified, and refined. If they are truly “habituated”  they are performed spontaneously and without prompting. They become an “internal compass” to guide one’s actions, decisions and thoughts. This internalization grows as individuals commit themselves to development along five dimensions. (Anderson, 2009) They are:

  • Thinking & communicating with clarity and precision
  • Gathering data through all senses
  • Creating, imagining, innovating
  • Responding with wonderment & awe
  • Taking responsible risks
  • Finding humor
  • Thinking interdependently
  • Remaining open to continuous learning

* Exploring Meanings

As students explore meaning they develop a basic literacy around the habits with a greater capacity to articulate more sophisticated definitions and acquire more concepts associated with the HOM. They are able to draw upon a greater range of examples and build more complex analogies and they begin to connect them to their own experiences and recognize them in others. They become able to reflect on times when they have (or should have) used a particular habit.

* Expanding Capacities

As students learn and practice the Habits of Mind, they become more skillful and develop a large repertoire of strategies that they can call upon in problematic situations. Students grow more adept employing the habit strategically, selecting and sequencing the most appropriate strategies at the appropriate time. They refine their ability to apply each of these skills and strategies in complex and sophisticated ways. Learners also begin to develop internal, meta-cognitive strategies and “self-talk” for employing the HOM when confronted with problems, decisions and ambiguous situations.

* Increasing alertness

In order to engage in any of the HOM, one must recognize that a problematic situation exists and that the opportunity for engaging one or more of the Habits of Mind has presented itself. Students build some guiding principles or criteria upon which they become increasingly alert to opportunities to engage in the HOM. Students will initially find it easy to engage in the HOM in very familiar, often simple contexts. However, over time we want them to be able to be alert to opportunities in new, novel and complex situations. Furthermore, students will often rely on external prompts from teachers or others to indicate when to engage in the HOM. As they develop their alertness, they will become more self-directed and apply the appropriate Habits of Mind spontaneously.

* Extending values

As learners connect success to the effective application of the Habits of Mind, they begin to make predictions about when and why it might be appropriate to use a particular habit. In doing so they also deepen their valuing of the Habits because they can understand why using a habit would be important in these situations. They can reflect back upon the use of the habit and see that when the habit is appropriately used, it has led to greater success. Continuous experiences in which the habits show real benefits for successful interactions with work and others creates a better sense of self-confidence. As a result, the individual not only values the habits but also makes a commitment to using them. As learners extend the value they place on the Habits of Mind, they express a belief that the Habit is important not just in particular situations, but also more universally as a pattern of behavior in their life and they express a desire for the Habits of Mind to be adopted in the lives of others and in the community at large.

* Building Commitment

Building a commitment to continuous improvement in the use of Habits of Mind occurs when learners increasingly become self-directed. Self-improvement in this dimension is recognized as learners become self-managing by setting goals for themselves, self-monitoring as they “observe themselves” in action, and more self-reflective as they evaluate themselves, modify their behaviors and set new and increasingly higher standards for their own performance. Self-evaluation moves from being the quantitative recognition of the use of the Habits of Mind in them to being increasingly more descriptive and qualitative.

Getting into the Habit

Our experience with many schools and school districts both nationally and internationally leads us to the answer to the question, “what is to be done about it?” We have found that the best way to develop these habits is through practice. It is not possible to learn the habits merely through rhetoric. Everything in the school needs to believe in the habits as significant to student learning.

  • The School Board needs to adopt the habits not only for the students but also for themselves. They need to evidence questioning and problem posing, listening with understanding and empathy, thinking and communicating with clarity and precision.
  • Students will only behave as well as the adult models that they are surrounded by.
  • The administrators need to adopt the habits. They need to be good role models of, for example, remaining open to continuous learning. The teachers will respond with greater belief in the long term sustaining of the habits when they observe and experience the administrators working on the same habits as they are hoping their students will embrace.
  • The teachers need to find the appropriate places in the curriculum—integrating the habits into the curriculum so that the unit designs include not only the authentic performances but the habits that are required to make certain that the students learn how to struggle with the issues of uncertainty and ambiguity embedded in the designs. For example, they need to be able to question and pose problems, think interdependently, and persist when the answers are not immediately apparent. In addition, teachers need to create a classroom that is open to continuous learning, making certain that there are many opportunities for coaching and formative assessment. It needs to be clear that taking responsible risks is valued and that discussions encourage students to think flexibly. Students need to have the opportunity to practice the habits or…they don’t become a habit!
  • Finally, the students need to become more self-directed in their learning. They need to take responsibility for managing, monitoring, and modifying their behavior as they learn.

While schools staffs might lament the absence of these attributes in their students, it should be obvious that all of us—parents, teacher and administrators, can continue on this journey towards internalization. What gives a curriculum “dignity” is that it is as good for the adults in the school as it is for students. Over time, as this vision becomes increasingly shared, the school takes on a culture where the Habits become the norms: “the way we do things around here.”

One student, one classroom, one school at a time, the world is becoming a more thought-full place.



Anderson, J., Costa, A. and Kallick, B. (2009) Habits Of Mind: A Journey Of Continuous Growth.

Costa, A. and Kallick, B (Eds.) Leading and learning with Habits of Mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Costa, A. and Kallick, B (2009 (Eds.) Leading and learning with Habits of Mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development


See all posts by Art Costa and Bena Kallick.


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