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JTE Author Insights: Relating Habits of Mind, Intelligent Behaviors to Educational Theories for Developing Disposition

Check out the latest 
JTE Insider blog interview by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team. This blog is available to the public, and AACTE members have free access to the articles in the JTE online archives—just log in with your AACTE profile.

This author interview features Servet Altan’s insights from the article “Using Habits of Mind, Intelligent Behaviors, and Educational Theories to Create a Conceptual Framework for Developing Effective Teaching Disposition.” Altan co-authored the article with Jennie F. Lane, and Erskine Dottin. This article was published in the March/April 2019 issue of the Journal of Teacher Education.

Q1: What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?

I have always admired talented teachers. Being a K-12 teacher myself, I have had the chance to work with a variety of teachers from different backgrounds and varying degrees of experience. I have always wondered what makes effective educators think and act the way they do. Furthermore, I was curious whether there are certain experiences that could help pre-service teachers develop desired characteristics. A responsibility of mine is teacher education and one of the aims of professional development is to understand teachers’ ways of knowing and acting. Additionally, it is worthwhile to know how these ways of knowing and acting reflect themselves in a teacher’s practice.

When I was introduced to Costa and Kallick’s list of Habits of Mind (HoM) I was fascinated with the idea that teachers can develop these ways of thinking. As I learned more about how Habits of Mind emerged and can be used in school settings I came up with the idea of using these habits for understanding teachers’ dispositions.

There is a vast literature on dispositions in teacher education. However, most of the literature focused on (1) defining dispositions and/or (2) discussing the challenges to integrate dispositions in teacher education. I wanted to explore how to use HoM as a way to facilitate the understanding and implementation of dispositions in teacher education. I quickly found that there are limited studies that focus on the concept of habits of mind. Furthermore, more research was needed to determine if and under which circumstances the concept could be used interchangeably with dispositions. Therefore, this provided me with the opportunity to research the possibility of addressing debates over dispositions through HoM.

Q2: What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?

When I introduced this idea to the research committee, they confronted me with the concern that HoM as a concept is not “well-grounded” in theory. What at first seemed like a stumbling block to my research idea soon became an opportunity: I realized I could create a framework that identified and explained how educational theories support the concept of Habits of Mind as dispositions.

One of the first things I did was to go back to a source that has always inspired me when learning about pedagogy: Dewey. I re-read Human Nature and Conduct (1922) to understand the concept of habit and disposition. Through Dewey’s writings, I was able to grasp under which conditions habit and disposition could be used interchangeably.

A review of the literature, especially the works of Dottin (2009; 2010) and Nelsen (2015), confirmed the value of Dewey and led me to discover educational theories relevant to HoM. An especially unique and precious opportunity was the chance to consult with Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick who developed the Habits of Mind concept. I shared working drafts of my investigations with them and they provided feedback and suggestions. The resulting framework became a highlight of my graduate work that further enabled me to pursue my original idea of investigating the role of HoM and teacher education.

Q3: Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?

As I mentioned above, reviewing Dewey’s work was crucial in helping me understand the concept of habit and under which conditions we nurture habits. Being a huge fan of Dewey, I started to review the literature for his ideas on the concept of habit from his early career, to mid- and late-career stages. I soon discovered that Dewey’s concept of habit included cognitive and emotional aspects. Moreover, in the Deweyan sense, habit is not a mindless action such as smoking and habit; in other words it is not a collection of repetitive actions. I felt these insights were important and my first drafts of the paper included extensive descriptions of his ideas, especially related to habit and experience. My co-authors reminded me of the word limit and helped me hone my skills at prioritizing and summarizing Dewey’s main messages.

Our earlier drafts had more descriptions of experiences that could help teachers nurture the effective teaching dispositions. We realized that since the focus of the paper was the framework and how it was developed, it would be better to put these ideas in a different study.

Q4: What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education?

In the literature and from some personal experience, I have learned that dispositions in school systems can be deleterious if implemented incorrectly. Administrators and education programs may use a list of dispositions to unfairly screen teachers and omit individuals who seem to lack the proper attributes. This process may prevent potential teachers from getting the opportunity to develop effective habits of mind for education. 

Therefore, if we as teacher educators desire to help teachers nurture effective dispositions under these rapid changes, we need to refrain from a fixed mindset. Instead, we need to acquire growth mindset. Through a growth mindset we can realize that dispositions can be nurtured when educative experiences are provided under supportive and suitable circumstances.

Q5: What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?

I think one of the most important pieces of advice that I would give to new scholars in teacher education is to follow the topic that they are passionate about. When faced with challenges, they need to persist and look for opportunities that the challenges may behold. Secondly, I would suggest treating their research study as a ‘hobby’ rather than something that is overwhelming or intimidating. As with any hobby, it is not possible to become an expert from the start. You need to start small, practice, and talk to others who are more experienced. In other words, habits of mind such as curiosity and inquiry motivated me to continue to read the literature, collect data, and discover how I could answer my research questions. Considering my research as a hobby helped me keep calm and happy, sparked my imagination, and improved my creativity.

Recommended APA citation: Altan, S., Lane, Jennie F., & Dottin, E. (2019). Using habits of mind, intelligent behaviors, and educational theories to create a conceptual framework for developing effective teaching dispositions. Journal of Teacher Education, 70(2), 169 – 183.

Corresponding Author: Servet Altan, Graduate School of Education, Bilkent University, 06800 Çankaya, Ankara, Turkey. E-mail: serveta@bilkent.edu.tr

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