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  • Writer's pictureChristine Hertz Hausman

Let's start at the very beginning: how to develop our students' growth mindsets.

As my brilliant co-author and friend Kristi said in her blog post last week, "Now is the time of the year when the daydreams of August turn into the real work of teaching." Maybe in August you had dreams about teaching your students about mindset and self-talk and habits of mind and now that it's almost November (!!!), it just feels like one more thing to add intro your crammed schedule. You have a lot on your plate. So where to begin?

First of all, let me get up on my soapbox for a moment and reiterate how powerful it can be for children to understand that learning isn't about getting a sprinkle of magical fairy dust, but rather about trial and error, practice, and neural connections. The more children engage in metacognition (thinking about their thinking), the more empowered they feel. It's never too late to start learning about mindset. We hear all the time from teachers who felt their lives have been changed by this theory and Kristi and I certainly feel the same way.

So take a deep breath, call on your optimism, and follow these steps to start teaching your students about mindset.

Step 1: Teach a little bit about the brain.

Start by teaching children a little bit about the brain and about fixed and growth mindsets. For young students, this might look like a very simple explanation of how the brain and neurons work. The book The Fantastic Elastic Brain is a great resource for this. For older students, you could have them reflect on previous learning or life experiences and have them think about when they've noticed their fixed mindsets flaring up (I am what I am; I can't learn this) and when they've noticed more of a growth mindset (I am constantly learning and developing; I can learn from my mistakes). No matter what age you teach, the message is clear: we can grow our brains, we can learn and improve.

When you could fit it in: morning meeting, just after lunch, closing circle.

Step 2: Introduce one stance.

Now's the time that you start to build students' toolkits for developing a growth mindset. We wholeheartedly believe (and the research backs us up) that just telling children to "work harder" will not develop a growth mindset. If we want students to call on their growth mindsets, we need to make sure we're asking them to engage in learning that's in their Zone of Proximal Development. If the task is far too challenging or the stakes are too high or the conditions are too stressful, using a growth mindset won't save the day. (If I'm just learning to bake, I'm going to try an easy cake recipe at home. I'm not going to start with a fondant five-tiered wedding cake.)

So what do we do? We design our instruction to allow for "just right risks" and build our students' mindset toolkits by teaching stances such as:

  • Optimism

  • Flexibility

  • Persistence

  • Resilience

  • Empathy

And we leverage those habits or stances with:

  • Self-talk

  • Storytelling

  • Goal setting

  • Reflection

These lists might seem like A LOT. I get it. Don't abandon ship just yet. Take one small step: Choose one stance.

Perhaps you've noticed that most of your class dives right into a new challenge but throws in the towel at the first sign of difficulty? Try introducing resilience. Or maybe your class has trouble getting their foot in the door at all (sometimes we mean that quite literally). Try teaching optimism. You'll have plenty of time to introduce all of the stances. There's not wrong answer here; every class needs something a little different.

Introduce the stance you've chosen through an inquiry (a book study, a movie clip, a song). For LOTS of great resources, check out our padlet.


  1. Study a specific moment, line, or scene. (What does Max do in Bunnycakes to get those Red Hot Marshmallow Squirters?)

  2. Notice what the character does to overcome a setback. (He tries more than one strategy!)

  3. Name and define that concept with language that's appropriate for your students. ("We call that flexibility... Flexibility means...")

  4. Have the children talk about a time they've used that stance or another character they've seen use it. ("I was flexible when I...")

When you could fit it in: read aloud time, morning meeting, closing circle.

Step 3: Find examples of that stance EVERYWHERE.

Over a few days, you can examine the complexity of the stance by reading more books, role-playing, and asking:

  • How does someone ________ act?

  • How does someone ________ talk to themselves?

  • What does some ________believe?

  • Is there such a thing as too much or too little?

  • Where does this stance exist in other areas of life?

Reinforce the concept of the stance by noticing EVERY SINGLE TIME it is used in your room, at lunch/recess, specials, or at home. Students are experts at finding stances in read-alouds and noticing when their classmates are flexible, optimistic, etc.

Use a symbol to represent each stance and find ways as a class to collect examples of when it's been used. Some teachers use sticky notes with quick jots ("I was flexible when I tried a an array to solve the multiplication problem"). Or have students draw a quick sketch of their scenarios. The more students find and use each stance, the more they'll develop those neural pathways and make the stance a habit.

Examples of flexibility we found:

When you could fit it in: look for stances all day and have the students quickly add them to a chart. Reflect on examples at morning meeting, closing circle, on the walk to P.E....anytime.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, go easy on yourself. Developing a growth mindset in yourself and in your students takes time, habit formation, and lots and lots of practice. Recently, Carol Dweck has said that we never actually get to a Perfect Growth Mindset. Instead, our growth and fixed mindsets are constantly at play in our brains. With the right tools and strategies (more on self-talk next time) and many opportunities for just-right risk taking, we can teach our students to face setbacks and challenges with a whole new set of tools.


Don't go it alone! Reach out:

Join the Mindset for Learning facebook group

Follow me (@christine_hertz) and Kristi (@mrazkristine) on twitter and instagram.

Learn more about our book here.

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