3 Things to Know about Habits of Mind

By teaching kids how they’re smart, we teach them to develop their thinking skills. We call them habits of mind. What are my habits?  What are the things I’m going to get good at because I’m going to practice? These personal and intellectual character traits are what makes us smart, happy, and successful. They are the mental frameworks which all of our knowledge and skills sit upon. 

One of our primary focuses at Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA) is teaching kids to think about what’s important, so they’ll act on it. When we act on things that are important, we create habits. When we create habits, it becomes our character. Our character becomes our destiny. For us, it’s all about developing thought processes; developing smart, intelligent, thinking. Thinking triggers action and the cycle begins again —  habits, character, and destiny.

How we teach Habits of Mind at Almond Acres

  1. We use a variety of tools — thinking tools — to help us teach our kids how to think and develop their thinking skills. The first is terrific. It’s an acronym TRRFC that includes these citizenship traits: Trustworthy, Respectful, Responsible, Fair, and Caring. These citizenship traits involve key principles that grow strong citizens. By thinking in these terms and modeling these behaviors — you are terrific. You’re being a better version of yourself. 
  1. We encourage and ascribe to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This is a very well-researched and proven approach to help people become better versions of themselves. The Seven Habits are shared, encouraged, and expected in our school on a daily basis.  

Our kids grow to know each of the seven habits that also develop into an Almond Acres leadership system. It’s our way for kids to be leaders in their classroom, the school, our community, or at home. 

An Almond Acres alum shared this feedback about their time at our middle school, 

“ I enjoyed the amount of one-on-one attention and education I received since the classes were so small. I felt like I could create deeper connections with my peers and teachers. I found it beneficial in my older years to have thoroughly learned the Habits of Mind and the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

  1. Leadership gives every human confidence. We expect all of our kids to experience leadership roles whether they stem from an official leadership group or they are a leader in their classroom. Our students glean leadership opportunities every day by being the light monitor, or the person who opens the door when somebody knocks. Our student leaders might direct a guest or act as an ambassador to the school and give tours to prospective families. 

There are tons of different jobs to promote leadership in every classroom, and we believe there’s a leader in every student. We try to provide every one of our K-8 students with opportunities to be empowered. 

Students who are confident citizens is another way to describe what’s at the core of our school mission — to grow great kids! We holistically celebrate each unique learner  — heart, mind, body, and soul. Get to know Almond Acres. We’re enrolling tuition-free K-8 today! 

About Almond Acres

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. The school is located in Paso Robles and is open to all students in all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body, and soul. We grow great kids!

Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports

Have you heard teachers or staff refer to PBIS? PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. It’s an evidence-based three-tiered framework we use to establish our school culture and support each other in becoming the best version of ourselves. It works by gathering data and using that information to improve our systems and practices. 

Who Participates in PBIS?

PBIS is for everyone, not just students! We established a Tier 1 PBIS team of six staff members with different roles on campus. This team just completed the first year of Tier 1 training which focused on developing the systems we will need to launch PBIS with consistency and fidelity next year. Many of the components of PBIS are already implemented at AACA. However, the team is excited about launching PBIS with renewed enthusiasm in the fall.

Why Are Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Important?

Positive interventions and supports are essential because they create an environment that fosters growth, learning, and progress. When we encourage people to focus on their strengths and accomplishments rather than their weaknesses, we empower them to reach their full potential and improve their self-confidence. Positive interventions have a ripple effect on improving social, emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes for all students.

How Is PBIS Implemented at AACA?

At AACA, our behavior expectations are based on five character traits; Trustworthy, Respectful, Responsible, Fair, and Caring. We have defined what it is to be “TeRRiFiC” across all school settings and contexts. 

Our goal is to prevent behavior problems rather than react to them. Expectations need to be explicitly taught, modeled, practiced, and reinforced. That means all adults must be familiar with and model the behaviors we want to see in students. All staff uses the same lesson plans to teach behavior in the hallways, playground, quad, etc., not just in the classroom. Expectations are taught creatively using videos of staff doing the wrong thing, then the right thing. 

While there is a heavy emphasis on behavior expectations at the beginning of the school year, we regularly re-teach throughout the year, especially when returning from extended breaks. This is important for any students who arrive later in the school year and serves as a reminder for those who may have forgotten. 

Reinforcements range from simple, non-specific feedback like a high-five or thumbs up to behavior-specific feedback to tangible rewards. Research indicates that you can improve behavior by 80% just by pointing out what someone is doing correctly. Simply telling a child “No!” doesn’t teach them proper behavior. Giving someone clear expectations in a firm, fair, and friendly way makes a big difference in how they receive and respond. It helps us shift from being reactive to being proactive.

PBIS is a tiered model of support. Most of our students and staff respond well to the Tier 1 efforts we have described in this post. Some need additional Tier 2 support, and a few need more intensive Tier 3 support. Tier 2 and 3 interventions are evidence-based, positive, and restorative. There are many steps to integrate this process entirely, and we are working with the County Office of Education to ensure that we meet each step

How Can Families Support This Effort at Home? 

Look for our PBIS launch party (aka Meet-the-Teacher Night) at the beginning of the school year! We plan to teach families about this process, what it looks like, and how they can implement it at home. In the meantime, here are a few things to consider.

  • Work as a family to define what Trustworthy, Respectful, Responsible, Fair, and Caring look like in your family. Be specific about your common places and activities; the dinner table, the car, public places, chores, AM and PM routines, etc.
  • Remember, relationships thrive with a 5:1 positivity ratio!
  • Specific positive feedback does wonders. Recognize the behavior explicitly and connect it to the expectations. “Fred, you brushed your teeth without any reminders tonight. Good job being responsible.” or “It felt great not to be rushed this morning. Thank you for being ready on time.”

 It takes a village to raise kids; we will be most successful when we work together to grow great kids!

Ask More Questions, Give Fewer Answers

Feed someone a fish and you feed them for a day; teach them how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime!
When I was a boy I was often reprimanded for asking too many questions. I wanted to know why, where, who, when, and what. When my enthusiastic questioning was squelched, I can remember second-guessing my intelligence because I had a lot of questions and needed answers.
The neurological truth is that children are constantly asking questions because their brains are hungry for truth and knowledge. They ask out of intrigue, curiosity, and sincere interest. Squelching this inquisitive fire turns the mind cold and produces reluctant learners.
At the age of five, children ask on average 65 questions per day, at the age of eight they average 41 questions. By the time we reach the age of forty-four, we only ask six questions per day. More importantly, the quality of our childhood questions is much more inquisitive and thought-provoking. What happens to our creative thinking?


Use the 80:20 Question & Answer Rule

Consider all of the thinking involved when you allow your child to solve a problem on his or her own. You may have a good answer to the problem, but with patience and guidance, you will help your child develop his or her own path to an answer that can provide a solid path to other problems in the future. Use the 80:20 Q&A Rule: ask questions 80% of the time and give answers 20% of the time. I believe that this is a healthy ratio for most children. Once they are confident in their intelligence to resolve problems, more questions and fewer answers are appropriate. Avoid questions that provide a simple answer such as, “yes” or “no”. Use questions that lead to creativity and problem-solving. Ask How?, Why?, What if?, What do you mean?, Have you considered?…” Jonas Saulk once said, “The answer to any problem preexists. We need to ask the right question to reveal the answer.”


Empowering Your Child With Questions

Imagine the difference between giving your child a toy car versus giving your child a model to build a toy car. Answering versus questioning has the same effect. When our children build a model they go through the process of discovery that is essential to deep understanding, innovation, and joy. If we are always providing the answers to questions, we get to show them how smart we are. Unfortunately, that does little for their own brain. Thinking power comes from asking questions and posing problems. In our brain, we do the work to resolve those questions and problems and build neural pathways that become tools for the next time the question or problem arises.


Question Quotes

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” -Albert Einstein
“Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”-Anthony Robbins


Learning Links

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

This week at Almond Acres, we are studying Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood. Seeking to understand often requires the skill of listening. Whether as a student, an employee or in a relationship, the skill of listening is essential to learning and knowing a subject or a person deeply.

An Almond Acres Charter Academy student listens intently to another student at the same desk. She is making eye contact and has her body facing the speaker. There are 4 students in red uniform shirts sitting together at a table.

Habit 5 teaches us that good communication begins with empathetic listening. Empathic listening is listening with the sole intent to understand another person within his or her frame of reference. It requires both intent and skill. The key is to truly, honestly desire to understand the other person. We can probably all relate to not being listened to at some point in our lives. It feels terrible–this is the first step to empathy!

Our ego commonly gets in the way of being a good listener. Instead of listening, we make sure that people understand our own point of view first, or only listen autobiographically. When we listen autobiographically, we filter what others say through our own story, experiences, prejudices, biases, and values. We probe by asking questions from our own frame of reference or agenda. We evaluate by agreeing or disagreeing. We advise by giving counsel, advice, and solutions to problems. We interpret by trying to figure out or analyze the other person. In short, we are putting ourselves first.

The productive and positive influence is to truly understand another’s point of view first. This practice expresses respect, mutual understanding, empathy, and courage. Great relationships, whether at home, school, or work are built on mutual respect. Loving and respecting others is an act of good listening because we tend to find better solutions to challenges in life when we consider the ideas from both sides to create the best idea. 

When it comes to learning, listening is obviously a must! Students who practice good listening skills become great thinkers. They can’t understand academic skills if they are distracted and not following a lesson. Moreover, asking questions and getting clarification develops greater understanding and makes meaningful connections between subjects and skills.

We believe teaching listening skills is as essential as reading and writing skills. We use a simple 3-step framework to illuminate this practice for all of our K-8 students: 

  1. Practice empathetic listening by asking clarifying questions and not judging the situation as you first see it. Some examples include: 
  • Can you tell me what happened?
  • How do you feel about _____?
  • What do you think led to this situation?
  • You sound really _______. 
  • What do you think is the next right thing to do?
  1. When emotions are high, stand your peaceful ground and don’t jump into the excitement. This will help the other person to connect to their thinking brain because they see you modeling it. 
  1. Respectfully seek to be understood. Once the other person recognizes that you are there to understand and want to help, it’s time to add your input. 
  • “I feel _______ about ________.”
  • “You could be right, however, ________.”
  • “Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. Would you like my opinion?”
  • “That sounds interesting. What do you think about ________?”

Empathetic listening says to the person that you care about who they are, what they are feeling, and are open to helping them. It is a simple skill with a profound impact that we can all practice in our day-to-day lives. 

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!

Choose Your Own Weather

“If you can’t see the bright side of life, polish the dull side.” – Nathan, Mr. B’s son

Did you know that it’s possible to choose your own weather? No, you can’t control what falls from the sky, or when spring will arrive, but you can control your own personal weather forecast each and every day. 

Our choice to smile or grumble is controlled by our personal choice power. It’s true that “stuff” happens every day, but how we respond to that stuff is entirely in our circle of control. We are influenced by the people and circumstances in our life and our response to them is a choice. Believing that we have a choice and control is the first step toward personal efficacy and empowerment.

Almond Acres Charter Academy 4th graders play in the mud during a field trip

Mess or Fun? Almond Acres 4th graders prove that mud is just a matter of perspective.

One of my jobs as a parent is to get myself out of the job before my child is an adult. I expect that he or she will have the personal strength to handle what life dishes out each day. Teaching our children to think positively and proactively when it comes to life events, academics, sports, hobbies, or relationships, etc. can help them to recognize the power they have over their circumstances. 

When you achieve success in school and life, it’s clear how important it is to prioritize and organize studies, work, play, and relationships. Here are some examples of how this proactive philosophy works in conjunction with our Almond Acres mission to develop the heart, mind, body and soul of each child: 

🔵 Heart – Assume the best in people.
🟡 Mind – Organize a study schedule that gets things done before they are due.
🔴 Body – Make lunch the night before so that it’s ready and right for a healthy lifestyle.
🟢 Soul – Spend time in the classroom of silence to reflect on the day and consider ways to make tomorrow terrific.

A positive and powerful approach to life is infectious. If someone calls me a knucklehead and I respond with, “you are brilliant and beautiful”, I can stop them in their tracks and help them to realize that their negativity is pointless in the face of positivity. It doesn’t mean to always be Pollyanna about things, but adding a negative to a negative only leads to more negative. Adding a positive to a negative reverses things in a positive direction. It’s fascinating to see a grouch put on a smile when someone with a positive disposition gets in their way.

There is a neurological term for eliciting a response from someone with a smile or a frown. The response is called “mirroring”. Mirror neurons exist in our brain and can cause us to smile when someone smiles at us, or frown when we frown. A proactive decision to make someone think positively because we are acting or speaking positively has powerful results.

The See – Do – Get Model

The See – Do – Get model of thinking helps us to remember that how we SEE things (whether it be our perspective, feelings, or thoughts) will lead us to action (DO) and our actions achieve results (GET). When we don’t achieve the results we hope for it is often a result of an error in how we are seeing things or in the actions we hoped would achieve the result. Use this model to help your child recognize that his or her proactive response to life can have dramatic positive results on their future.

A graphic of the See Do Get Model with arrows. In the center of the model, the principles of responsibility, choice, accountability, initiative, and resourcefulness are illustrated.

Interested in taking your learning on Choosing Your Own Weather a bit further? You can watch an interesting video here and take a deep dive on career coaching here. How do you make your own weather forecast everyday? 

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids! 

Testing with Joy, Not Anxiety

“You’ve learned the things you need

To pass that test and many more—

I’m certain you’ll succeed.

We’ve taught you that the earth is round,

That red and white make pink,

And something else that matters more—

We’ve taught you how to think.”

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!
By Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky & Lane Smith
Two Almond Acres students in red and blue polo shirt uniforms smile while working at their desks

As a tuition-free public K-8 charter school, Almond Acres actively tests and assesses every student. Our annual standardized testing event for grades 3-8 is approaching, so we thought we would take a moment to share our testing philosophy and how we help students approach testing, which, just like taxes, is an inescapable part of life. Hint: It has to do with celebration! 

Let’s start with some basics of what standardized testing is and is not:

  • Your child’s innate ability is not defined by the test. 
  • Your child’s future is not decided by these tests.
  • Tests provide a snapshot of skills learned in this particular stage of life. 
  • Standardized tests are not all-encompassing.

Testing is just one of the ways we measure our success and growth. Almond Acres’ holistic approach to learning means that we teach to the whole child. A standardized test can’t measure heart, mind, body, and soul.

So Why Test?

In short, standardized testing is required by the State of California. All schools receiving public funds must participate in the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. The data we receive from the test is used to improve instruction and tailor teaching closer to student needs. It also helps us set up goals, accommodations, plan for success, and target areas of intervention.

We firmly believe that the quality, standards-based teaching and learning that occurs all year prepares our students to pass and surpass standardized tests. Our project-based learning approach helps students gain real-world experience. It’s not just memorization—students have the opportunity to apply learning in an authentic, meaningful way. And, we’ve taught them how to THINK!–making it easier to tackle any question thrown their way.
In 10 years of public school operation, we’ve repeatedly seen standardized testing results confirm what we already know: our whole child curriculum is a key to success.

An Almond Acres student in a blue sweatshirt uniform works independently at a computer

Teacher Tips for Testing

Our teachers use our yearly testing event as an opportunity to prepare students to approach test taking as a genre. Students learn specific techniques to break apart tough questions unique to standardized tests, such as highlighting, re-reading and looking for clues. We also find great success with these positive affirmations to reduce test taking anxiety and increase confidence:

  • I know I can do this!
  • I will do my best work.
  • I am intelligent, smart, and amazing!
  • I will take my time.
  • I will stay focused.
  • I will stay positive.

As always, we encourage students to get a good night’s sleep and eat lots of healthy brain food (like protein and veggies) before the test. We also allow students to enjoy a lollipop or stick of gum during the test–it’s proven to help focus and calm our minds! 

4 Almond Acres students work at a table using paper and pencil

Testing is a Celebration!

Sometimes it’s as simple as a shift in thinking to change our mindset away from anxiety toward testing as a celebration. Like a volleyball game that you spend all season practicing for and then play, tests are an opportunity to celebrate our hard work and success. 

By celebrating this achievement — the test-taking itself  — we purposefully shift the dynamic from a pressure-filled event to one of inclusivity and shared experience. We introduce the idea of learning in our classrooms together as practice and testing itself as the ‘game,’ or our chance to show our stuff!  With preparation and practice, every opportunity to take a test can be a positive experience. Come celebrate with us at Almond Acres!

 About AACA
Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!