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Key competencies and the Habits of Mind at College Street Normal School

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Teachers at College Street Normal School discuss their school-wide planning process and how they involve students to encourage them to become successful learners.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Culture: Do we value the key competencies?

Leadership of the key competencies requires a school culture that signals that those competencies are important and valued. Importance can be signaled through goals for teaching and learning, through the explicit and implicit values of the school, through traditions, and through the things that are celebrated by the school.

Educational Leadership Best Evidence Synthesis

  • How does your school culture show that the key competencies are important and valued?
  • 'For probably the first time in my career as a teacher I feel that we, here at College Street, are giving the children the opportunity to take increasing responsibility for their learning.' Reflect on that statement in your own school context. Where are you at now? Where do you need to go next?
  • In what ways have you clarified what each key competency means for your students and the conditions that help to develop each competency?

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Key competencies and leadership – School culture
Effective leadership of the key competencies creates a school culture that signals that those competencies are important and valued.


The best way for teachers to teach the Habits of Mind or any dispositions is by teacher modeling. The teachers have to internalize the key competencies if they wish to make an impact on student learning. All teachers live and breathe the key competencies every day at College Street Normal School. It is immersed in all teaching, it is alive and well in the teaching of reading, writing, in every opportunity the teachers grasp to teach the Habits of Mind.

Using the Habits of Mind we are able to pull the key competencies into smaller sections. So at the start of the year we look at relating to others but we look at it through listening, managing impulsivity, etc, so there are four Habits of Mind that can fit into that key competency. For the children by just focusing on one habit they can learn about that key competency in a smaller more manageable chunk.

Similarly in a junior classroom you start the year where relating to others is very important in the classroom and listening may be the first one you hone in on and it’s about showing the children what that looks like. Then you move on and they take that knowledge into the next context that might be managing themselves. So that when they are listening they don’t only have to display those attributes they have to hold onto their thoughts for a little while. In the junior school we call this ‘managing your blurt’. 

And that carries on through the school to the senior school where we use different analogies. It builds to the point where they are internalizing it and they don’t have to think about it any more. It becomes a natural part of their managing themselves and relating to others and it all just kind of happens. But there are a lot of specific teaching moments that you grab a hold of throughout that time.  

The children at College Street Normal School know themselves as learners by the time they get to year 6. They know what it is to be a successful learner. They can goal set against the matrix we use here. They can see and map their progress as a unit progresses. 

As a teaching staff we have two days release to plan our integrated units. We get a bit idea and a context and then develop a deep understanding. The deep understanding has three layers, which match the layers in the matrix. The first layer is knowledge, the second layer is key competencies and the third layer is the taking action layer of the inquiry unit. We then write the matrix as teachers that we can use when we are co-constructing the classroom matrix with the students. This means we can draw out similar types of indicators from each class to ensure the students are developing their understanding of the deep understanding.

We are trialing setting goals with the children on an action learning cycle and to keep that fresh in their mind they have goal cards sitting on their desks. To finish off the process they look at what has happened in the classroom to help them achieve their goal. With the matrix we are trying hard to get the students to prove what they have learnt by providing evidence.

We co-construct the matrix with the children, it happens in every class in the school. The children put the words together, the matrix is made of their language so they really understand what the journey looks like. And they can identify where they fit in the matrix in terms of the three strands. And it is from there that their journey begins. 

For probably the first time in my career as a teacher I feel that we, here at College Street, are giving the children the opportunity to take increasing responsibility for their learning. 

Updated on: 15 Jun 2009