Holly Valentine | November 2019

Making Your Habits of Mind
Work for You

It’s November. The days are darker, the weather colder, the school days harder. The fresh new feelings of the school year have worn off, report cards may soon be due, and the list you have to accomplish is growing by the minute. If there was ever an important time to focus on developing good habits of your own mind… it’s now.

If you do a quick search of “What are the Habits of Mind?”, you will get a variety of answers. Ultimately, they are about deepening knowledge, expanding skills and enhancing appreciation. We default to thinking about these in terms of our students. What if we started to think about their importance in our own lives by developing good habits and how doing so will benefit our students.

Habits of Mind for your own inner artist and teacher

There are Habits of Mind for almost every profession. It is the 8 Studio Habits of Mind, developed by Harvard’s Project Zero, that will keep us focused on our creativity, ourselves and the effect on our students. Challenge yourself by developing good habits and applying them inward when you feel that negativity and the damp chill of the season setting in. Focus on yourself and breathe.

Develop Your Craft

What are the tools and materials you use most often? Are you a book, pencil and paper teacher? Or perhaps you do everything on the computer? How can you learn a new practice of your art – your teaching style? Can you find different ways to use the tools you are most comfortable with? Perhaps you are at the point of needing to break out into a new chapter and try something completely new. Have you become too predictable to yourself and your students? How can you further develop what you already know so well? Ask your students to teach you a new way of doing something, or simply find a new set of really great colored pens and treat yourself to a new medium. Build your mindset about your craft. How can you make your mindset creative and open to new things

Engage and Persist

What do you find yourself most passionate about? Do you bring that passion into your classroom? Why not? We always ask our students to tap into their passions, and we help them try to discover them. Knowing a student’s passion gives you a path to get to know them. But isn’t the opposite true as well? Your students want to connect with you. How closely do you let them in? This time of year as time pressures set in, likely not often. Do you engage them with your own interests and persist to develop their thinking? My strongest lessons over the years started with something I cared deeply about. Usually my own passions.

Envision

For me, this is what it’s all about, and most important. Ok, so the year is getting tough and maybe things aren’t going the way you thought they would. Maybe your class isn’t that model class you were convinced you would finally have this year. Do you want it to happen? Then you have to see it and believe it! I am a huge proponent of the power of positive thinking. I have seen it take hold time and time again. When I think about crossroads I have been at, sure the dark thoughts and doubts creep in, but if I keep that vision of success front and center, I literally can see it happening.  More often than not, I find that it does. We tell our students to do this all the time. Can you honestly say you do it for yourself though?

Express

What’s your outlet? How do you convey your ideas and feelings in a personal way? If you are finding yourself coming home from school late, cooking dinner, maybe getting kids to bed or doing household chores, then sitting down to schoolwork before falling asleep at the table, only to get up the next day and do it all again, you aren’t expressing what you need to….at least not in a positive way. You have to make time for you, to express yourself in some way that makes you feel good and lets you escape while you are in the moment. What have you always wanted to learn how to do? Find some YouTube videos and get started! Just fifteen minutes a day can make a huge difference.

Observe

Take a step back and observe yourself. Challenging I know. But really think about your day today. What was your body language like? Your voice? Your attitude? Would your students and coworkers say the same thing? The way that you pick up on the little nuances of our students, they pick up on you too. Are they picking up on the little things that someone might not notice right away? And are you picking these things up about them? I would be willing to bet that the days when things seem off with them, something is off with you, and vice-versa. Going back to envision, when you start each day with a grateful heart and are excited about the opportunity in front of you, that’s when you will observe that everything is going in the right direction.

Reflect

This is the other big one for me. On the days when I knew I was getting “muddled” or my classroom was, I took a step back and asked myself and my kids to reflect on what was happening. This could be done through a discussion, letters back and forth, or art that was created on the spot when I turned on some music. I’m not saying to reflect on just what is happening around you, but how you fit into those happenings as well. What part do you play and how can you change it?

Stretch and Explore

I love the original definition of this habit: Learning to reach beyond one’s capacities, to explore playfully without a preconceived plan, and to embrace the opportunity to learn from mistakes and accidents. Exploring playfully. What a fantastic term. Inevitably, you started the year with new ideas and you were ready to do things differently this year. That’s hard and here you are in November back to your old patterns. Explore playfully! Allow yourself to go past what you know to find something new and engaging. Allow your students the opportunity to do this with you. Having them see their teacher stretch themselves in a new way could be incredibly powerful for them.

Understand the Art World

Don’t just understand the art world in museums and all around you, understand your art world. What is art to you and how to you create it, develop it and bring it into your own life? What new ways could you find to embrace it and allow yourself the freedom to engage with it to deepen your knowledge about yourself, your career, your family and likely your life in general? How can you use the art around you and the art that you engage in, the chance to enhance your appreciation for all that is in your life right now?

Yes, you are crazy busy and perhaps you can only see one day at a time right now. I get it, trust me, I get it! Just remember, before you know it the holidays will be upon us. I don’t say that to let the panic and darkness set in even more, but to help you realize that unless you take care of your own inner artist, teacher and self, the special and cherished days ahead will rush right by you. By developing good habits now for you, for your students, you’ll set the rest of your school year in the right direction.

About the Author

Holly Valentine is the Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Institute for Arts Integration and Steam. Prior to joining the Institute, Holly worked as an Arts Integration and Classroom Teacher for 20 years in a suburb of Rochester, NY. She is a certified Arts Integration Specialist and has served as an Arts Standards Writer for the New York State Education Department. Holly has been a recipient of the NYC Broadway League's Apple Award for her work in Arts Education. She also serves as the Director of Education for the Rochester Broadway Theatre League, where she has created nationally recognized programs and develops standards-based curriculum for touring Broadway shows in order to bring the theatre to classrooms and classrooms to the theatre. Holly holds both a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre and Psychology as well as a Masters degree in Education from Nazareth College in Rochester, NY,  where she currently lives.