By Michael Wilson
“When I looked at it, I thought, ‘Oh, man, how am I ever going to learn all this?’” ~ Sixth grader at West Woods Upper Elementary School
One of my students recently recalled what he was thinking as he embarked on a new science unit on types of energy. As a teacher and now as assistant principal, I know students can be overwhelmed by the scope and difficulty of the learning ahead of them.
I see students sometimes shut down when they begin to believe that they cannot accomplish the task before them. But, I also see students forge ahead, despite knowing the work will be difficult. Students push through in hard moments when they know that with effort they can grow, and that even if they make mistakes, they can learn. By relying on growth mindset, students can achieve what they once thought they couldn’t.
At West Woods Upper Elementary School in Farmington, Connecticut, cultivating and celebrating growth mindset has become an important part of our culture. Our fifth- and sixth-graders talk about growth mindset with each other in the halls. Teachers integrate it into their lessons. School administrators, like myself, embrace growth mindset and work to model learning from feedback and from mistakes for our students and staff.
We even enlist the help of a special superhero: Mindset Man. This masked man flies around the school (well, he walks calmly) instilling positive attitudes, giving high-fives and teaching kids that it’s okay to make mistakes–that sometimes learning is hard, but that effort will be rewarded with progress. It is amazing to see the students’ affection for Mindset Man spark enthusiasm for his underlying message.
Mindset Man Helps Spread the Growth Mindset Message
Mindset Man plays a big role in our success in putting growth mindset at the forefront of our students’ thinking. Mindset Man is a character that organically grew out of an idea my principal, Alicia Bowman, and I had for a school assembly last year. We knew that growth mindset was going to be a big theme for the year, in our school and across the district.
I wanted to perform a skit for students to introduce them to growth mindset, and we came up the idea of this superhero, a masked man that spreads positive mindset messages. After the assembly, teachers began exploring the concept in their lessons and we learned that Mindset Man had really resonated with students.
It became apparent rather quickly that Mindset Man could be a great way to keep the momentum going around growth mindset. Now, when students get off the bus in the morning, they might see Mindset Man outside in mask and cape giving out high-fives, spreading positive messages and getting them pumped for the school day. Sometimes he roams the halls between classes talking to kids, asking them how their day is going and what they’re working on.
Mindset Man also highlights the importance of feedback at our schools. At Farmington Public Schools, we believe growth mindset is something that we can share and motivate in one another. In the words of a fourth-grader at Noah Wallace School, “In my class, we’re learning to give feedback, and that’s also growth mindset. It’s not just helping your own work, but helping other people’s work.”
At Farmington Public Schools, we engage students and staff in offering and receiving feedback and help each other embrace the idea that there’s always room to grow. At our school—and throughout our district—we use Panorama Education, to survey students, families and staff about various aspects of teaching and learning. We use our survey data in many ways, including as conversation-starters for focus groups with students and to create school-wide goals and improvement plans. In our schools, we know that adults need to embrace a growth mindset as much as our students do in order for all of us to learn, improve and reach the next level of work together.
Wondering what happened with the student who felt overwhelmed by all the new concepts he needed to learn in science class? He reports that he tapped into his growth mindset, used study techniques to help him learn the material, and experienced a positive outcome. “I actually did pretty well on the test and I’m really proud of that because I had a growth mindset during that, and I put myself in a position where I could succeed.”
For us, Mindset Man is more than just a superhero mascot. Mindset Man is a tangible, interactive reminder to kids that they are still growing as students, and that the right mindset has a big impact on learning. We hear from kids all the time who tell us what a difference it makes to know that everyone is behind them, working together to help them grow from their mistakes and get even better.
In the end, Mindset Man motivates everyone in the building and that, to us, is what’s really super.
For more, see:
- Actionable Steps to Bring Growth Mindset into the Classroom
- 4 Ways to Promote Growth Mindset in Project-Based Learning
- Getting Smart Podcast | Why Growth Mindset Matters
Michael Wilson is the Assistant Principal at West Woods Upper Elementary School in Farmington, Connecticut.
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