Using Habits of Mind to Ensure the School Culture is a Supportive One


“All knowledge is sacred, but it should not be secret.”

—Susan Cooper, writer

Questions about the cultural inclusivity of the Habits Of Mind were raised at the Auckland Expo when a challenge to consider the cultural dimensions of the program was put to the presenters by a Maori teacher: “Why not ‘Habits of the Heart?’ ” he said, explaining that in Maori culture people think with the heart, feel with the heart, have passion through the heart. This cultural challenge appears to resonate with the philosophy of holistic education which is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace.


One does not have to go far to find a chorus of agreement with this view. Typical is an experienced teacher working in a High School with a large Maori student base commenting that with her students’ feelings are more important than procedures, processes or intellectual thought. Until the teacher is accepted by the students as safe and trustworthy learning is secondary. A Maori teacher, working in an immersion unit in a primary school, concurs emphasising that respect, love, caring, and belonging are all needed. Added to this requirement of a nurturing culture is the need to be part of a group.

However, this is not unique to Maori. Recently I conducted a qualitative survey in predominately non-Maori schools asking groups of 5 to 17-year olds to state simply the one thing that they thought made a good teacher. Comments were universally about personal relationships: “engaged us…. interested in students as people…. interaction…. treated us as individuals…helped us with problems from schoolwork to personal problems…. She liked kids. Big thing for me to have someone liking and helping me… he understood if you were having a bad day.” Thus, they viewed the good teacher as someone interested in them as individuals, or a variation on that that the good teacher was interested in students as people and listened to them with understanding and empathy. Two other important aspects also appeared – that the teacher engaged them, and that there was interaction or doing with not doing too. (Kohn 1996)

Here too was a humanistic demand not dissimilar to what is referred to above about the Maori pupils needs. The essential in creating a good relationship between teacher and student is for the students to feel emotionally safe with the teacher. As with their other relationships both in and out of school the important thing is to be part of a trusted group. The degree that this is needed may vary from ethnic group to ethnic group, or from socio economic group to socio economic group but trust built on pastoral care is a universal requirement. Even the safe and secure respond better when there is low threat from the environment and the executive functions of the brain can operate and be in control. (Caine et al 2005)


Habits of Mind are never activated in a neutral or isolated way. However, much we may focus on individual models and concepts they are inevitably part of a modularity that is best described as the total school culture – the way things are done around here. In the end this comes back to the human attributes, which Gardner (1999) refers to as the personal intelligences.

On the one hand there are the capabilities and capacities of the individual teacher – the intrapersonal intelligences – while on the other there is the degree to which these capabilities and capacities are used by the individual teacher in being able to manage others through an empathetic understanding of what motivates those others – the interpersonal intelligence. Moreover, because these individual abilities are also shared in a collective way across the whole school there is a holominous relationship in existence between the teachers behaving as individual but at the same time acting as part of the whole. Thus, the teachers operate in a modular way.

Holonomy = relationships between part and whole

Goleman (1998) goes further than Gardner and views emotion as intelligence in its own right – even the intelligence! Further he divides emotional intelligence into two subsets: self-management and managing relationships with others. Self-management relates particularly to the intrapersonal intelligence, managing oneself. Managing relationships with others relates to the interpersonal intelligence. Both are crucial ingredients of an effective teacher.

Self awareness, the first of the three aspects of self management, is all about being able to control one’s own emotions, of knowing what the causes and effects are and using the capabilities and capacities that one must mitigate the negative and grow the positives. Included here is a self-understanding, from metacognitive reflection, so that gaps in needed capabilities and capacities can be determined and acquired, for the those efficient at it, literally in the moment..

Self-regulation is the second. Emotional actions and reactions are hard wired into our brains from prehistory. Originally designed to ensure survival when confronted with threat, they rush out upon the unaware teacher whenever that teacher is confronted with a student or indeed other problem. Impulsive behaviour follows and when it is an impulsive decision the result can be critically negative. The examples later in this paper show on the one hand the two possibilities here and the dangers of impulsivity. On the one hand the teacher can hit out and punish, on the other he can remain calm and use behaviour to authentically grow both the students’ personal and emotional intelligences and, crucially, to do with not to. (MINDSET The second option leads to trust and integrity.)

Motivation is the third. Motivation is about achieving. Here a desire to continually improve is crucial. This calls for at least persistence and metacognitive reflection. Mindset arrives here. Problems and difficulties are there not as roadblocks but as something to be solved, hence the need to develop a growth mindset.

Empathy is the first of the skills pertaining to managing relationships with others. It is this which is at the essence of the quotation that heads this paper – it is about hearts. Thus, interdependent thinking looms large here and the ability to work as part of a team. Within the classroom, as the team leader, the teacher is all powerful as Haim Ginot states, “I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.” Thus, some sort of collegial relationship between teacher and student, between teacher and teacher, and even between school and parents or care givers, is essential. In this way a culture of belonging across all layers of the school is developed and maintained. HoLENESS

The second relationship skill is social. This skill is about establishing rapport. Here the teacher’s task is not being a friend but to be friendly and create a welcoming, comfortable environment/culture. There are several relevant Habits here including thinking interdependently, managing impulsivity, listening with understanding and empathy and creating, imaging and innovating in order to strengthen rapport.

For a broader view see my paper to the 13th International Conference on Thinking at


Some of this is simple stuff – as simple as knowing each child’s name and using it with the correct pronunciation, a point particularly important to Maori but not limited to them as Asian and other ethnic groups can also suffer from inadequate pronunciation. While this is an elementary example of the teacher practicing and modelling striving for accuracy, and thus using this Habit of Mind in a social sense rather than an academic one, to not do so can so easily alienate. One heartfelt comment in the above survey of teachers which also asked about the characteristics of a bad teacher was, “After two weeks of a lesson a day he still didn’t know my name – maybe trivial but to me infuriating and almost insulting.”

At the other end of the scale it can be quite sophisticated with the teacher needing to be alert to what may well be a coded message, or one in which the student is not able to articulate the real problem. In this case the teacher’s ability to listen with understanding and empathy is a necessary intrapersonal capability here. “How willing to dare to answer depends on the subject, class grouping, and the teacher,” writes a student when asked to metacognitively reflect on what he feels about having to answer questions in class. Here there is a coded message indicating that answering questions is risk taking with at least some teachers, and by using the word dare the indication is that this risk taking is also threatening. Once alerted the teacher can act in several ways. One possibility is to use the synergy of interdependent thinking and have the class through some form of metacognitive reflection brainstorm the problem and then once that has been isolated, brainstorm a solution or solutions. Any number of other Habits will also be involved in this. Thinking flexibly to ensure that the brainstorm is comprehensive and imagining and innovating to ensure the brainstorming for a solution is comprehensive

Teachers who listen with understanding and empathy can provide the missing link so often absent in student metacognition. What Art Costa and Bena Kallick (2000) refer to, as internal metacognitive reflection is often just a student describing a situation, which that student is stuck in. As Johari Windows shows there may well be blind spots. It needs the external metacognitive reflection of the teacher to unstick it. This is a form of interdependent thinking where the teacher facilitates the student by clarifying. Formative assessment techniques, which are well supported by research (Marzano 2005 and 2007), can be adapted here because the teacher is most effective when facilitating, rather than providing answers directly and stealing the student’s ability to learn how to learn! A teacher who does this is most likely to have a nurturing culture in which the empathetic social side looms large, and thus the emphasis is on the social nature of the Habits.

Somewhere here too is a little discussed side of how past knowledge can have a negative social impact. In the mainstream this past knowledge is seen as a positive, but I have long felt that it too has a negative side heavily influenced by the emotional impact of those experiences. It is reasonable to assume that the piece of metacognition above, about risking answers, has been influenced by past knowledge that makes answering a question not so much as taking a risk, but a dangerous thing to do. In a worse case scenario negative experiences run the risk of promoting a conditioned response that can turn the student off the subject, or the teacher, or school, or even all three.

Such is the case here. She grins as she answers a question in her College Chemistry class. The teacher sees this as a challenge to her authority and immediately flips to fight, flee, or freeze mode, and fights back by ordering a test for all the next day. Although this teacher has been teaching for many years she is still at the egocentric stage – a novice – as regards empathy. (Wiggins and McTighe 1998) She takes herself seriously, perhaps too seriously and in the process is unable or unwilling to be open to how others feel, or tolerant of the odd or different. Rapport is absent and humour is out, yet humour is so important in building a bank of positive emotional energy, which is then available to drive the learning. Instead the opposite has occurred largely because this teacher is completely unaware of the bounds of her understanding. The result is a toxic classroom culture that inhibits, even shuts down learning regardless of the ethnicity of the student. In cases such as this it can be the teacher’s behaviour that is causing the bad behaviour of the students. (Sylwester 2000)

This all focuses firmly on the interpersonal because what is at issue in all the above is the way the teacher connects with the students, Are the students able to connect with the teacher, and from that model connect with each other? Holonomy again. However, in part this is a false focus as it is the personal capacities and capabilities of each player, (the intrapersonal) which are either already there to use, or if absent need developing as in the case of the teacher above. The personal intelligences work interdependently, thus a deficit in the intrapersonal stymies the interpersonal. An added complication is an emotional overlay. Gardner may not believe emotion is an intelligence, but he does believe that emotion is closely involved with the personals (Gardner 1999). Personal skills thus invoke emotions in a direct ratio to how well the personal intelligences are developed. For those who have them well developed it is all sunshine and growth. For those with them undeveloped or underdeveloped it’s all cold and dieback.


The personal practical knowledge that teachers develop as they use and reflect on the Habits is providing the additional capacities and capabilities, the step ladder, needed to develop from novice to expert.

This is hard work requiring commitment and determination especially in the initial stages. (Collins 2001 ) puts it this way: “Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first……You keep pushing and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster……Then at some point breakthrough……You are pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier compounding your investment of effort…. What was the one big push that caused this thing to go so fast?…… it was all of them added together in an overall accumulation of effort applied in a constant direction.”

Moreover, everyone will accomplish this success at their speed. This means that progress within a teaching staff, or any other group, is noticeably jagged.

Time is a factor in developing from the novice to the expert level. 10,000 hours states Gladwell, but this has been challenged and retreated from. However, time and quite a lot of time, is still a factor. I would say five years is a suitable working time but be prepared to be flexible. If starting from scratch it may take a year to progress far enough, using the soft social side of the Habits, to establish the needed collegial culture. Persistence is required! Moreover, there is a need for the individual teachers working as autonomous individuals, to also be part of a team interacting interdependently to provide synergy to the whole corporate body of the school in an holonomous way. (Costa and Garmston (1994). As year succeeds to year existing students and teachers will continuously improve the culture to a great extent by reflecting on the past knowledge, they have gained about how the culture can operate in their best interests. Again, holonomy will be at work in this.

In the same sort of way new students will be affected by the culture as soon as they enter the school provided that culture is demonstrated to them by the actions of teachers and existing students using their past knowledge to emphathise with the newcomers.

In all this it is essential that the flywheel continues to be pushed! Anything other than such a consistent approach, a consistent culture, produces rocks which promote shipwrecks. Each change of direction returns all participants (teachers and students) to the novice level. Moreover, once the focus shifts what has previously been done tends to regress toward the novice too. Momentum declines and continues improvement so crucial in moving from novice to expert becomes difficult if not impossible. The impulsivity which fills the gap created by not having the discipline to persist and keep pushing when the wheel barely turns must be neutralised.


While what the teacher says and does in direct personal interaction with either individuals or groups of students as shown above are important, even crucial, in helping to provide a needed nurturing culture, it is only one part of a potentially much bigger modular whole. Thus, on its own it struggles to be sufficient. It needs complementing and supporting by having a common approach across the whole class and school system.

Argyris and Schön draw attention to the gap between what we say we are doing (the espoused theory) and what we are doing (the theory in action) This must be guarded against. Often it is present but neither teacher nor student realises this. The graphic is taken from the one and a half minute video at the top of this page

Provided school wide rituals and routines are complimentary with what the class teacher is doing all will be enhanced. However, where there is a gap between what the individual teachers do and the practices of the corporate school body the culture becomes indeterminate, even confusing. Weakened by uncertainty holonomy is absent. A simple everyday ritual such as lining up for class shows this

At this school the students line up outside the door. They know the ritual, so they wait silently, hoping they are not going to be reprimanded for the line not being straight enough, or because someone has chosen to tempt fate and whisper a comment. They wait patiently, perhaps resignedly. The teacher gives the signal and they rush to enter the classroom. Chatter breaks out getting louder and louder as they sweep through the door, slightly jostling each other in the process. The teacher claps her hands. The students clap back and silence reigns. The teacher has ownership and the lesson begins. There is a tension present born of fear of doing something wrong. To the untrained eye it looks like good discipline. In reality it is doing to. The teacher is using a transactional leadership style where conforming is the norm. The lessons begin in an atmosphere that may at best be neutral, at worst negative, and unlikely to be positive. The teacher is in control. The students lack both control and power. Yet the school claims to be catering for the individual!

At this school there is no lining up in the corridor. Students chatter quietly as they filter into the classroom. They know the required ritual and are comfortable with it. Some may linger at a desk to finish a conversation before they sit at their own desk, purposefully and positively take out a book and start reading. Within a few minutes of entering the room all is quiet, purposeful. It is condition go! There is a sense of relaxed alertness. The teacher is using a transformational leadership style. After a period of quiet the teacher calls for attention and the lesson begins within an atmosphere of positiveness. The students have internal control. They are responsible. They have ownership.

Once more the soft social side of the Habits can be engaged here to help provide the positive nurturing climate. First is striving for accuracy where the students strive to do the right thing. Because they have responsibility and ownership, they have a vested interest in so doing. Associated with this may well be thinking interdependently as the students act in a holominous way with the individual’s actions contributing to the whole fabric. Likewise, this total fabric interacts with the individual too. It is a two-way process.

Such rituals open the way for student ownership to move to other areas, which also impact, strongly on the overall climate. In this next incident the ritual of the school and what the teacher says and does are combined.


I am back visiting my old school to take digital photos. As I enter the classroom a class meeting is in progress. It has been one of those wet day lunch hours and the students have wiled away the time doing a silly sort of stamping dance that attracted the attention of the duty teacher. Their class teacher is not impressed. She hands the problem to me.

I start by asking: “What Habit of Mind did you neglect to use?”

There is a babble in reply, “Impulsivity! We neglected our impulsivity and just did it!”

Immediately I intervene, “What Habit of Mind are you neglecting now?”

Sheepishly hands go up. The majority opt for, listening with empathy, a few stick with impulsivity, and one, only one holds out for thinking interdependently. However, they are now settled, and we can begin a short, sharp and focused discussion on how Habits of Mind are important in keeping us out of trouble. We go on to add in the need to be proactive rather than reactive, and that the Habits are there to be lived.

In such ways is a class culture of personal and collective responsibility is built up by doing with, not too. The pupils have ownership and control. I am managing them in a way that results in them developing their capacities and capabilities so that they too can self manage. As a teacher I have not stolen that opportunity from them! Habits of Mind gave me the capacities and capabilities to self-manage. Because of this I am in no danger of lurching into the fight, flee, or freeze mode that the chemistry teacher above ended in. My students are empowered and encouraged; hers alienated. When my way is the shared way of doing things within the school, synergy multiplies the social aspects of respectful, thoughtful/mindful behaviour and learning is continuous. When the negative is present learning is inhibited, even stopped.

There is another crucial contrast in these different approaches to discipline. The positive ones are encouraging what Carol Dweck (2006) calls a growth mind set whereby self belief is implanted that the students are intelligent enough to solve the problems that confront them. They look for opportunity to do better. The Habits of Mind are ideal building blocks to do this.

The negative teachers, where the students are done to, cause their students to develop a fixed mindset believing that they cannot solve their own problems and perceive the situation as a threat. When this happens they come to believe as the futurist Charles Handy came to believe that, “When I went to school, I did not learn anything much which I now remember, except the hidden message, that every major problem in life had already been solved. The answers were in the teacher’s head or in her textbook but not in mine …. That hidden message from my school, I eventually realized, was not only crippling, it was wrong.”

The development of a growth mindset increases the personal intelligences while the fixed mindset does the opposite.

The mindful Habit of Mind teacher as demonstrated above is flexible enough to seize the teachable moment. By creating, imagining and innovating such teachers increase their students’ capabilities and capacities and thus grow their students’ personal intelligences. In this extract from a teacher’s diary, beneath, the opportunity has been grasped to develop the Habits in an authentic way and in so doing turn a negative into a positive by doing with. (Caine et al 2005) Here the connection is to what they personally know – themselves – and through that to a common experience: viewing the television program Ice Age.

“We have been having Drug education sessions with Life Ed. The presenter has an accent which he apologised for in advance, regarding mispronunciation of names. Needless to say, a group of my boys thought it was hilarious when one of the girl’s names was mispronounced – the ensuing giggling meant they were highly unlikely to get the messages that were being delivered. Fortunately, it was towards the end of the session. On returning to class we looked quickly at HUMOUR (there were posters on the wall for the 16 habits) and then talked about the age of the baby on Ice-Age, and the kind of things that made her laugh (people getting hurt etc). We decided that this probably reflected immature humour, and then talked about what kind of humour laughing AT other people was. A few sheepish looks from a few sheepish boys and I knew my point was made. Further miss-pronunciations at our next session, and not a titter to be heard. The presenter has commented to the class, that they show a maturity beyond that shown of other groups he has worked with, especially regarding their questions and their ability to cope with more advanced information.”

To be able to initiate profitable, positive and knowledgeable discussion such as the above, the teacher’s development – the teacher’s personal intelligence – is the crucial aspect. Sure, the students need to know too, but it is the teacher’s ability to move through the Dreyfus stages from novice to expert that eventually determines how far the students will progress. It is all very well to profess openness to continual learning, and even to be able to talk the talk about it but doing – acting – requires the taking of a risk. Unless it is safe to do so there is motivation to remain static within the safety of being rule governed at the novice level.

Where a school deliberately embarks on such a way of doing things, the culture, as it takes hold, profoundly affects each individual teacher. In a jagged rather than a linear way the teachers grow in confidence and that confidence transfers to the students. In turn the positive social change impacts on improved standards/results in not just the social sphere but the academic sphere too. This synergy lifts the total expectancy of the school community into one of predominately growth mindset. The school is the sea. The students are the fish. If the sea is not kept at the right temperature the fish will die!

What teachers do does matter. Moreover, it matters in many, many ways.


It is a cliché but nevertheless true – what gets assessed gets done. In the social context as detailed above the only way to assess is through qualitative assessment. Here formative assessment is a suitable assessment method on an ongoing almost constant basis but something more substantial is needed especially if an authentic situation can be exploited for this. Here, in a full primary school, year seven students are used to scribe stories for five-year-old emergent writers. As part of their regular weekly written metacognitive reflection on the week this girl writes about how Habits of Mind have been used in doing the scribing.

“I was impressed by the number of things these little kids know, but I also had to use a lot of listening with empathy as they were very quiet. I had to use a lot of flexibility in my thinking, as some things they said did not fully make sense. Our group had to be very persistent with our little one as she gave up easily. We had to use a lot of clarity in our language, as she was only little. We also had to manage a lot of impulsivity by not telling Laura the answers. We had to do a lot of questioning to get her on the right track. I really enjoyed helping this child. I hope it helped her a lot. I also had to check for accuracy and make sure I was writing down what she told me. I think it’s a great idea to help little children like that.”

It is worth noting the satisfaction the student has got from this. It all part of a positive cooperative culture. Here the fish is well and truly alive.

The focus needs to be on the behaviour – the way the culture is being lived and the actions that drive the culture. I am mentoring a 15-year-old High School girl who is having time management problems. She focuses on the action:

“I found myself floating into the fourth box of Covey, doing things that were both unnecessary and not urgent. To avoid this in future I am going to actively write down what I need to achieve so I can cross it off as I go along, and if my need is to switch activities (because I can’t concentrate on what I am doing because I have been doing it for awhile) I can flip between the tasks on my list above my desk. This has worked previously, and I am going to try it over the next week.”

I respond:

“Habits of Mind are very important because we think and work etc in patterns. One of the H of M is past knowledge, and this is what is happening here as you say, ‘this has worked previously.’ There are 16 Habits in all and you are working here with metacognition/reflection as you think carefully about what you are doing: and there is also precision and accuracy in that you working toward getting your homework and assignment study patterns right as you show by reference to the rubric. In doing this you are persisting too, which is working things out so you can accomplish something and not giving up or doing the same old thing over and over. Flexibility in thinking is the way you seek solutions to your study needs by looking for better alternatives and almost certainly managing impulsivity as you grapple with those quadrant 4 distractions.”

The whole dialogue, although very focussed is a collegial conversation which helps ensure that the culture in which the dialogue is taking place is one where we are both team players.

Such written metacognitive self appraisal assessment grows the personal intelligences. Where this is done over time a teacher or anyone else reading the metacognitive reflection can literally see the growth that is occurring.

Likewise, teacher growth can also be seen with teacher journals or portfolios. This is a much better form of teacher appraisal than the more conventional classroom visit.

The worth of formative assessment is well researched (Marzano 2003and 2007). In the side bar, there is one frame from a flow map recalling the story line in the poem A Fly Went By written by Mike McClintock. The students are constructing a sequential Thinking Map – a flow map – to outline the sequence of events in a story. The teacher has instructed them to use both a visual symbol and note form (using all senses). However, the class are only just starting to develop their ability to write in note form so the teacher instructs them to underline in red the key words in their frames as a process for the students to understand how their first attempt can be further refined.

After looking at the frame the teacher can immediately see that the student has some idea of note making, but that the notes do not isolate the essence of the information. To push for the needed accuracy the teacher, referring to the frame, asks the question, “What is the central idea here? I’ll be back in a minute to check your answer.”

This throws the responsibility back on the student and does not steal the learning from her/him. Nor is there any attempt to grade or make a negative comment. The teacher is operating as a mentor or coach in a collegial, non judgemental way while giving precise non fluffy feedback. The teacher and student relationship is in keeping with the points made about culture above.

When the teacher returns provided the student has picked up on the correct note form, the second sub frame can be tackled in a similar way. This time the teacher is more specific and states, “You have underlined one too many words here. Which word needs removing?” Depending on the circumstance the teacher could then either linger while the student indicates that obviously is not a key or follow the previous practice of giving the student time to think (reducing impulsivity) and returning after a brief absence to celebrate the correct answer with the student.

In this the links to the Habits are strong. To place in the student’s own words and at the same time to put those words in truncated note form requires flexible thinking. Throughout there is a need for persistence. The student needs to keep on keeping on until the result is first rate. Until the student has developed his/her own skills for doing this the collaboration of the teacher is necessary. Hence the importance of immediate feedback as explained above, but even more so of a culture which nurtures and grows. Precision and accuracy go hand and hand with persistence. The search for key words in order to make the notes more precise and more accurate is a key ingredient in developing expertise in the students’ note making.

Risk taking could also come in here. Text messaging via such as a cell phone is a form of note making, so why not have the students try this? Such a deviation may well make note making more authentic in that it connects to prior knowledge they already have acquired in a non-school setting, and which will already be available in the students’ automatic memory when activated. From there more formal notes could be constructed requiring some higher order thinking skills and thus growing more dendrites to aid remembering/retrieval of the knowledge.

David Perkins (2000) maintains that the intelligence of a business is much less than the sum of the intelligence of those working in the business because they don’t use interdependent thinking and the synergy that this produces. Such all too often would be true of schools and classrooms too. In this note making example interdependent thinking is operating. The student’s capacities and capabilities are being grown but so are the teachers as both develop a personal practical knowledge of the problems in teaching and learning note making. Deliberate and planned metacognitive reflection grows this further.

However, the degree to which formative assessment is effective in a classroom or a school is once again dependent on the culture.

While formative assessment has the potential to add between 21 and 41 percentile points (Marzano 2003), its success or failure relies very much on relationships. A key relationship is that both students and teachers feel that they are part of a team devoted to the well being of the group/class Marzano (2007). Without the right sort of culture, using the Habits as a road map as described above, such pedagogical advances will flounder. A prerequisite is to ensure that Habits of the Heart are there too by using the Habits of Mind in this softer, social way. The school is the sea. The students are the fish. If the sea is not kept at the right temperature the fish will die!

Unless the actions are common across the school, the school will not become an effective or affective learning organisation. The school administration has an obligation to ensure this with precision and accuracy. It is that important. If the climate changes from class to class or teacher to teacher uncertainty thrives. Uncertainty destroys the synergy and the teamwork. Stagnation can so easily follow.


A Howard Gardner piece in Education Week (E Pluribus … A Tale of Three Systems) originally written in recognition of it being 25 years since A Nation at Risk was published, makes a case for three important strands in our education which he calls the three E’s of excellence, engagement, and ethics. This paper neatly fits the engagement strand. It would not be too much to make a similar neat fit between the Habits and the other two.

Likewise, I have just become aware of Lynda Gratton, from the London School of Business and what she calls Hotspots. In this she asserts that successful business no longer has a culture of command and control, but one that requires co-operative teamwork. Thus, she sees a need to create a co-operative working environment built round coaching, relationships, networks and conversations – what I would call collegial relationships. I believe strongly that what we do in schools should fit the adult world into which our students will go. What Gratton, and business generally is asking for is team players, and therefore the Maori desire to belong to a group and not stand out as individuals can be seen as a necessary virtue not just for them but for all our students: something to be nurtured for their future well being beyond school. As with Gardner’s engagement the Habits are once more the resource engine to provide the means by which the students are enabled to become these team players.

We need to teach the three Rs thoroughly, but it won’t happen universally unless the schools and the teachers get the culture (the setting) right so that parents, all staff, not just the teaching staff, and the students know they are safe and comfortable. The controlling idea is thus a psychosocial one. It is not any one theory or practice, but the combined effect of what everyone’s psychological factors and the surrounding social environment have on their physical and mental wellness and their ability to function. It is about prioritizing well-being in the school, and the classrooms, in order to promote an environment that allows for encouraging autonomy at every level associated with at least risk taking to promote creating imagining and innovating, leading to continuous learning and beyond that metacognitive reflection to measure. It is about holonomy.


Alan Cooper is an educational consultant based in New Zealand. As a principal, he was known for his leadership role in thinking skills, including Habits of Mind, learning styles and multiple intelligences, information technology, and the development of the school as a learning community. Alan can be contacted at

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