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A puzzle piece labeled growth mindset is the perfect size to replace a gap labeled fixed mindset.

Using a growth mindset as the foundation for SEL

A growth mindset can help students embrace new learning opportunities and excel in SEL

Research continues to show the benefits of social-emotional learning (SEL), especially with elementary-age students. But as SEL gains ground, educators need to think about best practices for adding it to their classroom. One of those approaches includes using a growth mindset.

In “SEL and Academic Learning Catalyst: Growth Mindset,” presenters Dr. Desiree Margo, principal at Redmond Early Learning Center, and Dr. Kendra Coates, Growing Early Mindsets (GEM) author and professional learning specialist at Mindset Works, explain why a growth mindset is the strongest foundation for both SEL and academic learning. They caution, however, that both principles need to be integrated into the regular classroom and throughout school activities to achieve the best results.

Related: 10 signs you’re doing SEL right

First, Coates explains that in a growth mindset, all forms of intelligence abilities, skills, and talents are malleable. Rather than viewing mistakes or setbacks as a sign of low ability or intelligence, students and educators who embrace a growth mindset will actually view the challenge as an opportunity. They are inspired by the success of others and may use them as an impetus to work harder rather than seeing someone else’s success as a threat.

A growth mindset is especially valuable for working on SEL with young children. They enter school needing to learn several new tasks, such as managing their emotions, teamwork, and problem solving. These are not tasks that the majority of them can learn right away, but they can get easily agitated when they don’t feel like they are mastering the situation. By applying a growth mindset to their SEL curriculum, students are able to focus on steps they need to take to achieve their goal, rather than thinking of themselves as a failure.

At her school, Margo’s team decided to take this powerful combination and integrate a growth mindset with SEL into everyday learning. But school leaders couldn’t just tell the teachers to include this. What teachers see on your schedule is what they’re prioritizing, says Margo, so she had to make it a known, key element of their curriculum. For example, every morning students discuss the question of the week, such as what to do when you make a mistake. Throughout the week, teachers and staff coach students to talk about the question and how they’re applying it in school and home. Furthermore, the staff also takes time to evaluate their mindsets and how they are applying the SEL lessons they are sharing with their students.

Related: 12 tools for courage and SEL in the classroom

From this deliberate inclusion, Margo has seen several positive impacts on school members and culture.

Students: By using a common language with the children and providing them with avenues to express themselves, she sees the kids lose their frustration and start to find ways to express their feelings in a healthy way and use their emotions to help themselves rather than shutting down.
Staff: Like their students, they have also found that their brains aren’t done growing yet. Through practicing SEL with a growth mindset in professional settings, Margo says the staff has developed stronger communication skills and more compassion and empathy for their coworkers, students, and families.
Families: Starting with the beginning of the school year, staff members make home visits to communicate the school’s philosophy and they continue reinforcing these ideas during the year. Families’ own school experiences play a role in how quickly they embrace the mindset–some come from a compliance background while others are familiar with SEL–but the continued use of the growth mindset language across the school helps educate parents. More important, parents start using the language at home and in their interactions with their children.
Culture: For Margo, one of the greatest positive impacts of SEL based on a growth mindset is how it’s influenced their school environment. Not only have they seen gains in learning, she believes the overall atmosphere of the school has become increasingly positive. Children, staff, and visitors feel welcome the moment they walk through the doors.

Of course, Margo’s team did encounter some challenges. For instance, while the teachers who were with the school from the start had a strong foundation in SEL and a growth mindset, new teachers needed more training. “One of the [ongoing] challenges that we have is new people that are coming in. How are we taking the time to make sure that all the work we did in year one…how are we making sure that they’re getting that opportunity?” says Margo. “So, a very intentional piece of that for us is making sure whether it’s at the beginning of each new year or it’s ongoing as new team members come during the year, that we’re not just asking them to figure it out on their own. We actually have dedicated time to support them.”

About the presenters

Dr. Desiree Margo has been actively engaged in education for 34 years, including 20 years teaching at various levels prior to going into school administration. She has served as the assistant director of student services, as well as principal of an elementary school and now at The Redmond Early Learning Center! Desiree has been leading efforts to instill a growth mindset foundation fueling development of social and emotional learning (SEL) in order to nurture the whole child and improve academic/behavioral outcomes for hundreds of students within a new early learning school model at The Redmond Early Learning Center since 2016. She received both her master’s and doctorate degrees in educational leadership and is passionate about providing opportunities for ALL students. Her personal vision is Every Child, Every Chance, Every Day!

Dr. Kendra Coates is a steadfast believer in accessing and celebrating our unlimited potential (UP). She is a learner, educator, mom, author, consultant, and coach. She is the author of Growing Early Mindsets™ (GEM™), a new literacy-based teaching and learning framework from Mindset Works, the global leader in developing growth mindsets. Kendra has over 20 years of preK-12 teaching and leadership experience. She currently serves as Regional Director of P-3rd Education in Oregon. She holds an M.A.T. in special education, an M.S. in curriculum and instruction, and a D.Ed. in educational methodology, policy, and leadership, as well as educational licenses in literacy, preK–12 special education, early childhood and elementary education, and school administration. She consults and leads schools, districts, and organizations in growth mindset, SEL, design thinking, P-3rd education, and family engagement.
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This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Mindset Works. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.


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