Walking the Talk: Mentoring the Essential Habits

For mentors and students at Quest Forward Academy, the Essential Habits reflect the most important part of a day’s learning. Though there is curriculum to explore and skills to learn, the Habits make everything in the classroom function. At Quest Forward Academies, mentors help students foster a growth mindset through the continual monitoring of habits in the classroom, the use of habit language in mentor-student interactions, and in the meaningful assessment that helps students become well-rounded individuals.

There are six Essential Habits that mentors focus on at Quest Forward Academy: Be Curious, Manage Yourself, Communicate and Collaborate, Solve Problems, Learn from Setbacks, and Live an Integrated Life. When asked about the importance of the Essential Habits in the classroom, Quest Forward Academy mentor Ryan Luther says, “The Habits are the foundation of learning. It is important for mentors to explicitly use the language when addressing them in the classroom.”

Mentors should speak about the Habits with students to instill in them the importance of integrating positive routines into their daily lives. As Omaha mentor Sarah Earnest points out, “[Habits] are vital to student success in any post-secondary setting, whether that be continuing education or entering the workforce in some capacity. The Habits need to become a recognizable part of who they are.” This is what separates Quest Forward Learning from traditional approaches—the focus on developing success-oriented habits into students’ routines. When our students graduate, they can already rely on their well-honed habits to propel them into their futures.

In Social Sciences mentor Jennifer Dalbey’s classroom, she focuses heavily on students’ abilities to manage themselves. Her strategies include: daily measurable goal-setting, time management practices, and the ability to stay aware of individual contributions to group work. When asked what habit she believes is most important for the students to integrate into their lives, she answers, “I think Communicate and Collaborate is the most important. Students need to learn how to work in small groups, because there are more team-based jobs waiting for them when they graduate. I can also see how students collaborate and demonstrate learning when working with smaller groups, as opposed to a whole-class discussion where only a few students’ voices are heard.”

While she acknowledges the importance of communication in the classroom, mentor Sarah Earnest believes that Learning from Setbacks is the most important habit in her science classroom, because many of the students will need to redo assessments more than once. Math mentor Ryan Luther says that students should first learn to Manage Themselves because, if mastered, students will be able to identify their weaknesses themselves. In my own English classroom, I have students practice Be Curious, because I want them to think deeply about what they are working on and how it impacts their future lives. These different focuses from mentors help students to be continually aware of how they are synthesizing and iterating the Essential Habits from class to class.  

The focus on Essential Habits has greatly impacted students at Quest Forward Academy, and they have begun to understand the importance of developing them in their lives. Student Erich Swartz says, “I like how the mentors specifically reference habits when we are working. It pushes us and makes us take ownership of our learning. I especially like the Manage Yourself habit, because if we can learn to look at ourselves critically, the other habits will fall into place.”

Other students have begun to use habit language in the classroom and in artifacts. For example, students at Quest Forward Academy Omaha participated in mock interviews (for which I was an interviewer). Many of the students used the Habits to express why they should be considered for the position, because this learned self-awareness separates them from other applicants. As a mentor, it is refreshing to see how students understand that the Habits are important to their future lives. Student Erich Swartz sums up why we focus on habits rather than content: “You learn how to learn, in or out of school.”

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