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!

Brain Power: What Kind of Learner Am I?

Smart is not
Just being best
At spelling bees,
A tricky test.
Or knowing all the answers ever…
Other things are just as clever.
Every hour of every day,
We’re smart in our own special way.
And nobody will ever do…
The very same smart thing as you.

All the Ways to Be Smart by Davina Bell

You have probably heard of book smarts. Even street smarts and people smarts. But have you heard of nature smart? Or music smart? How about word smart? 

At Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA), we believe that all kids are smart, born with their own unique set of gifts. Our job is to affirm, stretch and celebrate the unique gifts we are all given–from book smart to number smart and everything in between. 

At the beginning of each school year, AACA teachers empower our K-8 students to uncover how they are smart. The goal is to help students shift the question away from “am I smart?” to “how am I smart?” We begin this work with self-reflection, a study of the brain and by diving into the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. 

Self-Reflection & Self-Awareness

The journey of self-discovery at AACA is focused on a reflection of personal interests, strengths and personality traits. Our students spend time observing their own behavior and answering questions about things they enjoy doing, what comes easy, and what things are challenging. They work with their parents and teachers to identify strengths and struggles in all areas of their lives: heart, mind, body, and soul.  
In a student-led parent-teacher conference following this self-discovery period, students share what they’ve learned about themselves and challenge themselves to grow – or stretch – their skills. For example, a student may choose to learn to play an instrument, participate in the school play, or improve their reading fluency by learning 100 sight words.

Brain Power!

Even in kindergarten, AACA teachers begin to explain how our brains work. We include the biology and mechanics of the brain. Our brains do so much for us – from recognizing objects, to problem-solving, to processing emotions. Understanding this from a young age can help demystify learning and everyday habits we never think about like breathing and digestion. Knowledge is power when it comes to ownership for our bodies, our actions and our lives.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Our work at AACA is deeply based on Harvard professor Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Gardner’s theory of the 8 intelligences graphic

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences explains the different ways we learn and express our innate intelligence. We explore ways that we can learn new concepts, paying attention to which type comes most naturally to us and which types are more challenging. No person has just a single intelligence—we are a beautiful combination of all the different ways to learn. 

Here are a couple of examples of the multiple intelligences in action:  

  • Someone who has strong interpersonal skills may learn best when working with a partner or team.  
  • A person with strong linguistic skills may be a word-smith or skilled at picking up new languages.
  • Someone with strong kinesthetic abilities may learn sight words better if they do jumping jacks while they spell words out loud.

This philosophy is so important to us that we’ve even installed the 8 symbols in the courtyard of our new building. It’s also tied in with our mascot and kite philosophy. Affirming, stretching and celebrating our smarts is a huge part of who we are.

The courtyard of the new Almond Acres Charter Academy building. There are 4 windows displayed and above each window is a round plaque with a symbol and word illustrating the multiple intelligences.

Boosting Knowledge & Confidence

AACA teachers use this new-found knowledge to boost student’s self-worth and confidence. Teachers incorporate the different ways of learning into lessons, being sure to vary the way new information is presented for all types of learners. We look for ways to draw out individual talents and recognize students for their unique contributions, while not ignoring areas that may need more nurturing and stretching. 

Understanding ourselves also helps understand others. When our students uncover all the ways they are smart, we notice an increase in empathy toward classmates. Everyone is smart in their own way! 

AACA celebrates all the ways we are smart. We believe our individual intelligences are gifts that bring color to our world and teach us that we can accomplish so much together. How are you smart? 

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!

What and Why We Teach: Daily Growth, Balanced Learning

At Almond Acres Charter Academy, we believe an education that addresses all aspects of a child’s life creates balanced, happy learners.  In fact, our scholastic mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body, and soul. This mission is embedded in our academic DNA and informs how we grow together every school day. It truly sets us apart from other K-8 learning environments.  

children standing against a wall

Our team of credentialed teachers uses the Common Core State Standards to teach English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics while using the State Content Standards for social studies, and the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) for science.  Teachers also administer state-mandated testing annually in grades 3-8. We incorporate our additional, beloved (by students and families alike) complementary instruction across all K-8 grade levels because we see how and why this enables high quality, intentional, gratifying educational experiences

What is complementary instruction? 

We’re glad you asked! For us, complementary education includes physical education, art, drama, leadership, character education, and service-based learning. Here’s a sample of what we mean and why we believe in this complementary instruction for all of our learners  — from our youngest kinders to our big kid middle schoolers — as they study and grow: 

Character Education

Character Education is a main focus that is promoted through a schoolwide Daily Shared Start Assembly. We practice being good citizens by being trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, and caring, which are the core tenets of Character Counts. We promote this through our PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) System.

Service Learning

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a key component of our instructional program. We integrate PBS across all subject areas and in all grades whenever possible. Our PBL enriches student knowledge by utilizing themes, unit-based queries and a variety of hands-on methods. Our innovative PBL efforts also enhance community connections via field trips, guest speakers, and our highly rewarding service-based projects. 

youth theater production

Leadership

At our K-8 charter school, we focus on being leaders by being good citizens and using the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to develop important life skills. All students have leadership opportunities within their classrooms based on their grade level. Middle School students have the option of participating in a weekly Leadership Class. These students help lead many aspects of school including, Shared Start, recess and lunchtime activities, schoolwide contests, and fundraisers. All middle school students also participate in a pathways course, which helps them further apply the habits, refine their problem-solving and decision-making skills, as well as develop college and career readiness skills.

For more detail about our top-notch Common Core State Standards classes and other complementary instruction visit our Curriculum page

About Almond Acres

Almond Acres is located in Paso Robles. 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. 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!

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

“We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.”

Dr. Stephen R. Covey

We all use tools to help us throughout our day. The condition and quality of those tools are essential to how we perform: a sushi chef requires sharp knives for the perfect slice, a painter washes and dries his brushes so they may be used again, and a potter keeps unused clay moist so it is easy to work with. Caring for our tools makes us better at what we do. In our everyday lives, we also rely on tools to perform at our best: our hearts, minds, and bodies.

Built into our philosophy at Almond Acres’ is the mission to grow children’s hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. Along with that growth, we teach our students that it’s important to balance work with rest and renewal. Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw is all about finding balance. 

Sharpen the Saw

You probably know what it feels like to “have a dull saw.” It may show up as exhaustion or disinterest. It may feel like a 3rd cup of coffee to get going for the day. For kids, it may be that feeling right before bedtime, when they’ve hit the wall and even going to bed sounds impossible. It feels like being “hangry” (angry because you are hungry) just before dinner because you missed lunch. In short, it’s no fun. 

If we continually seek improvement without caring for ourselves, we will experience burnout—our saws will dull. And without a sharp saw, we can’t continue to grow and be at our best. 

How Do We Do It?

Rest and relaxation aren’t all about sitting on the sofa to watch tv (although, if that is rejuvenating to you, do it!). We have to pay attention to our whole selves. Here are some examples of activities that renew us as we seek balance:

Heart: “Carefree timelessness” in meaningful social connections with family, friends, and community members are revitalizing. Laughing with a friend and having fun is a great way to strengthen your heart. 

Mind: Reading great books, journaling, and engaging in puzzling activities stimulates your brain and sharpens your focus. Learning is one way to take care of your brain!

Body: A healthy dose of sleep, diet, and exercise. Are you moving your body every day? Have you filled up on nourishing food? Are you getting adequate sleep? No one can keep moving on an empty tank.

Soul: Enter the “classroom of silence”. Expand your spiritual self through prayer, meditation, art, music, or spending time in nature. Any activity that fills your cup is rejuvenating to your soul. 

As we renew each part of ourselves, we leave room for growth and change. We increase our capacity, our resilience in the face of challenge, and our ability to give. Self-care is not selfish!

An Almond Acres student journals while looking out toward the rocks and sea

Sharpening the saw for children might look different from an adult. It might mean learning to rest after a busy day at school by relaxing with a good book or painting. Or maybe your child balances a passion for video games with breaks outside to move his body and breathe fresh air. Finding balance is deeply personal and how we do that will change as we grow.

In a world that teaches us that we must constantly be moving and doing, Almond Acres aims to help students seek balance. We model rest and recharging so that we can be at our best, everyday. How do you sharpen your saw? How do you help your children sharpen their saws?  

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. Open to all students from all communities, AACA is located in Paso Robles. 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