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Twenty Habits of Heart, Mind, Learning, and Work

October 27, 2020 | Bridget O'Dowd

Habits of Heart, Mind, Learning, and Work

Habits are much on teachers’ minds these days. In education circles there has been much discussion about habits of learning or 21st century skills or neurodevelopmental constructs – these are all ways of considering how to develop the whole child as a learner. At Mustard Seed we review these different ways of approaching learning and have identified our own set of habits that we work to instill in all students; habits which connect with our emphasis on academics and the arts, faith and service.  We identified twenty habits, five each in the areas of heart and mind, learning and work.  These habits are integrated throughout the curriculum and can be developed in three-year-olds as well as fourteen-year-olds.

Each year teachers work with these habits, emphasizing different ones at various grade levels, or ones that connect with a theme or focus of study.  By the time students graduate from Mustard Seed they will have been nurtured in the development of each of these habits, which in turn, will not only affect their academic work as they move on to high school, but will influence their character and life long learning.


During the first months of school the teachers are learning about their students and their approach in the work of learning.  We are interested in how students are learning as they begin their studies.  If teachers understand the different ways each child learns best or where they may struggle, then teachers are more equipped to teach what students learn throughout the year.

Teachers are beginning to write progress reports, to be released to families on Dec. 5th. Teachers and parents will be able to discuss these habits and more in our parent teacher conferences on Dec. 8 and 9.  In this conference the teachers will be reporting to you about how they see your child as a learner in the context of these habits.  The teachers will share with you what they now know about your child, note areas of strength and concern, and propose a few goals for future learning. To read the twenty habits we focus on, see below.


There is a saying that our acts become our habits and our habits are the stuff of which character is made.  It is one of the reasons why we are so intentional even about the little things, such as saying I am sorry or making a plan before building in blocks.  We know that something as small as a mustard seed can become a great and welcoming presence, our small acts become the seeds for a flourishing life.

Previously written by Shanna Pargellis, One of MSS founders (recently retired).




Twenty Habits

“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us” – John Dryden


Habits of  . . .

Heart (being hospitable; caring for others, for ideas, and for self)

  • listening with empathy and understanding, respects, forgives
  • responding with wonder and awe, recognizes and appreciates beauty
  • celebrating and having joy, a sense of humor, affirmation
  • responding with gratitude, humility, openness
  • expressing kindness: compassion, serving, welcoming, encouraging 


Mind (constructing and reconstructing ideas and knowledge) 

  • connecting and synthesizing: applying prior knowledge, connecting thoughts into a whole, reasoning
  • creating: imagining, innovating, modeling
  • thinking flexibly: adapting and changing with purpose, problem solving
  • questioning: pursuing inquiry with curiosity, predicting, hypothesizing, researching
  • reflecting: metacognition, analyzing, determining meaning


Learning (processing, active and continuous pursuit that builds expertise)

  • persisting: learning and practicing with perseverance, tenacity, grit
  • self-regulating: using self control, managing impulsivity, 
  • exploring: taking risks with boldness, willing to fail and make mistakes
  • striving for accuracy, clarity, excellence, elegance
  • using all senses and modes to gather information, communicate, represent

Work (self-directed, effective, productive)

  • managing time – independently pacing actions in view of time 
  • managing materials – independently and with purpose ordering materials, media, tools
  • organizing thoughts: plans, strategies, ideas
  • attending with focus and stamina
  • engaging fully in tasks, participating with motivation and personal investment

Bridget O'Dowd

Ms. O’Dowd came to Mustard Seed in 2017, after moving to Hoboken in 2016. She found a school and a community all in one package at Mustard Seed! Having taught kindergarten in Illinois before moving to New Jersey, Ms. O’Dowd has a passion for five-year-olds. She’s delighted to be a part of the kindergarten team and loves to read and share in story with students. Her favorite moment of the day is during a good read aloud, when she looks out and sees the faces of children showing empathy and emotion in response to the story. Ms. O’Dowd’s hobbies include exploring new neighborhoods, watching BBC documentaries, traveling to visit family, and eating her way through New York City.

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