• Why achieving excellence is so elusive -pt 2

So where do Habits of Mind fit into the picture of learnable intelligence and the acquisition of excellence? Well, the story fits together something like this: In order to achieve excellence you must believe that intelligence is not a fixed thing - that failure is not a measure of having reached your potential, but rather it is a challenge to be overcome - and that CAN be overcome. Carol Dweck refers to this as a Growth Mind Set.

To grow, and become successful by reaching our goals we must engage in Deliberate Practice. This was described by Anders Ericsson and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. Deliberate Practice is different from simple rehearsal in that it pushes us outside our comfort zone into what's been termed the "Goldilocks Zone". This is the area where we are confronting challenges that are neither too hard, nor too easy, but rather are on the very edge of our ability.
The above represents the key elements on the path to success, but doesn't describe how we become competent at walking that path. In order to walk this path successfully we must develop our ability to confront these types of challenges.  In the Goldilocks Zone you are confronted with problems, the solutions to which are not immediately apparent. This is the very definition of the type of situation where successful people skillfully and mindfully apply their Habits of Mind.

Without well-developed Habits of Mind the challenges that are posed by working in the Goldilocks Zone can't be met successfully. Without developing our Habits of Mind we may appear to have reached our "potential", or in other ways we create a "greatness gap" between ourselves and expert performers as a way to explain our apparent under performance. Increasingly difficult challenges require increasingly effective Habits of Mind to overcome them.

So in order to grow, we must not only confront challenges, but also develop our ability to overcome these challenges. We must continually develop our Habits of Mind.  To develop our Habits of Mind requires its own deliberate practice, coaching and reflection. Just as we must focus on our progress towards our goal, we must also focus on the development of our ability to make that progress. Steven Covey would refer to this as a focus on our production capability over simple production - learning how to do better, rather than simply doing.
This is the HOW of achieving excellence that has been largely over-looked by the research to date. This is the continuous growth of the Habits of Mind.  The Habits of Mind have been the missing piece of the puzzle to achieving success. Not only do we need to focus on our goals, but also on continually developing the Habits of Mind that enable us to successfully confront the increasingly difficult challenges posed as we make this journey.   


Pushing beyond and achieving excellence

I have often told teachers that children will both live up to and down to our expectations. I also think this is true of our expectations of ourselves. The things we habitually say to ourselves help determine our readiness to face and overcome challenges. Living mindfully requires us to examine what we are saying to ourselves. I can get up in the morning and just let the day happen to me, or I can take some control of what is going on in my mind, in my emotions and create intentions for myself - today I will seek out the good in people, today I will make eye contact with people who serve me in stores, today I will seek an alternative way to do three of the things I habitually do each day, at the end of today, I will sit down with paper and pen and write down the biggest challenge I faced during the day and then I will consider some alternative strategies. For major things and the trivial, we can bring more intention into our lives. intentionality stops us being at the mercy of events, it gets us off the daily roller coaster long enough to think consciously, mindfully about who we are and how we are behaving.

With intention, then, we can consider our expectations of ourselves. When faced with this sort of problem, do I expect to fail? Have my results been mediocre in this endeavor in the past? What strategies have I used previously? Why did they produce such lack luster results? How can I do this differently?

The first step, though, must be making the intention to push beyond what was achieved before. "I will do better than this". What we used to call 'self talk' is thinking meta cognitively. It involves becoming aware of what we are thinking and then intentionally adjusting that thinking. Perhaps the most important piece of self talk is the conversation with ourselves that concludes with the statement "Of course I can solve this problem. I am a problem solver." Once I have intentionally set this expectation of myself I will be in a position to seek out the strategies and exercise the Habits of Mind that will direct me. Far too many of our students do not have this expectation of themselves. They do not see themselves as problem solvers. Instead they view themselves as the 'rememberers' of facts and of other people's solutions to problems.

We need to work on students' perceptions of themselves by helping them come to beIieve in their own ability to solve problems with effort. The generic 'well done' needs to disappear and be replaced with encouragement for the real expenditure of intellectual energy. Our task is to help develop students who have a justified belief in themselves as problem solvers. As we encourage self talk that says "I can do this" we must also provide the tools to make that expectation be realized. When we teach students about the Habits of Mind we are providing them with a powerful set of these tools, but it is the self talk, the expectations of themselves, that will lead to the effective use of these tools.

Being ready for open to ...

Well said...because, tte cycle of planning for and reflecting upon immediate and narrow targets will help our students establish a continuous feedback loop for themselves. With support, and over time, this new, or more conscious, cycle will help them to be more ready to access and utilize the HOM as their filter in which they see the world.

Thank you,

Scott Wright


I am not sure why my response above came through as 'anonymous'. Perhaps because I got to the site through the FB link, rather than by logging in to this site. Whatever the reason, I am in fact Pat Buoncristiani and not that ancient writer of poetry 'anon'.