Your Whole School Approach To Habits of Mind

By James Anderson

It’s been more than 25 years since Art Costa and Bena Kallick introduced the world to the Habits of Mind. In that time, the Habits have become a classic in education, transforming teaching, learning and school cultures around the world.

Unfortunately, not all schools that started their Habits of Mind journey succeeded. Over the past few weeks, we’ve explored why many schools fail. We’ve discussed the need to go beyond simply teaching the Habits of Mind. And we’ve seen how adopting the language of the Habits and requiring students to “use” them is a critical step, but ultimately not sufficient to sustain your Habits of Mind journey and see significant improvements in student learning outcomes.

The “tipping point” comes when a school shifts from using the Habits of Mind to improving them. When this happens, the Habits become woven into an ongoing teaching and learning process. They stop being a topic that once covered is left behind and become more like a subject that we explore and deepen our understanding of year after year. This change in mindset marks the shift from treating the Habits as a “once off” to an ongoing school-wide initiative.

Leaders who nourish the Habits of Mind

Schools that succeed with the Habits of Mind often have a champion. This is an individual who is deeply committed to the Habits; someone who is passionate and has a vision for the Habits to be deeply embedded in the school culture. This person introduces the Habits of Mind to the school community and “gets the ball rolling”.

But anyone who has been in education long enough can tell a story of how last year’s initiative has been replaced with this year’s “latest and greatest” initiative. Passionate individuals can only carry the Habits of Mind so far. Getting the ball rolling is the easy part. Sustaining the Habits of Mind takes leadership.

True school leadership is about creating the type of change that endures beyond your tenure as a leader. In schools where the Habits of Mind thrive, leaders have created structures that nourish and sustain the Habits as part of the school culture.

These leaders create policies that constantly recommit the schools to the Habits. They implement systems that deeply embed the Habits of Mind into the day-to-day practices of the school. They make the Habits part of “the way we do things around here” at all levels, from students, to classrooms, to teachers and school leaders, all the way through to parents and the wider community.

These leaders bring about real school change. They leave a legacy that endures, creating a Habits of Mind Learning Community of Excellence.

A Habits of Mind Learning Community

Within the Habits of Mind community are many examples of schools that have deeply embedded the Habits into their cultures.

In schools like Waikiki Elementary School, the Habits of Mind have become so entrenched that new principals are only appointed if they can demonstrate both a personal commitment to the Habits of Mind and the capacity to sustain and enrich the school’s continuing journey with them.

These Habits of Mind Learning Communities have maintained their commitment to the Habits of Mind through changes in staff, leadership and government. The Habits are woven so deeply into the fabric of the school that it is no longer the “champion” or school leader who sustains the journey. Rather, the school itself creates a community that lives and breathes the Habits of Mind.

See below an excerpt of an interview with Art and Bena as they discuss the Habits of Mind and their impact on schools … and more.

Learning from the experts

Over the past 20 years, I have been fortunate to work with and learn from many of these schools. I have also worked closely with Art Costa and Bena Kallick to understand what it takes to create schools where the Habits of Mind not only survive but thrive.

In my new online course, “Succeeding with Habits of Mind”, I offer schools a pathway to implement the Habits on a whole-school level. I share interviews with school leaders who have deeply embedded and sustained the Habits in their schools. They share insights into how they got other teachers “on board” with the Habits of Mind, and then created school practices that embedded the Habits into their school cultures.

This new online course lets you explore over eight hours of interviews with school leaders*. You’ll also hear from Costa, Kallick and other Habits of Mind Leaders from around the world who share their advice on how to succeed in creating a Habits of Mind Learning Community of Excellence.

To find out more about how the Succeeding with Habits of Mind online course can help you implement the Habits at a whole-school level, see the Mentored Whole School Professional Learning option.

* Many of these interviews were recorded as part of the Habits of Mind Expos run in partnership with the Institute for Habits of Mind.

This post is part four 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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