Updated: Mar 24, 2020
by: Toni Woodlon
Mindset. I never knew just how much it mattered until I became an educator. Growing up, I was privy to the same adages that permeated many households, such as You can do whatever you put your mind to. My younger self likely let those words in, yet did not know exactly how to make those words actionable. All I knew was that it worked because I was motivated! As an educator, however, I intentionally move beyond motivation - to action. I have learned that developing a positive mindset is about more than the words you tell yourself and others. It is about how actions align with those words. In my 14 years of experience in education, I have witnessed and greatly benefitted from, The Mindset Effect. I have not only challenged myself and taken my career to a new level, but I have also utilized the following research-informed strategies to improve efficacy and achievement outcomes for students.
Believe in your capacity to accomplish what you want or access resources that will help you get there.
This is the ultimate I’ve/You’ve got this! For me, and the students I have taught, this is the first step. It takes words like impossible, can’t, and many others right off the table! Educators, start to see all the strengths and gifts you already possess – the capacity you already have. And do not just see your strengths – speak them! Say them aloud to yourself and others. No, it is not boasting! It is recognizing what you can already do. This is also important because, as you begin to build a network (or access resources that will help you get to where you want to be – hint), knowing what skills you bring to the table will allow others to see how their skills will complement yours and vice versa.
When it comes to students, educators’ mindsets matter as well. A Stanford study showed that educators’ positive mindsets can encourage positive mindsets in students, which is linked to higher achievement (Digitale, 2018). I am not suggesting that recognizing areas in need of improvement should be avoided. Though, I am suggesting that we help students avoid the pitfalls of deficit thinking, which can be paralyzing.
Make it Actionable:
Share your professional successes with others in team, faculty, or network meetings.
Seek mentorship from those already doing what you want to do now or next.
Practice self-compassion and be self-forgiving.
Implement class routines that allow students to show what they know or seek assistance.
Use advisory or morning meeting as structures to allow for community sharing of individual and collective strengths.
Set goals just beyond your reach to put the first tip to the test!
Why have faith if you do not put it to the test, right? This strategy helps kick The Mindset Effect into overdrive! In my life, this looks like me embarking on my journey as a full-time doctoral student while working as a full-time assistant principal. It also looks like me deciding to leave my full-time job to run my own business. Both of these examples seemed just beyond my reach. They required me to draw from that well of reserved faith or belief in myself and all that I can do.
For students, this might look like moving beyond procedural knowledge to conceptual understanding and application of content. It might also look like mastering a skill currently on their “Needs Improvement” list. Nevertheless, it is crucial that you give yourself and your students opportunities to stretch a bit. Stretch goals should not seem impossible but should seem just beyond your fingertips. The reward for reaching those goals: increased efficacy due to increased achievement. As an article on PsychologyToday.com suggested, goal-setting not only increases the likelihood of achievement but improves confidence or efficacy (Price-Mitchell, 2018).
Make it Actionable:
Regularly engage in self-reflection, going beyond what you already do well to set new challenges to overcome.
Celebrate small “wins” that lead to big ones.
Use personalized learning plans to help students stretch themselves without the fear of competition.
Give your students challenging tasks that allow them to make mistakes, grow, and learn.
Avoid jumping in to save students from failure; support them and give them more time, if necessary.
Perhaps you are still wondering whether mindset really shapes positive outcomes for educators and students. I will leave you with an anecdote. I implemented my strategies in a heterogeneous (non-leveled) math class. That class had been previously “leveled” and students’ mindsets ranged from “I’m good at math!” to “I’m not a math person.” Those students’ previous grades were consistent with their attitudes towards themselves as math learners. However, over the course of the year, that all changed and I closed the achievement gap mainly due to The Mindset Effect.
Digitale, E. (2018). Positive attitude toward math predicts math achievement in kids. Retrieved from https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2018/01/positive-attitude-toward-math-predicts-math-achievement-in-kids.html.
Price-Mitchell, M. (2018). Goal-Setting Is Linked to Higher Achievement. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-moment-youth/201803/goal-setting-is-linked-higher-achievement.
Toni Woodlon is the founder and chief education consultant at EdAlly Consulting LLC, and has 14 years of experience in education ranging from classroom teacher to curriculum and assessment writer, to assistant principal. Toni facilitates professional learning experiences for educators at all levels in public and private schools, with a focus on educational equity. Toni has a Master of Education degree with a specialization in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment and is a Doctor of Education candidate with a specialization in Educational Administration and Leadership.