Dolph Petris | November 2019

Integrating Habits of Mind

Habit. One definition of the word, as defined in the dictionary, is a settled or regular tendency or practice.  Habits can be either good or not so good… or even bad. Engaging in a bad habit will ultimately lead one down the path of even more bad habits – often with a detrimental outcome.  But practicing a purposeful and intentional task can lead to many rewards!

In the classroom, we have routines that keep our daily structure running as smoothly as possible.  However, unless we develop the habit of practice intentional teaching, we run the risk of simply ‘phoning it in’.  No honest professional wants to do that. Certainly no honest professional is at all interested from such at the receiving end!

Habits of Mind are simply foundational components, intentionally weaved into what we do, to help steer the outcome.  In the classroom, they compose the structure of each and every content discipline. They help steer the process of how an activity or assignment is delivered and implemented.  These valuable components must always be adhered to and modeled for our students so that they begin to internalize the how and why of what they are tasked to do within any content area.

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If our plan is to integrate the Arts and STEAM into instruction, then we must develop and implement a framework for doing so.

8 Habits of Mind

There are many variations, and even quantities, for habits of mind within any content area or discipline.  Eight of them – related to the arts – are listed and described here:

Develop Craft

Nothing is more obvious than someone who is trying to use a tool they don’t know how to use.  Or describe a practice they know nothing about. Can you imagine attending professional development where the presenter knows nothing about the content or topic? Disaster. For any successful arts integration lesson, you should be ready and willing to do the necessary research and even practice beforehand what is to be taught.  Not only will you be more confident in your delivery, but your students will be well directed in the process that you would like for them to be successful. It’s a win-win situation.

Engage and Persist

Without the risk of failure, there is no success.  The modern world would be nowhere if key players throughout history did not engage and persist in their efforts.  Guess what… you are a key player too!  Stretch the boundaries of what you know well, and try a different slant in your craft.  By nature, we obviously navigate to that which comes easiest to us, but continuing this path will impede our progress.  We see how much our students enjoy getting their hands dirty, fully engaged in the moment. Even if they are not, model to your students what full engagement and persistence look like.


Be the visionary for yourself and for your students.  Often our students know only what is directly shown to them.  They only know how to do exactly what we model.  However, if their mentor is one who envisions anything beyond the obvious, then windows of personal creativity may open that neither the teacher or student themselves ever knew existed.  Think Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, the Wright Brothers, or any other visionary that comes to mind. Learn to embrace possibility and foster that mindset in your students while learning their own creative journey.  If it is not impossible, then it must be possible.  You just need to figure out how to do it together.


I always think it is invaluable when displaying any artwork to my students, to not only discuss the how and the why of the work, but to become and display the artists’ intended emotion.  Our students will not fully appreciate the arts (of any kind) if they do not understand that true art is always founded in an intent to convey a message.  Art can speak differently to each individual.  Model to your students what the work does for you.  How the work moves you, how it makes you feel. Then invite students to share their perception or how they feel about the work.  This activity becomes a great discussion piece as there will sometimes be a variety of viewpoints and perspectives.


Learn to observe the unobserved.  Practice a lot! Take significant time to allow what needs to be observed or to be observed yourself.  Then model to your students what you see, and how you interpret all that is perceived.  I think it always fun to first task your students to observe and share-out. Once they have exhausted details from their observation, then model to them what you observe.  This activity will most certainly produce a lot of audible “oh yeah!”, and “I didn’t even think of that” remarks. But the observation piece is vital to understand what is being observed, or what is being created.


One of the very important qualities for our students to learn is how to properly reflect.  No doubt, this is a hard one because as educators, we most likely did not learn how to do this until well into our adulthood.  Assuming a non-biased perspective, whether it be our own work, or when viewing someone else’s, is something that must be taught and learned.  How do we make statements out works of art without personal judgment? How do we review what we have done, or created, without holding on to a personal viewpoint of “If I created this work, then it’s great, and it must be perfect”?  The road to non-biased reflection is yet another habit that must be modeled.

Stretch and Explore

An instructor in college once told us, “Do not fall in love with your work!”  That statement was difficult to process because in our early 20’s, we tend to gravitate to holding a self-created work of perfection status.  Model to your students that art never reaches a point of conclusion. Art never reaches a place in time where the artist says “That is awesome, the ultimate, and can never be topped!”  True art, and arts integration, should show that although work was completed, and may very well be good, it is never perfect.  There is always something, some aspect, of the art that could be modified, improved, or eliminated altogether.

Understand the Art World

As educators, we know that our world of education should never be housed within a vacuum. In order for us to expand our own horizons, we need to understand the broader scope of the art world in general.  This means that we should stay in tune and up-to-date with popular trends in the world of art and in society in general. 

After all, art is a reflection of societal response to current events. It is the general foundation of our perception to what is going on in the world, and how people deal with current states of societal norms.  Understanding the art world allows us as educators to be better equipped with understanding how society will perceive and receive art that is yet to be created.  Art in itself is a barometer to what is, was, and always will be.

About the Author

Dolph holds a Bachelors of Science, Product Design from Art Center College of Design and a Masters degree in Education. He has spent most of his teaching career as a 6th grade teacher in the elementary school setting with a focus on Gifted and Talented Education and is currently teaching a 5/6 combo in Fullerton, California. He and his wife have several four-legged kids: Bonnie and Clyde, Golden Retriever litter-mates, a street-rescued stray that looks like ‘Benji’ named Noel, Athena the cat, and two American Quarter horses.