Leading With Habits of Mind in Mind: Positive Thoughts During Unprecedented Times


By Art Costa and Bena Kallick

While we can all agree that the Habits of Mind pervade all subject areas and can be infused throughout most of all the activities in learning, we may never have thought of putting them to the test of being challenged during this COVID-19 crisis.

Yet, the Habits of Mind, as we have often said, are what you do when you don’t know what to do. This is especially true for how leaders draw upon the Habits of Mind during uncertain, confusing, uncharted and unexpected times.

Leaders demonstrate their integrity by modelling the behaviours that represent the values of their culture. Their responses are magnified in a time of crisis. Consciously using the Habits of Mind to meet the challenges of COVID-19 can influence the actions leaders take.

Here are a few that stand out for us. You may find others that match your own experiences:

Managing Impulsivity

Most of us in education are caretakers. We consider our mission to take care of the generation that enters through the school doors every day—to protect their right to learn and grow and be prepared for the world today and in their future. Given that inclination, managing impulsivity is especially difficult. We are personally stressed and anxious and are finding it difficult to be of comfort to others. We need to manage our own impulse to be overly protective, paternalistic and to underestimate the strengths and capabilities of those we serve. When you are tempted to give another person a hug, a kiss or to shake their hand, — don’t!

Listening With Understanding and Empathy

What helps us learn of the strengths of others, we must listen closely to the stories of survival they tell us. Paraphrasing some of the key ideas they express as they recount their deepest fears and their most courageous acts of kindness. Probing to seek clarity and understand as they become more conscious lessons they learned. Identifying the feeling states they are experiencing and listening to how they are managing the roller coaster of those states of mind. Listen to, identify and respond to their emotional state of anxiety or stress. Empathise with and comfort others who are in need of shelter, food or medications.

Thinking Flexibly

When we are listening, we are also withholding judgment. We are thinking flexibly and considering another’s perspective. As leaders, we collect those perspectives and look for patterns or themes that run across the many perspectives we hear. These perspectives may include the immediate as well as the long range, the personal as well as the larger group or family, the local as well as the national and global view.

Finding Humour

Erma Bombeck is quoted as saying, “If you can laugh at it, you can live with it.”

A powerful way to relieve tension is by finding humour—stories of some of the really funny things that happened when using a new technology, how one of our kids did something really humorous, how the true colour of our hair is revealing itself. Each of these stories of humour are told at our own expense.

Humour that is rampantly running about on the social media are poking fun at another—most commonly a political other.

Thinking and Communicating With Clarity and Precision

We are hungry for, “Just the facts, ma’am.” However, it is difficult to distinguish fact from opinion, intentional misunderstandings, what really matters and what is really known. We want to be able, as leaders, to communicate the most reliable of what we know and be very clear about what we don’t know.

Creating, Imagining and Innovating

Some of the communications we have been receiving are from leaders who feel their schools were better prepared for this crisis because they were already using the HOM as a part of their curriculum and teaching. They were personalising learning so that their designs created many opportunities to practise self direction, relationships were a solid balance between learning because they were assigned to do so and learning because they are curious and accustomed to becoming self-determined.

Thinking Interdependently

Use the Internet to create communities to think and work together to solve problems and bring relief to others. Volunteer to work with others on family and community needs. Remember that while you may show no signs of infection, you could be carrying the pathogens that would infect others.

Responding With Wonderment and Awe

Become fascinated with the beauty and the power of the coronavirus itself. Find intrigue in the strategies that the medical professionals use to find testing and relief for others. Appreciate the amazing work of health caregivers, first responders, medical professionals and philanthropists. Become intrigued with the capacity to gather and share data from countries worldwide through technology and open channels of communication. Be inspired by the fact that all countries in the world are joining together to combat a common foe.

We spend a lot of time thinking about what we say to others to stay strong during challenging times: We need to give more thought to what we say to ourselves – and keep it positive! Positive self-talk helps to keep our brain focused. When feeling despair, we might elevate our thinking by feeling grateful for the fact that, for the first time in big cities, we can see a smogless sky. Your positivity buoys up others and gives you more energy.

What really matters is not only what we say to others, but what we say to ourselves. When we lift ourselves up, we are more capable of helping others, which produces energy to rise above the challenges. We buoy them up and their positive response buoys us up.

As Helen Keller is quoted, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”


Bena Kallick is an author, speaker, and educational consultant who has co-authored many books on Habits of Mind with Arthur Costa. She most recently co-authored Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind with Allison Zmuda. Costa and Kallick are the co-founders of the Institute for Habits of Mind.

Art Costa is a past president of ASCD, author and editor of numerous books and articles on coaching, teaching for thinking and the Habits of Mind including Cognitive Coaching (with Robert Garmston), The School as Home for the Mind, Developing Minds; A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking, and most recently, (with Bena Kallick), Nurturing Habits of Mind in Early Childhood Classrooms.


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