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SmartBlog on Education: Habits for success in school and life

Source: SmartBlog on Education

Take a moment to join us in a snapshot of a classroom we recently observed:

Students are hard at work designing a travel brochure as a part of their study of Ireland. They need to think about how much it will cost by air or by sea and develop a good rationale for why one way is preferable to another. They will also be including a recommended sightseeing schedule, determining why one schedule would be preferable to another.

These students have to analyze, evaluate, make decisions and communicate to an audience. As a group, they must work through this using the best of each student’s contributions to create their product. They will need to persist, overcome challenges, strive for accuracy, think flexibly and think interdependently.

We like to call these mental qualities “Habits of Mind” — attitudes or dispositions that are necessary for thoughtful work. Without realizing it, people rely on these behaviors when they encounter problems that are difficult to solve.

Habits of Mind

1. Persisting: Stick to it! Persevering in task through to completion; remaining focused. 2. Managing impulsivity: Take your Time!Thinking before acting; remaining calm, thoughtful and deliberative.
3. Listening with understanding and empathy: Understand Others! Devoting mental energy to another person’s thoughts and ideas; holding in abeyance one’s own thoughts in order to perceive another’s point of view and emotions 4. Thinking flexibly: Look at it Another Way!Being able to change perspectives, generate alternatives and consider options.
5. Thinking about your Thinking(Metacognition)Know your knowing! Being aware of one’s own thoughts, strategies, feelings and actions and their effects on others. 6Striving for accuracy and precision: Check it again! A desire for exactness, fidelity and craftsmanship.
7. Questioning and problem posing: How do you know? Having a questioning attitude; knowing what data are needed and developing questioning strategies. 8. Applying past knowledge to novel situationsUse what you Learn! Accessing prior knowledge; transferring knowledge beyond the situation in which it was learned.
9. Thinking and communicating with clarity and Precision: Be clear! Striving for accurate communication in both written and oral form; avoiding over-generalizations, distortions and deletions.
10. Gathering data through all senses: Use your natural pathways! Gathering data through all the sensory pathways–gustatory, olfactory, tactile, kinesthetic, auditory and visual.
11. Creating, imagining, and innovating Try a different way! Generating new and novel ideas, fluency and originality. 12Responding with Wonderment and awe:Have fun figuring it out! Finding the world awesome, mysterious and being intrigued with phenomena and beauty.
13. Taking Responsible Risks: Venture out!Being adventuresome; living on the edge of one’s competence. 14. Finding humor: Laugh a little! Finding the whimsical, incongruous and unexpected. Being able to laugh at oneself.
15. Thinking interdependently: Work together!Being able to work and learn from others in reciprocal situations. 16. Remaining open to continuous learning:Learn from experiences! Having humility and pride when admitting we don’t know; resisting complacency.


Managing your impulsivity is a habit of mind that can take years to develop. For example, we might see a young student starting to work on the computer and becoming so impatient with the time it takes for a program to boot up that he clicks two or three times with frustration. All of a sudden, the computer freezes from too many demands, and then multiple screens appear at the same time. In that situation, we learn to manage our impulsivity, allowing ourselves the time to think before we act. Recent research indicates that the self-control of preschool students predicts their life satisfaction, crime record, income level, physical health and parenting skills. In this fast-moving 21st century environment, students need to learn to think before they act.

The 16 Habits of Mind are drawn from a modern view of intelligence that casts off traditional abilities-centered theories and replaces them with a growth mindset for remaining open to continuous learning, another important habit. These habits are often called soft skills or non-cognitive skills. In fact, these skills are among the most difficult to develop because they require a great deal of consciousness. Ultimately, they become an internal compass that helps us answer the question, “What is the most ‘thought-full’ thing that I can do right now?”

It may take many years for the Habits of Mind to become internalized. For most, it is a lifetime endeavor. To strengthen the habits over time so they become natural for children, teachers and parents might do the following:

  1. Build awareness. Students must have a conceptual understanding of the meaning of each of the habits. Can they describe what it looks like, sounds like and feels like? Can they give some examples and non-examples?
  2. Develop skills and strategies. Can students execute the Habits of Mind with confidence, grace and style?
  3. Call attention to situational alertness. Are students alert to diverse situations in which the habits are appropriate (or inappropriate)?
  4. Foster autonomy. Do they listen autonomously — without prompting or being reminded by others?
  5. Explore benefits and values. Do students realize the benefits and values of choosing to use each of the Habits of Mind?
  6. Encourage self-monitoring. Do the students reflect on their skillfulness? Do they advocate for the use of the Habits of Mind when they see that other individuals and groups need them?
  7. Reflect on mindfulness. Are the habits used consciously, proactively and intentionally?

In our experience, individuals who have adopted Habits of Mind as a way of being “thought-full” about life are more aware of and focused on the skills that impact their success. Similarly, schools that adopt Habits of Mind as a part of their vision have seen a tremendous change in the culture of the school. The school has become a learning community in which all members, parents, community, teachers and students are acting with thought. One school at a time, one district at a time, one state at a time, one nation at a time, we can create a more “thought-full” way to solve our 21st century problems.

Arthur Costa is professor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento. He is a co-founder and director of the Institute for Habits of Mind. Bena Kallick is an educational consultant based in Westport, Conn. He is also a co-founder and director of the Institute for Habits of Mind. Morton Sherman is the superintendent in residence for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). He is also the executive director of the Institute for Habits of Mind. Through a partnership with WonderGroveLearn, all three authors are co-creators of 16 instructional animations to illustrate the habits