The Tipping Point for Succeeding with Habits of Mind

By James Anderson

Stop using the Habits of Mind and start improving them!

Over the years, we’ve seen countless schools adopt the Habits of Mind. For many, their Habits of Mind journey has been disappointingly short lived, with little enduring impact on student learning outcomes.

But for a few schools, the results have been profound. Those that have succeeded with the Habits of Mind have embedded the Habits into their school culture, achieving significant improvements in student learning outcomes, and sustaining the work over many years.

So, why do some schools succeed while others fail?

The answer comes down to a single shift in the way a school approaches its work with the Habits of Mind. A shift from using the Habits of Mind, to improving them.

The Tipping Point for Succeeding with the Habits

When a school changes its focus from using the Habits of Mind to improving them, it goes from asking students to think, to teaching them how to think well.

The approaches that have been outlined over the past 3 weeks are necessary starting points, but on their own ultimately ineffective. Teaching about the Habits of Mind is a necessary introduction. Adopting the Habits as a common language for learning is powerful. And requiring students to “use” the Habits of Mind as they engage with the curriculum is also important. But ultimately, these three approaches are labelling exercises that result in little meaningful change in the behaviour of teachers and students.

When teachers recognise the development of their students’ Habits of Mind as their responsibility, real improvements in learning outcomes can start to occur. The Habits shift from being tools for learning to intentional outcomes of learning. Teachers move from setting tasks that “require” the Habits of Mind, to adopting pedagogy that explicitly develops, extends, increases, improves and helps students build more powerful Habits.

Learners then begin to recognise that the way they engaged in the Habits of Mind last year is no longer good enough. This year, they will need to improve, develop, extend and build upon them.

Continuous Growth

This shift from use to improve marks a critical change in a school’s journey with the Habits of Mind. It helps teachers break free from once-off lessons, so they can begin a journey of continuous growth.

This shift also represents a Growth Mindset approach to the Habits of Mind.

Every school that has sustained the Habits of Mind
and has seen significant improvements in student learning outcomes
has made the shift from use to improve.

Why Develop the Habits of Mind?

Put simply, we develop our Habits so that we can succeed at increasingly difficult tasks.

Albert Einstein is famously quoted as saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking we used when we created them.” What Einstein meant was that in order to raise our standards and solve more difficult problems, we need to become more skilful thinkers. We need to develop our Habits of Mind.

The same is true for our students. As they progress through school, they encounter increasingly difficult problems. The level of thinking they use to solve this year’s problems will not be sufficient for next year’s. They must develop their Habits of Mind and become more skilful thinkers to succeed.

The shift from using to improving brings with it not only a shared language for learning, but also a shared vision for developing students’ Habits of Mind. This shift introduces the Habits as learning outcomes rather than learning tools. And it is the hallmark of schools that truly succeed with the Habits of Mind.

In next week’s blog post, we’ll talk about how we can focus even more deeply on the development of the Habits of Mind, and how to assess how well-developed students’ Habits are by introducing the Habits of Mind Profile Tool.

This post is part three 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

Read more from James Anderson.

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If you are already using Habits of Mind as part of your daily practice and are committed to nurturing the growth of the dispositions in others, you can pursue becoming an individual practitioner certified by the Institute for Habits of Mind (IHOM).

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