16 dispositions for success

The habits of mind, a series of 16 problem-solving strategies, can assist an individual with life’s challenges. Two professors, Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, have been promoting the habits of mind through books, articles, seminars and online venues.

Educators Karen Tui Boyes and Graham Watts promote expert ways to apply the habits of mind to student learning in their books, Developing Habits of Mind in Elementary Schools and Developing Habits of Mind in Secondary Schools. The 16 dispositions, developed over the course of numerous years, serve as a support system that can help motivate both students and educators and assist them with self-actualization.

As educators, we can benefit from the 16 habits of mind. The education field can be particularly challenging and stressful. The 16 habits help teachers focus on ways to operate that will help us be successful as individuals and as educators, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers at all levels and of all subjects can benefit from the 16 dispositions.
Consider the following questions in terms of habits of mind:

       How can habits of mind help educators deal with self-management?

       How is using habits of mind applicable to student learning within various subjects and for solving life problems?

The following presents the 16 habits of mind with examples of how they can foster success in the lives of teachers. The suggestions are a mere fraction of possibilities that may occur daily in our lives. The habits of mind can clearly be utilized when solving problems, attempting to focus on an important task or creating balance.

Educators can post the general habits of mind in their classrooms, share them on a handout or have a digital version available online. Subject-specific ways of implementation may be found in Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind by Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda. I have developed guidelines for habits of mind tied to language learning, musicals and music. See those references in the sidebar.

1. Persisting

Try new approaches, methods and techniques in your classroom. Retry something that originally did not work and figure out how to improve it. Persevere when you believe in something that will benefit students.

2. Managing impulsivity

Focus on how to improve your knowledge base in curricula, education and classroom management.

3. Listening with  understanding and empathy

Listen to fellow teachers, students, administrators and parents so that you show that you value what they have to say. Select key ideas from those with whom you speak so that you can improve your classroom practice.

4. Thinking flexibly

When planning instruction, consider your options on how best to present concepts and use materials and technology when needed.

5. Thinking about thinking (metacognition)

Keep a journal about your educational experiences with comments outlining what you have learned and insights about the education process.

6. Striving for accuracy

Check over your lesson plans, materials and all written work that you do as a teacher; self-monitor your classroom instruction and the written materials that you use with students and submit to your administrators and supervisors.

7. Questioning and posing problems

Decide on how to improve your questioning techniques; make certain to balance lower level and higher level questions especially by including why, how and what-if questions.

8. Applying past knowledge to new situations

Decide on how to replicate past lessons so they can be used again successfully; decide on past instruction that did not work and devise ways to deliver lessons that are improvements over past delivery.

9. Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision

During a quiet time, reflect on how your teaching can be clear and precise and ways in which your materials can be improved so that your students learn more effectively. How can you improve your curriculum so that it is clear and precise?

10. Gathering data through all senses

How can you be engaged using your senses so that you are an effective teacher? How can you engage your students so that you involve multiple senses?

11. Creating, imagining, innovating

Come up with a new way to deliver a lesson that stretches your abilities. Be creative in projects that you assign to students, giving them your own personal twist.

12. Responding with wonderment and awe

Research a curricular approach or method that is new to you—such as habits of mind—by observing a colleague or reading an article, chapter or book. What aspects of this new approach or method strike you as opportunities for wonder or awe?

13. Taking responsible risks

Try a new way to present a subject-area concept or skill. Learn about new methods through professional reading or conversations with colleagues.

14. Finding humor

Take note of how accepting humor improves your disposition. How do teachers and students learn through mistakes that may be humorous?

15. Thinking interdependently

Collaborate with fellow colleagues in your own school, at conferences, through blogs or by reading professional literature in print or digital form. In what ways can your teaching improve by being interdependent instead of flying solo?

16. Remaining open to continuous learning

Position yourself to continue learning about education by reading professional resources, attending a conference or workshop, collaborating with colleagues or writing your own blog or article for fellow teachers. How can you expand your repertoire by reaching out to fellow colleagues?


If you wish to take a deeper dive into the habits of mind, these resources, referenced in the article are a great place to start.

Boyes, Karen Tui and Graham Watts. 2009a. Developing Habits of Mind in Elementary Schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Boyes, Karen Tui and Graham Watts. 2009b. Developing Habits of Mind in Secondary Schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Costa, Arthur and Bena Kallick. 2008. Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Costa, Arthur and Bena Kallick. 2009. Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum: Practical and Creative Strategies for Teachers. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Kallick, Bena and Allison Zmuda. 2017. Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Mason, Keith. 2017. Musicals Foster Habits of Mind. Teachers Matter 34, 56-59.

Mason, Keith. 2019. 16 Habits of Mind: Fostering Successful Language Learning. Teachers Matter 43, 30-31.

Mason, Keith. 2020. Music and the 16 Habits of Mind: Persisting and More. Choral Director, 17, No. 1, 5.

As the Review was going to press with this article, we learned of the tragic death of its author, Dr. Keith Mason, on Oct 1. A lover of world languages and Broadway musicals, Dr. Mason contributed several articles to the NJEA Review over the last 15 years that championed the use of musicals across the curriculum—including in the instruction of languages such as Spanish and Italian, which he taught prior to his retirement from New Providence High School. Dr. Mason was also an educator and researcher at several institutions of higher education. In addition to music and language education, his specialties included curriculum, Romance linguistics and phonetics.

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