By James Anderson
Teaching the Habits of Mind is important, but it’s not enough.
I remember when I first came across the Habits of Mind back in the late ’90s. I was so excited about them. I couldn’t wait to start teaching them to my students. And as a school leader, I was quick to introduce them to my whole school.
I soon found myself in a nation-wide position leading an action research project that focussed on the Habits of Mind. Every teacher I met across the state wanted their students to know about the Habits. Every parent I spoke to wanted their children to be taught the Habits of Mind. And every business I worked with wanted to know what schools were teaching the Habits so they could employ them!
That was hardly surprising. After all, what Art Costa and Bena Kallick had done was to give a clear and concise list that described what successful people did. They persisted. They managed their impulsivity. They thought interdependently. They applied past knowledge to new situations. Of course, we all wanted our students, children and employees to use the Habits of Mind, too!
Teaching the Habits of Mind
In that initial flood of excitement, passionate, committed and well-intended teachers set out to teach the Habits of Mind.
We gave Habits of Mind lessons in our classrooms. We put up posters displaying the Habits in our schools and homes. We talked about people who used the Habits as examples. We made sure our students knew what the Habits of Mind were.
What went wrong?
But for all the excitement, passion and commitment, for all the teaching of the Habits of Mind we did, in most cases, there was a very low impact on actual student learning outcomes. After a year or two, many schools that had started so passionately had relegated the Habits of Mind to the pile of “last year’s initiatives”.
Looking back now, after 20-plus years of working with the Habits of Mind, I’ve realised our mistake. In the early days, we did a lot of teaching about the Habits of Mind. We taught them as if they were a topic; something to be known and understood. And while that’s an important place to start, it wasn’t enough to make a significant impact on student learning outcomes. Today we know better.
Going Beyond “Teaching” the Habits of Mind
Fortunately, some schools went beyond teaching about the Habits of Mind. It’s these schools we’ll be learning from in the coming weeks.
We’ll explore examples of how the Habits of Mind became a common language for learning in these schools. We’ll look at the critical shift that takes place as we move students from using the Habits of Mind to improving the Habits of Mind and targeting that development as a learning outcome in its own right.
Finally, we’ll look at schools that have nourished and supported the Habits of Mind through school policy, and how they eventually came to be embraced and lived throughout the school community. The result? Spectacular improvements in student learning outcomes and, in many cases, recognition as Habits of Mind Learning Communities of Excellence.
A Brand New Learning Opportunity
I look forward to going on this journey with you.
This post is part one of a series.
Part One: Teaching Habits of Mind is Not Enough
Part Two: How the Habits of Mind become a Shared Language of Learning
Part Three: The Tipping Point for Succeeding with Habits of Mind
Part Four: Introducing the Habits of Mind Profile Tool
Part Five: Your Whole School Approach to Habits of Mind