Mindful of Good Habits at Todd ES

Joanne Buccini & Nadine McDermott with Todd Elementary School 5th gradeTodd Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Joanne Buccini and Principal Nadine McDermott have been cultivating a culture of empathy throughout the school that’s making students more mindful while meeting their academic, social and emotional needs.

At right, Todd Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Joanne Buccini (center), Principal Nadine McDermott and Ms. Buccini’s class.

For the past six years, Ms. Buccini has promoted emotional learning in the classroom, teaching the 16 Habits of the Mind. The Institute for Habits of the Mind is a global think tank dedicated to promoting a cooperative, compassionate generation of social, environmental, economic and political problem-solvers. These habits promote intelligent behaviors, which include, “managing impulsivity,” “thinking flexibly” and “listening with understanding and empathy.” They are designed to help students reason, persevere, be creative, solve problems and overcome dilemmas that they face.

To integrate these dispositions into the curriculum, Ms. Buccini and Ms. McDermott developed an infusion guide that integrated the Reading Street ELA program, Habits of the Mind and excerpts from author David Levine’s books Teaching Empathy and The School of Belonging. Using the Reading Street units and other relevant resources, kindergartners through fifth-graders explore essential questions such as “What is a community?” “What difference can a great idea make?” “Which skills help us make our way in the world?” and “What challenges do people face, and how do they meet them?”

As a Habits of the Mind national trainer, Ms. McDermott is the linchpin for the effort. She secured a grant from the Briarcliff Manor Educational Foundation for David Levine to lead social education training efforts with the school staff. In addition to writing books, Mr. Levine facilitates programs for K-12 students, educators and other professionals in school districts throughout the country. He is also a key contributor to the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy, which provides a free online curriculum with a library of resources to teach empathy to young people.

Between the blueprint developed by Ms. McDermott and Ms. Buccini and Mr. Levine’s workshop, the faculty has started to incorporate these intelligent behaviors into the curriculum and everyday classroom activities.

An activity Ms. Buccini designed with one of her fifth grade classes was a Habits of the Mind play that taught students how to respond to problems, dilemmas and awkward situations in an intelligent manner. Her class wrote and performed the play for other Todd classes to demonstrate how to use the habits in various situations. They even wrote a song, which they shared with the other classes, to help them to remember and demonstrate the habits.

Ms. Buccini took the idea a step further last spring by incorporating the social studies curriculum for a play about the Oregon Trail. Students scripted and performed songs and scenes in which pioneers faced challenges on the trail that required them to use the Habits of the Mind in different situations to make it to their new homestead safely. Examples included taking a responsible risk to cross the Cheyenne River and persisting through the rough trails for many days without food and water.

“We instill in them that anyone in history who has been successful has used all of these habits of mind in some way,” added Ms. Buccini. “Throughout the entire preparation for this play, students had the opportunity to work at the intersection of multiple disciplines. Overall, students have learned how to work interdependently, think critically, apply past knowledge to new situations and be empathic to the needs of others.”

In light of the new Common Core State Standards, the Habits of the Mind are kept alive throughout the day from early morning announcements to school-wide read alouds and classroom instruction.


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