We’ve already done Habits of Mind!

Pic 1“I’ve already done persistence!”

This was what my daughter came home saying after her teacher had “done” persistence for the third time this semester. And it’s the sort of thing I hear from lots of teachers and students just before their work with Habits of Mind falls over.

How do you avoid the “We’ve done this already” syndrome?

When you hear students or teachers saying we’ve done ths before what you’re really hearing is a misunderstanding of what the Habits of Mind are about. To suggest you’ve “done” Habits of Mind reflects the Habits are being taught like a topic – when in reality they need to be taught more like a subject. Let me explain.

A topic is a discrete idea. Something that can be covered, possibly even mastered, before moving on. Your 5 times tables is a topic. The space race is a topic. Photosynthesis is a topic.

On the other hand, a subject is something without bounds. It is something that is continually explored, investigated, delved into and developed further. Maths, History and Science are subject areas. They are never fully mastered. There is always more to learn.

It is very common for teachers, students, and parents, see the Habits of Mind as a topic. This is because it’s not immediately apparent how you develop a Habit of Mind. For example, in Math, History and Science (as well as other subject areas) we typically have growth and development in the subject well described for us. This comes in the form of curriculum guides and syllabuses.

Most people don’t have an understanding of what it means to get better at a Habit of Mind.

I’ve addressed this question in other blog entries. In this entry I ask if we should be using a word other than “Habit” to describe Habits of Mind because of the very reason people see Habits as being static. And in this entry I look at the Dimensions of Growth as a way of describing improvement / development in the Habits of Mind.

When the Habits of Mind are seen as something that can be “covered” then they inevitably are “covered”. And once covered they are left behind. To push on with the Habits of Mind in the face of people (students or teachers) seeing them as a topic, is a sure way to build resistance and it will ultimately lead to the Habits being another program that comes through the school. We must approach the Habits of Mind in a similar way as a subject that needs continual development if we are to sustain the work in the classroom.

My daughter groaned about “persistence” not because she thought it was unimportant, but because she didn’t understand how she’s expected to get better at it. She felt she was being taught the same thing again. To avoid the “we’ve done this before” syndrome, we need to ensure both that students understand the Habits of Mind are something you continually develop, and as teachers we must ensure that they way we address the Habits of Mind in the classroom focuses on their development / improvement / growth / increasing quality.



  • Candice Bremner

    At last here is something that high school teachers will find much easier: that the Habits are never “done with” or “mastered” as such. I think that we are at an advantage here, even when we have students who have not encountered the Habits in primary school (which is most of them!).

  • Melanie Ives

    An analogy I gave my students about the Habits of Mind was that it’s similar to growing a plant. We don’t just bury it and say we’re “done”. We monitor it. We question; is it getting enough love and attention? Is it growing? We watch it grow and admire it’s beauty but we never stop trying to make it bigger and better.

  • Kaye Hildebrandt

    I’m presently gearing up for a new school year and am excited at the prospect of incorporating HOM into my timetable as part of many curriculum areas but also as its own weekly segment of time. With so many dimensions to explore and develop plus the world of ICTs that can creatively share information and images I anticipate it to be a great part of our weekly routine.

  • Cheryl Broughton

    The habits need to be seen as part of everything that happens in the classroom not something that can be covered and moved on from. The habits therefore should be continually referred to in the learning as something that we are using not something we have done.

  • Tami-Jo Richter

    Again- explicitly teaching, continually addresses and assessing and working with the students to see their skills develop and deepen over time is important so they can see that they are not one of skills!!

  • Rebecca Werchon

    Students and Teachers need to see the Habits of Mind as continuous growth and development. But we do need help to address this in the classroom, as with most things we teach, it is simply ‘ticking the box’.