Mindsets in the Classroom Ch. 2: Building a Growth Mindset School Culture

Our Summer book study with Mindsets in the Classroom has kicked off with a bang! We have already reached Chapter 2 and we are so thrilled to have all of you linking up with us to share your thoughts. We hope you will continue to join us all month long!

Let's dive in, shall we?

Chapter 2 immediately gives us some practical ideas for implementing a growth mindset culture in our schools.

Mary Cay Ricci writes, "The first step along the path to building a growth mindset culture is to begin to build a school culture that values intellectual growth with a staff who has internalized the belief that intelligence can be cultivated."

How can we accomplish this? By implementing 7 steps that will help lead teachers, staff, students, and parents to have a growth mindset:

1. Professional Development for All School Personnel
Before beginning growth mindset professional development, it is first important to determine what belief systems are held by staff at the present time. This will help gauge what they know and believe to be true about growth and fixed mindsets before they are taught new information about each one. Interestingly enough, when the author surveyed the staff she was visiting, the majority of less-experienced teachers tended to have a growth mindset while experienced teachers tended to have a fixed mindset. Kind of telling on how a teacher's mindset tends to change so drastically after continuing in the teaching profession for a few years. 

Surveying your staff can be a quick and easy thing: If you're interested in getting this kind of discussion started at your school, I've created a freebie for you that you can use with your staff when introducing a growth mindset culture. Just click on the picture below to download!

 photo Mindset Ch 2 Free Worksheet_zps7hr5wpfz.png

2. Educate staff about malleability of the brain.
Many people believe that intelligence is a permanent attribute that we are born with and it can be very shocking to find out the opposite. One discussion you could have with your staff is to pose the question, "If you were given instruction, time, and had motivation, could you improve at a given skill?" This can get everyone talking and explain the concept of brain malleability on a relatable level.

You can also introduce teachers to the idea of growth mindset by talking about how one's emotions can be changed based on one's thinking, attitude, and behaviors.

Studies have shown that happiness and empathy can be practiced and developed!

Ricci gives an example of this by writing about a new curriculum called MindUP, which was developed by The Hawn Foundation and Scholastic in 2011. They believe we can train our brain to have an optimistic perspective. My Kindle version of the book had a link to the MindUP page where they had this fascinating video on the MindUP program according to teachers. Having their students participate in things like peaceful breathing exercises and brain breaks seemed to help their students remain calm, even in stressful situations like testing. Check it out here:

3. Educate staff about praise for students.
Educators must be more aware of the way we praise students! Praise them for their hard work and effort - not just about how smart they are. Kiddos just want to be noticed and acknowledged!

4. Educate teachers about the brain.
Many people have not been educated about how the brain works and how it relates to our learning. Ricci sums it up in a simple way for you to teach it to your staff: "Neurons make new connections when you learn something new. These connections become stronger with practice and effort."

In order to strengthen these neural connections, teachers need to consistently make connections to prior knowledge and experiences. I've found that when I connect my students' prior knowledge while introducing a new concept, it is easier for them to stay engaged and pay attention when you are talking about something that has related to their lives in the past.

I love the imagery used when describing a new neural pathway: it's like walking through a new, unexplored forest for the first time. The more you use it, the clearer the path becomes. It's such a great visual for what happens when students begin to have a deeper understanding of the concepts taught!

What are some ways that you like to connect prior knowledge and experiences with your students? We'd love to hear your ideas and comments below!

5. Teach students about the brain.
Students must understand that intelligence is constantly changing based on effort, persistence, and motivation.

This part was interesting to me. I never would have thought about teaching the kids about the brain in order to achieve a growth mindset. We always think of changing mindsets within ourselves, but to get your whole school on the same path, it's a great idea to teach our students WHY. To do this, the author suggests that lessons should be designed to teach kids about the brain's broader involvement with their five senses, physical activity, and everyday actions. This is so perfect to get kids moving, thinking, and engaged in the classroom. Think about how websites like GoNoodle have revolutionized our classrooms by promoting brain breaks and movement. You could introduce the concept of how intelligence can be changed by promoting the use of their five senses and physical activity and then do a GoNoodle brain break with your kiddos like "Brainercise with Mr. Catman" as a fun example! (And if you've never seen it, it's a man with a giant cat mask in a classroom. Challenging students to do difficult brain exercises. And it is amazing. Haha.) Look for this icon when you head to GoNoodle!

6. Educate Parents
We all know that a huge key to increasing school culture is parent involvement and buy-in. However, it's often an aspect that can be overlooked since parents aren't at school the entire time like teachers and students are. Involving parents in a growth mindset discussion can help them view their children in a different light when it comes to intelligence or in how they speak to their kids.

7. Monitor, Evaluate, and Review School Protocols
Once your school has spent a good amount of time and training towards building a growth mindset, you can begin to evaluate how well your school and staff are doing. One idea you can implement is to establish "Look-fors"; student/teacher behavior when you walk through any room in the building. PLC's are also a great way to help teachers think and reflect on their mindsets with their individual teams and grade levels. You can give them time to discuss how they think they have changed or stayed the same in their mindset thinking throughout the year and how it has helped or hindered them.

The last story sort of saddened me because it is something we see all the time in schools and I'm sure we all have been guilty of this type of thinking at one time or another. A student wanted to be placed in an honors level English course to increase her love of literature and the department chair denied her request without even meeting the student simply based on the child's test scores. When we talk to parents about their student when they do not meet certain goals or criteria, it's important to try and phrase things in a way that doesn't say "we don't think your child is smart enough". If a student is showing self-motivation and a desire to want to do something, that goes a long way in determining whether or not they might be successful at something, regardless of previous test scores. We as teachers never want to make our students think that they are not smart enough. How devastating to a child! Having a growth mindset helps with this positive thinking and takes into account student motivation. Now, it doesn't mean that every parent or student is going to get what they want in these situations, but at least giving them a fair shot is all anyone can ask.

So what's the take away?
If this is something you find yourself strongly believing in, begin talking with your administrators and instructional coaches about planning professional development time to teach about growth mindset to build school culture. Use the free planning pages to get things started!

What were the things that stood out to you from Chapter 2? Is this something you are inspired to do at your school? 


  1. Caitlin, so many great ideas. I love the Go Noodle connection. Making changes in the growth mindset of the staff and parents is such an important place to start. Love the PD download. I hope teachers will share it with their principals.

  2. Thank you so much for the PD downloads. My wheels are really turning on how to implement this school wide and our change our whole mindset as a staff.

    1. That's great, Martina! I hope you find them useful!

      The Kinder Garden

  3. This freebie is great! I will absolutely be sharing this with my principal! You made so many great connections here!

  4. Caitlin, I love your freebie download! Thanks so much for sharing!
    I Heart My Kinder Kids

  5. Caitlin, This is an awesome summary of the chapter. Thanks for the free download, video, and brainercise info..

  6. I love your handouts and can't wait to share these! I am really hoping that I will be able to use them to talk with my staff about this! Thank you for such an awesome summary too!

    Mrs. 3rd Grade 

  7. Chapter 2: How can we begin to change our mindset if we are really stuck in a fixed mindset?

  8. Chapter 2: The letter about the literature student makes me so angry! I too often fight for my students to be challenged and not just accepted for what they can do. A lot of my students do not attend to tests well, but can however preform very well on tasks I ask them to do, a lot of tasks that many do not think they can do.

    I want to know how do you teach parents to have a growth mindset when getting them to the school for such seminars sometimes proves to be impossible. Getting people to teach it we have, how do we get the parent involvement up?

    1. That letter was very thought provoking.

    2. Please share any resources that you used with parents. You can reply directly to me tonya.hill@grayson.kyschools.us or to the gmail account attached to the comment.

  9. If we are open to change, change for the better/positive, than adapting and changing comes so much easier. We tend to see the benefit of change more clearly and the positive effects it may have. If we are set in our ways then changing is a struggle. We only see negatives and pitfalls. If someone is unwilling to compromise, give a little, and adapt then there probably won't be a change. You have to be open to it.

    Heather, I agree totally with you about the literature letter! I hate the idea of a child who is excited about learning being "squashed" because someone thought they couldn't handle it or they didn't meet some sort of criteria. I can use my Tyler for example. When he was younger he LOVED to read! He was always reading. He read easy books, hard books, any books! Then he just stopped. Now, I wouldn't say he hates reading; but he does not like it. I asked him one day why he didn't read anymore like he use to and he said that "they took the fun out of it". Somewhere along the line someone or something took that "love" away. We have to be very careful not to "squash" the lights that are burning in our students just because we have a preconceived notion about how things should be.

  10. As discussed in Chapter 2, in order to have a shift in mindset from "fixed" to "growth", we will have to begin with professional development. The author also notes that ideally, we must have a commitment from all adults in our building to contribute to a growth mindset school culture! This chapter outlines 7 steps for professional development with great suggestions on how to educate your staff, educators, students and parents! Reading this book is a great start to this process!!!

    1. I think so too! It is hard to read this and not have a different outlook on learning.

  11. Step 5 indicates that teachers are to teach students about the brain and by using the videos that Dr. Atkins sent us from You Tube, this would be a fantastic way to show students how their brain is a muscle and how learning from mistakes or struggles only strengthens their brains.

    Teachers want our students to succeed and feel great about their learning but after reading and watching the videos, students can benefit from challenging expectations and productive struggling is necessary for our brains to grow.

    Also, KCS teachers check out the PD opportunity in July on Growth Mindset. It is a one day training. Hope to see you there

  12. One way to help change mindsets are examples and data. There are some very powerful examples of how a fixed mindset harms and a growth mindset helps just in this book alone. The letter about the student in literature was so disheartening. What's even more disheartening is that this is a common occurrence.
    One of my favorite teachers {don't laugh at me here =)}is Mrs. Frizzle because she has such a growth mindset! Her quote, " It's time to take chances. Make mistakes. get messy!" inspires me to inspire my kids! We really have to teach them that failure isn't always a bad thing. That we learn from our mistakes oftentimes more so than our successes.
    Professional development opportunities on growth mindset and also how the brain works might also be helpful to change that fixed mindset. I think some of these seminars should also be presented to our parents. Fixed mindsets happen at home also and even though a child experiences a growth mindset at school a fixed mindset at home can deflate all the wonderful things they are learning at school.

    I am so excited to teach my students how their brain works!! It an obvious thing that I really should have been doing all along but have never done before. I always thought it would be to deep for them.

    1. I love Mrs. Frizzle!!! Yes, the perfect example of growth mindset!

  13. In chapter two, it really takes a strong stance on how all people interacting within our school community need to have a growth mind set. I think we can do it. Also, I really like the visual about how when our brain is learning something new, the new learning starts as a thread and then every time the new learning is applied the thread becomes thicker and stronger. What a great visual for even our youngest learners!

  14. Changing a fixed mindset will begin with the adults. I think that this PD is a good start for our school. I think sharing this information with our parents will help as well.

  15. I also think that teaching the students about their brains and how they grow would be powerful in helping them to keep or move back to a growth mindset. Also, sharing this information with parents would be a powerful way to help everyone make this shift together.

    I like the study that was shared in ch. 2 about not only can intelligence be developed, but also emotions. The idea of being able to change our emotions based on our thinking, attitude and behaviors. I think that these factors are important for creating a shift in mindset. If we are stuck in this fixed mindset, adjusting our emotions about our own mindset will certainly help us to have more of a growth mindset. It is a shift that we can certainly practice until we have that growth mindset.

  16. I really enjoyed reading this chapter. It really gets your mind turning. I have always had faith in all my students, and their capability to learn. I believe the steps that stood out to me the most was step 2 and 4: Educating staff that all students are capable of learning, and Step 6: Educate Parents. Often times, our parents come into conferences with the fixed mindset that little Susie isn't good at math and Tommy can't read because momma can't read, and it runs in the family. These parents have already preset their own child's intelligence. We need to teach the parents that their child has a greater chance of learning and achieving goals if they believe in them, just as much as we do. I am guilty of this with my own daughter. It really hit home, because often times in the morning when we are running late I often tell her she is so slow and we are going to be late. I know awful, but I had never realized what type of fixed mindset this was creating for her. This truly opened my mind as to how I should say even the smallest things to her.

    Something else I really liked reading in this chapter was the Eaters and the bakers. "Just like the bakers, all students can win without the existence of "losers" in the class. The "bigger pie" in this case is a growth mindset culture in the classroom." Teachers grouping students on preconceived notion that one child is smarter than the other, while one needs "expectations" lowered. We now can think differently about their true potential because of studies and new research, "growth mindset." We, as educators, need to keep in mind when grouping students that all students have to capability of achieving "their goal," even is Little Susie's goal looks a lot different than Tommy's goal. Every child has the ability to develop intelligence.

  17. The idea of the brain growing and new nuerons growing. The fact that with practice of a new skill and daily use of it that it becomes a permanent part of the brain and easily accessed as it becomes a cord. That we can become smarter just like anyone can learn to play a sport or instrument. We just need the encouragement and right mindset to get us there.

  18. The first paragraph stated a sentence that resounded in my mind. " The first stop along the path to building a growth mindset culture is to begin to build a school culture that values intellectual growth with a staff who has internalize the belief that intelligence can be cultivated." We as educators should believe that all student can achieve greatness. Professional development opportunities, informing students, and parent involvement were the steps that I would focus on and will help cultivate this climate.

  19. I would venture to say that somewhere prior to choosing to research this and give it a name the leaders that inspired the question were well versed in Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightengale, or any of the great motivational speakers that taught positive thinking, goal setting, and visualization. Now instead of one going out and seeking this powerful knowledge on own after college, growth mindset is a living out of it through creating an environment that fosters more than academic understanding. You think u are smart u will become that thus if u are convinced u are dumb that to will come true. Growth mindset as a school culture helps students learn to see potential in self and others. How much time, money, and effort will be saved later in life overcoming misconceptions about self???? Also anyone thinking about pulling out Marcia Tate book(s)?

  20. FYI: if u don't go noodle yet..... Check it out! Destination and I had much fun with classes on the site. You will be surprised that Mr. Cat will boggle your mind just as much as the kids'.

  21. Not only is it Important to introduce and provide staff development for ALL staff about the growth mindset and the malleability of the brain, it is important to also equally important to understand that not only can intelligence be developed , but "emotions such as happiness and empathy can be developed as well" (page 18). As educators we should never undervalue the importance of practice for both intellectual and emotional
    growth:) The power of positive self talk paves the road to success--- "I can vs. I can't!"

  22. Making conscious (mindful) efforts everyday to think about what your about to say and how you are about to say it! I said before 1st graders arrive that 1st day with this amazing spirit they can learn anything its so important to not break their spirits but nurture it with a growth mindset. As Denise said its equally important to understand emotions can be developed as well. We have to teach to theirs hearts just as much as we do to their brains.

  23. The brain's neuroplasticity allows for emotions to be learned/developed. Not only can we provide opportunities for learning, we can build empathy, happiness, etc.