Habits of Mind: Flexibility

This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).

Thinking flexibly: Look at it another way!  Being able to change perspectives, generate alternatives, consider options.

Nothing quite drove home the necessity of flexibility to me quite like becoming a parent for the first time.  When my wife, camped out at her parents’ house in order to avoid catching my flu, called me to tell me her water broke, I was zonked out on medicine, halfway through Shaun of the Dead, and really looking forward to dozing off on the couch as the movie played.  From that point on, no matter what bright idea, schedule, or plans I came up with, the baby usually had his own agenda, which overrode everything else.  This was, of course, confounding to my wife and me, being the Type-A planaholics we are, but luckily we were able to adapt to this new way of thinking and become a little more “go with the flow” or at least I was I LOVE YOU HONEY.

This flexibility serves me well in my professional life as well as personal.  I believe I save myself a lot of angst and aggravation by accepting there are some things I just have zero control over.  So I scheduled two IEP meetings for this afternoon?  The blizzard that arrived in the middle of the night says otherwise.  What do you mean, he’s absent?  Doesn’t he know I have to finish this testing?!  Inconvenient, sure, but I find that skipping the “getting upset” part and going straight to the “let’s figure out an alternative solution” part is a more productive use of my energy and talents.

Flexibility also comes in handy in the case management portion of my job, in which I need to consider the needs, desires, and concerns of multiple stakeholders.  I can’t always make everyone perfectly happy all the time, but what I can do is ask questions and listen to all the responses to try to develop a solution that is at least acceptable to everyone.  What’s more, I’ve learned that sometimes asking the right questions is more important than having all the answers, as those questions will often spark something in others that I hadn’t considered, and that may lead us all to a better solution.

For me, a large part of becoming more flexible, in both my personal and professional lives, was becoming aware of my ego and how it influenced my actions.  In other words, I might have to ask myself, “Am I fighting for this solution because it’s the best one, or simply because it’s the one I came up with?”  Difficult to do, especially for a young man who knew everything.  It’s not always easy to remove yourself from a tense or heated situation and view it objectively, especially when you feel you’ve got a horse in that race.  It takes practice, or at least it did for me, but it’s worthwhile because as an educator, while I am an important part of the equation in any given situation, I am not the only one, nor should I be the focus of the outcome or implementation: that’s always the kids.

I still maintain some of my Type-A traits.  I am extremely anal-retentive organized and anal-retentive detail-oriented, and, at least at work, I am punctual (to the extent that the job allows me to be, anyway).  Losing some of my rigidity, however, has made me a more effective educator and a less stressed, if not better, parent.


Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B.  (2010).  It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century.  In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226).  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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