This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Olivia Berry
Ohio County Public Schools
My goal as a teacher of young students has always been twofold: infused in my teaching of academics I want to instill a belief that anything can be achieved with hard work and effort, and second, that being a person of good character will make your impact on the world much greater. A common phrase I used in my classroom was, “Everyone makes mistakes,” but it wasn’t until my first graduate class in 2016 that I learned a better way to teach my students the value of the mistakes they were making. As a way to encourage us to start off the journey of attaining a master’s degree in the right frame of mind, a Growth Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck was introduced to my class by our professor. It occurred to me that this theory was something I was attempting to put into my teaching all along, but now it had a name and multiple strategies attached with it.
After studying student behavior and attitude, Dweck named two opposing mindsets a person can have, fixed or growth. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point”(Dweck, 2015). Her research, along with advances in neuroscience, proves that it is possible for connections to grow and strengthen in our brain if we believe they can. Teachers should take this information very seriously as we have the ability to motivate our students and build their confidence in the learning process. One way I have implemented these concepts in my classroom is by changing my everyday teacher language. My famous phrase “Everyone makes mistakes,” transformed into, “That’s a good mistake. Let’s learn from it.” Instead of asking, “Do you have any questions?” it’s now, “What questions do you have?” I am more thoughtful with my words in order for my students to feel comfortable with failing, as it is a big part of earning success. Other ways I cultivate growth mindset is through weekly quotes such as “Smart isn’t something you are, it’s something you become.” In addition, I remind my students of the power of yet. Explaining to children that there is a difference between not knowing, and not knowing yet can push them to keep trying.
Paired with growth mindset, it is my mission to mold my students into kind, honest, respectful, and responsible people. With years of content-focused, test-driven schools, paired with an increase of at-risk students due to unstable home lives and other disadvantages, the students of today lack essential social-emotional learning skills. Growing up in a faith-centered home, I was taught the importance of character and surrounded by examples of it through my family members and friends. Some of my third grade students today are not so lucky. They don’t have the ability to get along well with others, to problem solve, and to graciously disagree. I feel that in order for productive learning to take place, these needs must also be met. For me, that meant altering my classroom behavior program to intentionally teach these skills. Though I have yet to find the perfect management system, including character traits became a strong focus for me this past year. In my research for implementation of these traits I came across the article, Character Education: Good Hearts Lead to Good Grades (Perles, 2013) that furthermore reports a correlation between character education and academic achievement. Results of a meta-analysis study are cited showing an increase in test scores by 11 to 17 percentage points in districts that utilize character instruction. Perles states, “Not only does character education give students the tools to work well in the classroom environment, it can also give them the tools they will need to understand the actual content they are learning.”
The benefits of embedding growth mindset and character education extend well beyond the walls of a school building and for that reason teaching these skills should be a priority for all educators. Being invited to join the Fluency Project has aligned directly with my philosophy of teaching and has provided me with even more resources to empower my students through voice, compassion, and values driven work. It has assured me that my goals are validated and provide essential narrative data that will assist in building positive relationships with students, which is where all true learning begins.
Dweck, C. (2015) Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset'. Education Week.
Perles, K. (2013) Character Education: Good Hearts Lead to Good Grades. Retrieved from https://www.education.com/magazine/article/character-education-classroom-improve-academic/