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[ a different approach MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE.]

Habits of Mind

Developed by longtime educators Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, Habits of Mind are 16 characteristics that intelligent people use to approach challenges they can’t immediately solve. They are learned tendencies that when practiced until they become habits can make the difference between struggle and success.

  1. Persisting
  2. Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
  3. Managing impulsivity
  4. Gathering data through all senses
  5. Listening with understanding and empathy
  6. Creating, imagining, innovating
  7. Thinking flexibly
  8. Responding with wonderment and awe
  9. Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
  10. Taking responsible risks
  11. Striving for accuracy
  12. Finding humor
  13. Questioning and posing problems
  14. Thinking interdependently
  15. Applying past knowledge to new situations
  16. Remaining open to continuous learning

Where Habits Go Right

Traditional schools measure progress first by the pace and volume of materials covered. In contrast, The Howard School focuses on depth of understanding, and Habits of Mind dovetail with that approach. The habit of gathering data through all senses is particularly valuable for Howard School students. Absorbing information through multiple channels makes the input richer, whether drawing a picture of a definition, recording notes to listen to later or acting out a scientific process. “Habits of Mind are broader skills than traditional academic subject areas," says Dr. Scott Hamilton, Assistant Head of School. "They prepare students to be successful adults, no matter what field they wish to enter."

When they are formed, habits tend to be linked to certain places or times, like having a snack or posting on Facebook after school. At Howard, Habits of Mind are posted in every classroom. The more visible they are, the more students remember to put them into practice throughout the day across all subjects and activities.

Every learner is innately strong at some of the Habits, while others require more practice. At the beginning of the school year, students perform a self-assessment to identify their strengths and challenges, and teachers give detailed feedback to help students play to their strengths, focus on areas for improvement and set mini-goals to achieve them, all in the context of Habits of Mind.

Managing impulsivity – and the related skill of maintaining focus and attention – is a critically important Habit of Mind. Students who are easily distracted or lack problem-solving strategies may give up when a problem is difficult to solve. “Attention is the gateway to all of the other Habits of Mind,” Hamilton notes. “The first step in helping students improve their attention is for them to develop self-awareness of how their attentional difficulties impact their learning."

Habits for Life


As a set of strategies and skills for behaving intelligently, the value of the Habits of Mind reaches far beyond the classroom. “Even students who have significant learning difficulties benefit from developing more effective Habits of Mind. Habits of Mind help students to think more creatively, to work more effectively with others, and to persevere in the face of obstacles in their way, which they will carry with them for a lifetime," Hamilton states.

Good habits, bad habits – they both develop the same way: repeat an action again and again until it becomes second nature. Once established, you don’t need to think about it anymore. It explains why people can drive a car, carry on a conversation and think about dinner all at the same time. Habits are also notoriously hard to break.


The Howard School harnesses this staying power by integrating Habits of Mind throughout the school day.

Why habits and not rules? Because rules are external and apply to a narrow range of experience, while the Habits serve as an internal compass to guide decisions while problem solving. To roughly quote Aristotle, we are what we do every day; excellence isn’t an act but a habit.

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