Saturday, June 24, 2017

25 Simple Ways To Develop A Growth Mindset

by Saga Briggs, InformED

What if your true learning potential was unknown, even unknowable, at best?

What if it were impossible to foresee what you could accomplish with a few years of passion, toil, and training? According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, this isn’t some hypothetical situation, dependent on any manner of factors from genes to environment. It’s a mindset. And it’s one you can cultivate at any point in life.

A “growth mindset,” as Dweck calls it, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a tendency to believe that you can grow. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (affiliate), she explains that while a “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, a growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure “not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”

The consequences of believing that intelligence and personality can be developed rather than being immutably engrained traits, Dweck found in her two decades of research with both children and adults, are remarkable. She writes:

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character, well then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”

The fixed mindset can negatively impact all aspects of your life, Dweck says.

“I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves in [a learning setting], in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”

But when you start viewing things as mutable, the situation gives way to the bigger picture.
“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments, everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

This is important because it can actually change what you strive for and what you see as success. By changing the definition, significance, and impact of failure, you change the deepest meaning of effort. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development.

So how does this apply to learning and what can we do to help instill this attitude in our students?

How Can A Growth Mindset Help You Learn?

In a study of hundreds of students, mostly adolescents, Dweck and her colleagues found something startling: students with a fixed mindset will reject learning if it means not failing.

Students were given fairly challenging problems from a nonverbal IQ test, then praised for their performance. Some students were told, “Wow, you got [X many] right. That’s a really good score. You must be smart at this,” while others were told, “Wow, you got [X many] right. That’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.” In other words, some were praised for ability and others for effort.

Dweck writes: “The ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent.”

On the other hand, when students were praised for effort, 90 percent of them wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from.

Even more alarming, when Dweck and her colleagues gave the students a subsequent set of harder problems, on which the students didn’t do so well, the ability-praised kids thought they weren’t so smart or gifted after all.

“If success had meant they were intelligent, then less-than-success meant they were deficient.”
For the effort-praised kids, the difficulty was simply an indication that they had to put in more effort, not a sign of failure or a reflection of their poor intellect.

The most unsettling finding came after the IQ questions were completed, when the researchers asked the kids to write private letters to their peers relaying the experience. Students were asked to disclose their scores as well. One byproduct of the fixed mindset turned out to be dishonesty: Forty percent of the ability-praised kids lied about their scores, inflating them to look more successful.

“In the fixed mindset, imperfections are shameful, especially if you’re talented, so they lied them away. What’s so alarming is that we took ordinary children and made them into liars, simply by telling them they were smart.”

Perhaps Dweck’s most telling research explores how these mindsets are formed, and how early on in life. In one seminal study, Dweck and her colleagues offered four-year-olds a choice: They could either redo an easy jigsaw puzzle or try a harder one. Children who exhibited a fixed mentality stayed on the safe side, choosing the easier puzzles that would affirm their existing ability. Children with a growth mentality thought it an odd choice to begin with, perplexed why anyone would want to do the same puzzle over and over if they weren’t learning anything new. In other words, the fixed-mindset kids wanted to make sure they succeeded in order to seem smart, whereas the growth-mindset ones wanted to stretch themselves, for their definition of success was about becoming smarter.

Things got even more interesting when Dweck brought people into the Columbia University’s brain-wave lab to study how their brains behaved as they answered difficult questions and received feedback. What she found was that those with a fixed mindset were only interested in hearing feedback that reflected directly on their present ability, but tuned out information that could help them learn and improve.

They even showed no interest in hearing the right answer when they had gotten a question wrong, because they had already filed it away in the failure category. Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, were keenly attentive to information that could help them expand their existing knowledge and skill, regardless of whether they’d gotten the question right or wrong. In other words, their priority was learning, not the binary trap of success and failure.

These findings are especially important to formal education and instruction, as they shed light on how we, as a culture, understand learning ability.

“When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.”
What’s so valuable about the latter world is that it’s marked by a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. People with a growth mindset have a voracious appetite for learning, constantly seeking out the kind of input that they can metabolize into learning and constructive action. And this is extremely significant news for students and teachers.

“Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations–they see themselves as learning.”

Could that concept be any more powerful and inspiring?

25 Simple Ways To Develop A Growth Mindset

1. Acknowledge and embrace imperfections.

Hiding from your weaknesses means you’ll never overcome them.

2. View challenges as opportunities.

Having a growth mindset means relishing opportunities for self-improvement.

3. Try different learning tactics.
There’s no one-size-fits-all model for learning. What works for one person may not work for you.

4. Follow the research on brain plasticity.

The brain isn’t fixed; the mind shouldn’t be either.

5. Replace the word “failing” with the word “learning.”

When you make a mistake or fall short of a goal, you haven’t failed; you’ve learned.

6. Stop seeking approval.

When you prioritize approval over learning, you sacrifice your own potential for growth.

7. Value the process over the end result.

Intelligent people enjoy the learning process, and don’t mind when it continues beyond an expected time frame.

8. Cultivate a sense of purpose.

Dweck’s research also showed that students with a growth mindset had a greater sense of purpose. Keep the big picture in mind.

9. Celebrate growth with others.

If you truly appreciate growth, you’ll want to share your progress with others.

10. Emphasize growth over speed.

Learning fast isn’t the same as learning well, and learning well sometimes requires allowing time for mistakes.

11. Reward actions, not traits.

Tell students when they’re doing something smart, not just being smart.

12. Redefine “genius.”

The myth’s been busted: genius requires hard work, not talent alone.

13. Portray criticism as positive.

You don’t have to used that hackneyed term, “constructive criticism,” but you do have to believe in the concept.

14. Disassociate improvement from failure.

Stop assuming that “room for improvement” translates into failure.

15. Provide regular opportunities for reflection.

Let students reflect on their learning at least once a day.

16. Place effort before talent.

Hard work should always be rewarded before inherent skill.

17. Highlight the relationship between learning and “brain training.”

The brain is like a muscle that needs to be worked out, just like the body.

18. Cultivate grit.

Students with that extra bit of determination will be more likely to seek approval from themselves rather than others.

19. Abandon the image.

“Naturally smart” sounds just about as believable as “spontaneous generation.” You won’t achieve the image if you’re not ready for the work.

20. Use the word “yet.”

Dweck says “not yet” has become one of her favorite phrases. Whenever you see students struggling with a task, just tell them they haven’t mastered it yet.

21. Learn from other people’s mistakes.

It’s not always wise to compare yourself to others, but it is important to realize that humans share the same weaknesses.

22. Make a new goal for every goal accomplished.

You’ll never be done learning. Just because your midterm exam is over doesn’t mean you should stop being interested in a subject. Growth-minded people know how to constantly create new goals to keep themselves stimulated.

23. Take risks in the company of others.

Stop trying to save face all the time and just let yourself goof up now and then. It will make it easier to take risks in the future.

24. Think realistically about time and effort.

It takes time to learn. Don’t expect to master every topic under the sun in one sitting.

25. Take ownership over your attitude.

Once you develop a growth mindset, own it. Acknowledge yourself as someone who possesses a growth mentality and be proud to let it guide you throughout your educational career.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Five Competencies Needed for Tri-Sector Athletes in Education

by Noel Scott Anderson

Since coining the term “Tri-Sector Athletes in Education”, I have received requests to “make plain” the skills and competencies needed to make the transformation in education. Tri-sector Athletes in Education are leaders who are able to leverage multiple sector partnerships to make significant change in educational institutions, communities and the lives of young people. So I tend to switch between the term “athlete” and “leader” since I see them as the same.

Now, in the past I tended to avoid reducing leadership qualities to a “Top #” list, fearing that it will come across as too glib or anti-intellectual. But that was my own insecurity, my own concern that I would not be taken seriously in the academy I ultimately wanted to transform. As I learned over these years, if you can’t reduce complex ideas into simple language, you run the risk of losing the very audience you hope to influence.

I argue that in education, context and mission are everything to leadership, that environments bring out leadership qualities in students, teachers, professors, community activists, executive directors of social enterprise organizations and college presidents, to name a few. It is only in the opportunity to lead do we really know what we are made of as leaders. The challenges we face pull on both latent as well as recognized skills.

Over the years, in the work of tri-sector leadership in education, five (5) competencies stand out: 1) Leading by Influence, 2) Patience, 3) Cultural Competency, 4) Vision and Strategy and 5) Working With and Through Others
  1. Leading by Influence: Leading by influence is the ability to compel others to act by modeling leadership that is aspirational, inspirational and appeals to an individual’s desire to see and effect change. It’s leading by example with a catalytic function. For example, I have witnessed an executive director at a large, national non-profit organization engaged in multi-sector partnerships dedicate time and resources to develop clear career pathways for her frontline staff (front line or entry level positions in youth serving organizations tend to be rife with burnout and turnover because of under-investment and are disproportionately held by young professionals of color) and inspire other executive directors in other organizations in the network to do the same. There was no mandate or grant to do this, simply the desire and ethical action of one passionate executive director who became a catalyst for others. The result had a cascading effect where partner organizations began to mutually see the importance of developing front-line staff and eventually saw less turnover and greater outcomes for young people.
  2. Patience: Tri-sector leadership in education requires the discipline of patience. I stress patience as a discipline and not a virtue. Most partnerships with multiple sectors require a longer time horizons and experience cycles of challenges and triumph. Leaders must not only develop patience, but also educate others to what are realistic priorities and goals with long-term collaborations. Funders want results, of course, given the terms of investment. However, leaders have the power to set the pace and benchmarks for their organization. Setting realistic goals of what is achievable is about having a clear time frame for what is possible, and leaders can set the tone.
  3. Cultural Competency: Understanding the culture and historical context of the communities and people you are serving is vitally important to tri-sector leadership. I have witnessed time and again leaders engage mostly poor and working class communities of color with assumptions about what is “good” for the community or with tremendous hubris about what money can do. These relationships tend to not end well. A tri-sector leader in education needs to understand the cultural context, language, racial/ethnic history and value proposition of the communities s/he wishes to engage, and dedicate time to relationship building to sustain that engagement. As whites shift into the minority and communities of color become the majority across the United States in the next decade, leading with cultural competency is an imperative.
  4. Vision and Strategy: Developing a vision and strategy for tri-sector work is essential. Leaders from multiple sectors engaged in a collective impact initiative, for instance, tend to develop a shared vision. However, it is equally important for a leader to create and articulate a vision and strategy that will educate and serve as a guide for the work of others. I always require leaders on my teams to develop a vision and strategy document (usually in the form of a PowerPoint deck) for their respective department or role. This becomes a compass for our collective work and a reference point if we encounter competing priorities, which often occurs in tri-sector partnerships.
  5. Working With and Through Others: Tri-sector leaders in education must work with and through others. This notion moves beyond just simple management into deep collaboration with teams and organizations, and is premised on the idea that expertise is not concentrated in one person or one organization. Many of the tri-sector leaders in education who are engaged in collective impact work share that they spend most of their time identifying and leveraging the network and skills within the organizations with which they collaborate.
The work of Tri-Sector Athletes (Leaders) in Education requires that we pull on the 5 competencies above. Each is attainable and each can make a difference in the lives of others.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Create a Tidal Wave of Kindness in Schools

By  Elizabeth Mulvahil

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” —Scott Adams
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. But what if, instead of focusing on anti-bullying, we focused on kindness? We all know the profound influence our everyday actions and attitudes can have on our students. When you toss a pebble into a pond, the ripples spread from the point of impact to the very edges of the whole. With that in mind, what if we made a vow to create as many “ripples” of kindness as we can to create a tidal wave in our schools and in our lives by simply focusing on acts of kindness?
Here are 49 ideas to help you get started:
  1. Acknowledge each student with a greeting as they enter your room. Let them see how happy you are to see them.
  2. Stop at the coffee shop on your way to school and surprise your teammates with their favorite beverage.
  3. If you jack up the copier, don’t leave it that way!
  4. Give your students five minutes to just visit with one another.
  5. Resist temptation to “borrow” the unlabeled Diet Coke in the staff refrigerator.
  6. Compliment another teacher’s class as they walk through the hall quietly.
  7. Slow down!
  8. Thank your administrators for setting a positive tone in the building.
  9. Keep eye rolling to a minimum during your professional development meeting.
  10. Leave anonymous chocolate kisses in the staff mailboxes.
  11. Eat lunch with your team and take a break from “work talk.”
  12. Make eye contact.
  13. Pick up your kids from Art a few minutes early and admire their work.
  14. Pick up your kids from PE a few minutes early and join in the game.
  15. Pick up your kids from Music a few minutes early and enjoy their performance.
  16. Share an awesome read-aloud with another teacher, better yet- lend them the book.
  17. Forward funny teacher cartoons to the staff.
  18. Laugh at your students’ jokes.
  19. Put up inspirational or humorous posters in the staff bathrooms.
  20. Compliment your students like crazy for their awesome ideas, incredible word choice, stupendous mathematical skills, etc, etc.
  21. Offer to take a stressed-out teacher’s after school duty.
  22. Email a “happy note” home to one of your more difficult student’s families.
  23. Have your students decorate and sign a thank you poster for the front office staff/cafeteria staff/custodial staff.
  24. Put up a mailbox for students to deposit “kindness reports” about their classmates.
  25. Replace the paper in the copier before it runs out.
  26. Tell your parent volunteers what lifesavers they are.
  27. Acknowledge publicly every kindness you witness in your classroom.
  28. Smile!
  29. Invite the guest teacher to join you for lunch.
  30. Post students’ work everywhere!
  31. Ask a veteran teacher to share their wisdom with you about something that’s been baffling you.
  32. Stay with your class during library time and help them pick out great books.
  33. Straighten up the mess someone else left in the teacher workroom.
  34. Compliment another teacher in front of his class.
  35. Repeat it one more time (yes, even if it’s the fifth time!).
  36. Listen to the librarian’s read-aloud and tell her what a great storyteller she is.
  37. Eat hot lunch every once in awhile and tell the cafeteria workers how delicious the food is.
  38. Take time to listen to your students’ stories.
  39. Help another teacher change his bulletin board.
  40. If a positive thought about someone crosses your mind, take the time to share it with them!
  41. Raffle off a free homework pass.
  42. Call a few parents after school just to tell them something wonderful their child did that day.
  43. Share a sweet moment from your day with a colleague.
  44. Give your grouchy voice the day off.
  45. Ask a newbie teacher for advice.
  46. Sit with someone different at the staff meeting.
  47. Make a big deal about extraordinary effort in class.
  48. Help another teacher carry a heavy load to their car.
  49. Ask your students questions about their time away from school.
What acts of kindness would you add to the list?
49 Ways to Spread Kindness in Your School


By Stacy Tornio

This is the fourth in the “Community Service Ideas” articles sponsored by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

It doesn’t matter what grade you teach, students are never too young (or too old) to volunteer or help out. As we head into the holiday season, here are some ideas to try with your students to teach them compassion and kindness.

1. Do a 10-day “thankful” challenge.
This is how it works: Every day for 10 days, you write down something that you’re thankful for. Every student in your class can have his or her own poster. Then they can glue on a new item each day. Their families will love it when they take it home for Thanksgiving.

2. Solve problems with the St. Jude Math-A-Thon.
This program helps improve students’ math skills in grades K–8 while providing the opportunity to help kids just like them.

3. Write anonymous notes.
Give everyone in your class an envelope or mailbox, then encourage students to write positive notes to one another without signing them. They will love the undercover aspect of it, trying to find times to deliver the notes when no one is looking.

4. Team Up for St. Jude through Game Day.
The St. Jude Game Day Program is a way for your school to raise funds during an athletic event (football, basketball, baseball and more) that is already taking place on your campus. All you do is add the “Team Up for St. Jude Spirited Game Day” program to your game. Score!

5. Send “just because” letters.
Everyone likes receiving mail. Have your students bring in a pre-addressed stamped envelope for someone special in their lives. They can create a card or letter, then drop it in the mail. This is guaranteed to make someone’s day.

6. Mix it up at recess.
Kids often play with the same schoolmates day after day. Encourage your students to play with at least two new kids (or they can sit with someone new at lunch). Chances are, they’ll make new friends and connections.

7. Teach the art of the thank-you note.
Thank-you notes are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Help your kids learn how to write a proper thank-you. It’s a skill they’ll use for years to come.

8. Wear pajamas to school.

This is one of the easiest items on the list. Designate a special “Pajama Day” in your school where everyone pays 50 cents or $1 to wear pajamas. Collect this money to donate to St. Jude.

9. Hold a raffle at your special event.
Chances are, you already have plenty of school events on the calendar. For instance, a school dance, party or concert. During one of these events, raffle off something special, like lunch with the principal. Have the money go to a worthwhile organization.

10. Hold a PB&J drive.
Food pantries are always asking for more peanut butter and jelly because it’s a good and easy source of protein for kids. Hold a Peanut Butter & Jelly Drive at your school, and offer incentives. For instance, if you bring in more peanut butter, the principal has to wear a silly costume. But if you bring in more jelly, the gym teacher has to instead.


11. Organize a Trike-A-Thon event.

Even the youngest St. Jude supporters can get involved when you hold a St. Jude Trike-A-Thon. This bike- and riding-toy-safety program teaches kids valuable safety lessons while they also learn how they can help others. The event will be one of your most popular events of the year and a great reason to invite parents to the school to watch their children show off their new riding skills.

12. Put together a care package for a senior center.

Connect with a local senior center and ask them if they have any current needs. Then send a note home with students asking them to bring in an item to help out. Once you have everything together, put it in a big box and fill it with cheerful notes from the kids. The seniors will love it.

13. Clean up around your school or neighborhood. Encourage students to take pride in their surroundings. Put on some plastic gloves (kids will love this part) and go around picking up garbage to beautify the area.

14. Donate books to your library.
Hold a book drive with your students, then take them to either your school or local library. You could also donate to a local community center or shelter.

15. Hold a “coat, hat and mitten” drive.

You can’t underestimate the importance of kids having warm winter gear. While it’s standard for a lot of students, this is something that many kids can’t count on.

Building Resilience in the Classroom

by Samantha Cleaver

This is the third blog in the three-blog series “Building Resilience in the Classroom.”

We’ve all been there: After passing back the math quiz, a frustrated sigh and “I’ll never be able to do this!” comes from the corner of the room. And we’ve all met the student who’s so afraid of failure that he refuses to try anything new, whether that’s reading a more challenging book or doing a long-division problem that looks more difficult than the one he did yesterday. Then there are the kids who are rarely discouraged. They understand that even if today was tough, tomorrow is a new day.
The difference between the kids who bounce back easily and those who can’t seem to recover from the frustration is resiliency.

Resiliency comes from kids’ beliefs and attitudes about themselves and what happens to them. Fortunately, these internal factors—humor, inner direction, optimism and flexibility—are traits that we can build or strengthen.

One thing we shouldn’t do is shield kids from everyday frustrations. They need to experience everyday failures and challenges. It’s the kids who never feel frustrated (or who experience excessive stress) who are vulnerable later.

Here are three ways to develop student resiliency in a moment of frustration, and five ways to build resiliency in your classroom for the long run.

In the Moment
  1. Keep perspective.
    To you, it’s a small thing (one quiz grade, missing a turn at the block center, presenting in front of the class), but to the student it’s a disaster. Keeping perspective isn’t about minimizing the problem or insisting that it could be worse: It’s about problem solving.What You Can Do:
    • Triage the situation: Help the child think about other quizzes that are coming up, the time he spent at the block center yesterday, or the way she prepared for the presentation, to show them that this is one event among many. Then, plan ways to tackle these stresses in the future.
  2. Capture the opportunity.
    We do kids a disservice when we step in too soon so they never experience making mistakes. (For example, when a parent corrects a child’s homework errors before he turns it in.) In fact, children learn more when we allow them to make mistakes. It’s all in how we teach them to handle it.What You Can Do:
    • Praise effort: What you praise shows what you value. So focus praise on kids’ effort or creativity. A huge mistake could show a lot of creativity and ingenuity, even if the outcome is a disaster.
  3. Cool down.
    Of course, the best time to teach cool-down strategies is before kids get upset, but in-the-moment is the time to get them to practice those strategies.What You Can Do:
    • Cool-down corner: Create a cool-down corner with heavy pillows and calming music with headphones, or books. Teach older kids to count to 10 while taking deep breaths or to distract themselves by reading or writing until they’ve calmed down.
For the Long Term
  1. Create connection.
    Relationships are key to resiliency, and it’s not the number but the quality that counts. In addition to the emotional benefits, the best way to learn how to deal with minor stresses is to have it modeled by peers.What You Can Do:
    • Spin a web: Create a web that shows how the kids are all connected to one another. Then, use that web to figure out where and how you can build new connections.
    • Peer mentoring: Instead of doing show-and-tell or another presentation, pair kids up and have them teach one another something they know, share a book they read or explain a favorite hobby.
  2. Build competence.
    Every student is good at something. In particular, students may struggle when they don’t see the connection between their strengths transfer across situations—think of the student whose multiplication skills are strong, but he struggles to apply them to word problems.What You Can Do:
    • Compliment cards: Make it a habit to leave sticky notes with compliments on your students’ desks. Plan out a delivery schedule that will make it feel random to keep them pleasantly surprised. Even better, use those compliments to call out students for their strengths—during a social studies project, ask a curious child to create a list of questions about the Revolutionary War, for example.
  3. Give them options.
    Choices give kids power and self-determination, plus it lets them make choices and live with the consequences, however minor. Giving kids authentic (not false) choices doesn’t have to be complex—choices around how to complete an assignment are enough.What You Can Do:
    • Choice boards: Provide a list of choices that students can make with each assignment. For younger students, this could be a limited list of options (answering questions out of order, choosing to skim a passage before reading it). For older kids, this could be a discussion about different ways to approach a project.
    • Would You Rather? Playing “Would You Rather?” shows students how different people approach the same situation and takes them through the decision-making process. (Here is one list of WYR questions. This site has lots of WYR questions for older students.)
  4. Connect with characters.
    Books are a great jumping-off point for talking about resiliency. For example, Chester’s Way and Sheila Rae, the Brave by Kevin Henkes, novels like Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and biographies provide a lot to talk about when it comes to resiliency.What You Can Do:
    • Focus on control: During discussion, focus on the choices the character made. This helps students understand that how we handle situations is within our control. And ask: What other choices could the character have made? And how would it have changed the outcome?
  5. Encourage constant progress.
    Setting and achieving goals builds the practice of self-monitoring and helps students see the results of their hard work. The trick isn’t in setting goals but in sticking with them.What You Can Do:
    • Stair steps: Have students set big goals, and identify a few steps along the way. Then, have students reflect after each step about what helped them get there and what they want to keep, or stop, doing.

Tips for Building a Compassionate Classroom

Whenever something horrifying happens, like the events in Orlando over the weekend, I tend to go into a temporary tailspin.  My religious and political convictions are best summed up as “Get off Facebook and make somebody a sandwich.”  I immediately look for something I can do, some concrete action I can take that will counteract the evil in the world.

This summer, I signed myself and my son up to volunteer at a shelter for LGBT teens. But during the school year, things are both harder and easier. Harder, because there are more obligations and less time to fulfill them. Easier, because I get to spend my entire day doing what I believe is the most important work I can find; helping to produce more compassionate, open-minded people who can heal a broken world.

There are a lot of ways to encourage compassion in kids, and a lot of people can provide way better-documented research than I can.  But here are some methods I’ve tried over the past ten years in the middle school classroom that have helped develop kinder, more empathetic students.

1. Choose books carefully.  There are so many great books for young readers that encourage the development of a social conscience.  I mean, really any book can facilitate conversations about relationships and bullying and empathy, but some novels make it incredibly easy. I especially like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Crossing the Wire, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, since they all include themes of both personal isolation and systemic oppression. It gives the kids a chance to consider things from new perspectives, and all those novels have characters that are exceptionally relatable. It’s like the folks who hate gay people until a friend comes out of the closet; really good novels give you friends—albeit fictional ones—who come from different walks of life and expose you to a wider reality.  Kids desperately need that, and they love it. I’ve never had a class be less than enthusiastic about any of those books.

2. Talk about real problems…and possible solutions. This can be tricky, and requires an awareness of your students and their cultures. I’m not advocating letting your sixth graders read first person accounts of human trafficking victims; the goal is to raise awareness, not provide the counselor with more job security. But kids can often handle more than we give them credit for. One of my favorite class discussions this year centered around transgender bathrooms and same-sex marriage. The kids brought it up, and I was hesitant to allow the discussion to continue, but they were amazing.

Last year, after we read about undocumented immigrants and watched a documentary, the kids found a school nearby for newly arrived immigrants and got a bunch of school supplies donated. Another group in that class wrote a grant for technology that would allow deported parents to Skype with their children who remained in the United States. Although they didn’t get the funding, it was an incredibly meaningful experience, and one they still talked about after they left my class.

3. Practice perspective-taking. This one’s easy, because it hits tons of standards while also building some social awareness.  Also, the kids tend to enjoy it. Assignments like writing a journal from the perspective of a character in a novel or creating a social media page for a character forces kids to consider things from an alternative point of view. For middle schoolers, who tend to be positioned firmly at the center of their own universe, this is a priceless skill that helps them relate to their classmates and understand their own thought processes and motivations.

4. Provide opportunities for awesomeness. For the past three years, the seventh grade team at my school has run a Kindness Ninja program. There are three or four teachers involved, and once a month each teacher takes a group of 10-15 kids to volunteer in the community. We’ve worked at a women and children’s homeless shelter, socialized feral cats, played with low-income daycare kids, and spent time with the elderly in a retirement home.

My kids are all poor and come from disadvantaged communities, and this chance to be the giver rather than the recipient is unbelievably powerful. We generally have about 45 kids involved, but every year at least 70 kids apply. One hour a month changes how these kids see themselves. I won’t lie; it’s a pain. I dread my trip to the retirement home on the second Wednesday of every month, because it means I have to stay late and make sure my own kid is looked after and drive the rickety, terrifying school van through rush hour traffic filled with smelly kids. And it is always, always worth it.

Everybody has both the power and the responsibility to make the world better, but teachers are uniquely positioned to do so. We get to reach out to hundreds of kids and empower them to make a difference…surely at least a little of that will sink in and bear some fruit somewhere down the road! Unfortunately, we don’t have a set of national standards for empathy or compassion or kindness.  But until we do, we have to keep working that into the curriculum and raising Kindness Ninjas who will gradually overtake our schools, our communities, and our institutions. How about you? How do you raise awareness and compassion in your classroom?

The 4 Things You Need to Cultivate Student Character


How is character cultivated? Think about your answer to that question. Was the first answer that came to mind, “Students improve character through worksheets”? Was it, “Students improve character through webinars”? Seeing these answers written highlights how silly it is to think that character can be changed solely using a curriculum.

Character is caught, not taught. It is cultivated in our culture not lifted through lectures. So, if we want our students to develop strength of character, we need a holistic approach, one that is intentional, pervasive, and persistent.

How do we do it? Approach cultivating character the way we would approach cultivating a tree, giving it the right soil, the right water, the right sunlight, and the right seed to grow in even the most challenging climates. Here are the four factors affecting your fields.

1. The Soil: The emotional atmosphere
What happens when a student takes a risk and fails? How do you respond when a student makes a mistake – especially a character mistake like lying? Do you punish and push kids out of your room for poor character? Or, do you coach them to critically analyze their actions?
Without a safe, supportive emotional climate, students will not be able to learn from mistakes or take risks. We cannot get authentic growth unless students feel safe being authentic.

Your Move: Model the good, the bad, and the ugly

Be authentic and reveal your own mistakes – even in-the-moment – and model what it looks like to show integrity, grit, and ownership. Lesson didn’t go well because you didn’t spend much time planning it? Own it. Made a grading error? Own it. Acted like a fire-breathing dragon to your 5th hour? Own it.

This modeling is crucial for many reasons. First, it provides examples of character for students who may not have great role-models. Second, it establishes trust by showing that we are all human. Third, in trusting that our students will understand and forgive our mistakes, we create a culture of accountability.

2. The Seed: Macro-structures
Consider the macro-structure to be the intentional character lesson. This is where videos, curriculum, mini-lessons, and stories come into play. Lessons provide common language, common experience, and modeling. We are planting a seed each time we make character overt and clear in our classrooms. We can’t coach students be to more respectful if we haven’t clearly defined, demonstrated, and explored what “respect” looks, sounds, and feels like.

Your Move: Common Language
Develop or use a common set of character traits that your class will strengthen. Students can help design this list or you can utilize programs already researched, such as the VIA Character Strengths or the 8 Keys of Excellence.
Whatever list you use, make them overt. Hang the list in the room. Focus on a “trait of the week” and review them often. Connect them to your content by having students apply the character traits to books, famous figures, or lessons you are teaching. You wouldn’t expect your students to master the quadratic formula after one lesson – why expect character to change with one exposure?

3. The Water: Micro-structures
Whereas macro-structures are intentional lessons to plant seeds, micro-structures are in-the-moment coaching opportunities. They help students connect the “content” of a character lesson to the real-world experience of being human. They can happen whole-group or individually. The more frequent, the better.

Your Move: ACTknowledgment
Use an ACTknowledgment, a simple verbal strategy introduced to me by Mark Reardon, of The Quantum Learning Network. An ACTknowledgment consists of:
Action – Identify the objective action that has taken place
Character Trait – Identify the character trait demonstrated by the action
Target – Identify the targeted outcome of the action
Example: “Can we pause for a moment and acknowledge Kaysi for how often she contributes ideas to class discussion? (Action) This is a great example of curiousity and commitment. (Character) This is the type of curiosity and commitment that will help her not only learn this content, but the type that will become a habit and help her thrive in her career.” (Target)

ACTknowledgments can be used reflectively to coach character as well. For example:
Davis, I noticed that you’ve been late to class three days this week. (Action) What do you think people – like a future boss – might say about your character if that became a habit? (Character) [Allow student response] What character trait might you need to strengthen in order to build a habit of being punctual? (Character) [Allow student response] Tell me what you gain by making it to class on time. (Target) [Student response] Great. So let’s walk through what your plan will be to make it on time next week. (Target)”

4. The Sunlight: Positive Praise
Sadly, so much of character conversation is punitive or condemning. Students are often only reminded of character when it is found to be lacking. By doing so, students learn to hide their mistakes, blame others, or justify their behavior in order to avoid negative consequences.
We know that affirmation increases a desired behavior, so make a specific plan for praising good character. ACTknowledgment is one way. And, I’ve posted in the past about ideas and traditions for increasing a positive culture. But here are a couple more ideas:

Your Move: One-a-Day
Grab a sticky note. Once a day, write a positive affirmation to a specific student. During silent work time, testing, or another discreet moment, place the sticky note on the students desk as you walk away. By not making it a big deal, you make it more authentic. Some students have seen teachers use whole-group praise as a classroom management move rather than a genuine expression of praise, so use the power of subtlety.

Bonus Move: Pre-brief
We don’t always have great examples of character each day. So, rather than have a corrective debrief of moments when character was lacking, coach success by pre-briefing. Pull a student aside before class and give them a specific challenge.

Megan, I’ve noticed in the past couple days that you’ve been making faces across the room at Maria, which has been distracting some learning. I know you care about doing well, so today I’ll be holding you accountable to keeping your eyes on the board, your work, or whomever is speaking. We’ll talk after class and see how it went.”

A pre-brief doesn’t guarantee success, but it gives students specific success criteria so they have one thing to try to improve. It also sends the message that we believe in their ability to do well. If they succeed, praise them. If they don’t, discuss it.

So, check in on your character farm: Which component needs more attention this year? The soil? The seeds? The sunlight? Or, the water? Post your thoughts below and continue sharing your strategies.  
Chase Mielke is a learning junkie who happens to have a love affair with teaching. A book addict by night and a teacher and instructional coach by day, he fantasizes about old libraries and fresh Expo Markers. His obsessions with psychology, well-being and cognition often live on his blog, Follow him on Twitter @chasemielke.

Cultivating Student Character


Building Positive School Culture

By Dana Truby

Life is about relationships. Building a positive environment in individual classrooms and throughout your whole school is too. It takes commitment and consistency from the whole team—administrators, teachers and support staff. But you can make it happen, even in the most challenging school environments.

Here are eight guidelines for improving your school culture based on the Boys Town Education Model, which has helped hundreds of troubled schools turn their school culture around.

1.  Build Strong Relationships

Your success at creating a well-managed school depends more than anything else on the quality of the relationships that teachers forge with students. Staff-student relationships influence everything—from the social climate to the individual performances of your students. The research on this is clear. When students feel liked and respected by their teachers, they find more success in school, academically and behaviorally (Lewis, Schaps & Watson, 1996).  Conversely, when interpersonal relationships are weak and trust is lacking, fear and failure will likely start to define school culture.

Building strong relationships needs to be a whole school priority. How do you do it?  Teachers need to have time to talk to their students in and out of the classroom. The goal should be for every adult in the building to maintain a high rate of positive interactions with students and to show genuine interest in their lives, their activities, their goals and their struggles.

2.  Teach Essential Social Skills

How to share, how to listen to others, how to disagree respectfully—these are the kind of essential social skills we expect our students to have. But the truth is they may not have learned them. Whether it’s first grade or 11th grade, we need to be prepared to teach appropriate social and emotional behaviors.

“You can’t hold kids accountable for something you’ve never told them,” says Erin Green, Director of National Services Operations at Boys Town. “Behavior should be treated like academics, and students should be taught the skills they need to execute desired behaviors.” These behaviors and values include honesty, sensitivity, concern and respect for others, a sense of humor, reliability, and so on. Together as a staff, you should identify the social skills you want your students to have and the step-by-step routines to teach them.

3. Get on the Same Page

Every classroom environment contributes to your school culture. Sometimes, for real change to occur with students, it’s the adults who have to change first. Together as a staff, you need to create a shared vision of your school. That means developing consistent school rules and ways of defining and meeting student behavior. When students believe that the rules are fair and consistently enforced, it goes a long way toward building trust. Inappropriate behavior shouldn’t be laughed off in one classroom and punished in another.

4. Be Role Models

At school, students learn by watching just as they learn by doing. Observing the actions of others influences how they respond to their environment and cope with unfamiliar situations. Think about what messages your staff’s behavior communicates. For example, research has shown that when a student is rejected by peers, the rejection is more likely to stop if the teacher models warm and friendly behavior to the isolated student. The opposite is also true. As educators, you set the tone.

5. Clarify Classroom and School Rules

Classroom rules communicate your expectations to your students. They tell students “this is the positive environment you deserve. This is the standard of behavior we know you can achieve.”
Positive rules help create a predictable, stable environment that is more conducive to healthy interactions. Ideally, classroom rules are simple and declarative (e.g., “Be respectful and kind”). And they don’t need to address every possible problem. You don’t need a rule about gum chewing or water bottle use, for instance—your policies on these issues should be clear from your overarching expectations for good behavior. Most important, rules need to be consistent across the building. The same expectations need to apply in the classroom, the gym and the cafeteria.

6. Teach All Students Problem Solving

Problems will always come up inside and outside of school. Students are much more likely to recognize and resolve them appropriately when we teach them how to do so. Problem solving can also be used retrospectively (with the luxury of hindsight) to help students make better decisions in the future. The Boys Town Education Model uses the SODAS method to teach students the general skill of problem solving.

SODAS is an acronym for the following steps:
S – Define the SITUATION.
O – Examine OPTIONS available to deal with the problem.
D – Determine the DISADVANTAGES of each option.
A – Determine the ADVANTAGES of each option.
S – Decide on a SOLUTION and practice.

7. Set Appropriate Consequences

Establishing classroom and school-wide rules and procedures is an important step in any effort to bring more structure to your school. But of course, students will push the limits and you’ll still need consequences. Effective consequences show young people the connection between what they do and what happens as a result of their choices or actions. Consequences need to be appropriate, immediate and consistent. Equally important, they need to be delivered with empathy, not in anger.

You might think about the current consequences for inappropriate behaviors and how their connections to the offenses can be strengthened where necessary. For example, having a student serve detention for misbehaving on the bus isn’t necessarily the best consequence. Instead, the student might write a letter of apology to the bus driver and serve as “bus monitor” for one week.

8. Praise Students for Good Choices

Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Many of our students, especially those who struggle, don’t receive nearly enough positive feedback in the classroom or in their personal lives.

“When kids are taught with a proactive, praise-heavy approach, they tend to do better,” says Erin Green of Boys Town. But be specific. Generic, overly generalized comments such as “Good job!” don’t really help. Complimenting a specific behavior (“Thanks for showing respect to our visiting guest”), on the other hand, reinforces that particular behavior. Challenge your whole team to give 15 compliments a day, or 25 or even 40. You might just be amazed at the difference it makes.


by Jennifer L.W. Fink


Putting the Pieces Together

A positive school culture requires a positive approach, and Fenger administrators decided to go all in. Spicer’s title was changed from Chief Dean to Culture and Climate Coordinator. “The decision was made to shift my role and move me from working in the very negative world of zero tolerance to building relationships instead,” Spicer says.
But shifting to a new approach can be tough. Sometimes adults simply assume that kids who are behaving disrespectfully or aren’t doing what they’re told are “bad kids.”
“I had to shift my thinking,” Spicer says. “Because that’s how I thought.”
Fenger’s staff learned how to positively interact with students, how to explain their expectations and how to praise them when they were meeting those expectations. Teachers also learned how to correct students when they were not meeting expectations, which ultimately teaches students life skills that will help them, not only in school, but outside of school as well.
Because all Fenger staff members underwent training, consistency skyrocketed. All teachers and administrators had the same expectations, and they all used the same techniques, methods and language to teach and talk to their students. Over time, that consistency decreased the number of behavioral issues.
It’s also changed how students felt about school. Students who have learned new social skills are proud of their achievements. They feel empowered. “When we brought this system in, we had to put into our young people a whole new vocabulary,” Spicer says. “Now there’s power, because they have words for how they feel. They can actually name and claim what’s going on. They can say, ‘I feel this way and this is what I need to help me deal with this situation.’”
Ernest Fruge, Child Search Coordinator at Positive Connections, an academic and mental health treatment center in Calcasiseu Parish, Louisiana, saw similar effects when his center underwent a culture change. “We took a lot of the negative talk out of our school. Kids hear more positive talk,” Fruge says. “That’s what our students need, especially because many of them had been labeled ‘problem children.’”
As students and teachers developed skills—and confidence in their newfound skills —school culture evolved. Classrooms became more peaceful and disciplinary referrals decreased drastically. And students began using their skills in the hallway, on the playground and at home as well.
“We’ve definitely seen our youth take the skills out of the classroom and into the general area,” Spicer says. In fact, at his school in Louisiana, Ernest Fruge has seen kids as young as 5 and 6 use their newfound skills to show empathy and encourage positive behavior.
School culture has changed drastically at Fenger since 2009. “It’s night and day,” Spicer says. “We went from a school of fear to a school of faith in each other and faith in what we believe as educators. We’ve become one of the safest schools in the city of Chicago, and it’s not because we’ve added more police, more cameras or more security officers. It’s because we created structures and processes that help teachers and staff build relationships with these young people. We’ve built a sense of belonging and a sense of family.”

6 Steps to Success

  1. Set clear expectations. Uneven or unclear expectations set the stage for conflict whereas crystal clear expectations remove the potential for conflict because both the desired behavior and the management of unacceptable behavior are clearly understood. Agree on a basic set of behavioral expectations for your entire school, and communicate those expectations to all students and staff.
  2. Teach processes. The Boys Town Education Model includes 182 social skills, each broken down into simple, easy-to-understand steps. Borrow their approach: when you want students to do something, teach them the steps it will take to get there, and repeat that instruction, over and over, until students have internalized the process.
  3. Praise students for good choices. “When kids are taught with a proactive, praise-heavy approach, they tend to do better,” says Erin Green of Boys Town. But be specific. Generic, overly-generalized comments such as “good job!” can confuse kids. Complimenting a specific behavior, on the other hand, reinforces that particular behavior.
  4. Build relationships. “Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” says Ernest Fruge, Child Search Coordinator at Positive Connections, an academic and mental health treatment center in Calcasiseu Parish, Louisiana. “Building relationships with kids is one of the best ways to get them to come to your side.”
  5. Keep things small. “Kids are going to make mistakes. They’re going to say stuff. They’re going to do stuff,” says Robert Spicer, Culture and Climate Coordinator at Christian Fenger High School in Chicago. Avoid escalating small mistakes into big confrontations. Take a few minutes away from the situation, if necessary, so you can respond calmly, instead of in the heat of the moment.
  6. Be patient. It takes time for students (and teachers!) to master new skills. “Think about it in terms of sports,” Green says. “Some people have natural ability. Others learn how to hit the ball, but their form isn’t perfect. You’re not going to get mad at a kid because the first time you pitch to him, he strikes out. You’re going to pitch to him over and over and over again, and work with him on his form.”

We’ve been talking with the experts at Boys Town Training® about how administrators and teachers can transform school culture. One of the key places to begin is with the explicit teaching of social skills to all students. When academic and positive social skills are the norm, students and staff feel safer and happier, office referrals go down, and, best of all, there is more time for teaching and learning.  

Here are eight key social skills that all students need to be successful. Consider working on one or two skills with your class each week. Start by gathering students together and talking about the skill. For example, ask: Why is listening attentively important? What does it look like when a person is listening? How do we know? Work together to list the steps for each skill or behavior on chart paper or a whiteboard.   

Social Skill: How to Listen Attentively

Skill Steps:  
1. Look at the person who is talking and remain quiet.
2. Wait until the person is finished talking before you speak.
3. Show that you heard the speaker by nodding your head, and using positive phrases, such as “Okay” or “That’s interesting.”
Classroom Activity:  Invite students to tell each other jokes to practice active listening. Gather joke books from your school library or send students online to Aha Jokes to find their favorite funnies to share with their friends. Have students work in small groups taking turns in the roles of speaker and active listeners. Older students can practice sharing opinions on class reading or plans for college or career.

Social Skill: How to Greet Others
Skill Steps:
1. Look at the person.
2. Use a pleasant voice.
3. Say, “Hi” or “Hello.”
Classroom Activity:  Challenge your students to come up with 25 or more possible greetings they can use with each other, with you or with a classroom guest. Include greetings in different languages. Each morning, go around the room and have each student offer a greeting to the class.

Social Skill: Following Instructions
Skill Steps:
1. Look at the person.
2. Say okay.
3. Do what you’ve been asked to do right away
4. Check back in with the person.
Classroom Activity:  Play classroom games that help students to increase their ability to follow instructions with traditional games like Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light. Or challenge your students to a scavenger hunt around the classroom or school.  Explain that theirs is no way to succeed without following directions precisely. As with all the skills, have your students go through the steps every time you issue a request until they become second nature.

Social Skill:  Asking for Help
Skill Steps:
1. Look at the person.
2. Ask the person if he or she has time to help you.
3. Clearly explain the kind of help you need.
4. Thank the person for helping.
Classroom Activity: Asking for help can be difficult for many students and even adults. In a class meeting, have student practice this skill by taking a fun and playful approach. On separate notecards, write down situations in which a person is asking for help, e.g., “a man asking a stranger for help moving a piano,” “a teacher asking a colleague for help grading a huge pile of papers,”  “an astronaut asking for help getting out of his suit.”  Invite pairs of students to pick a notecard to act out the scene including all the steps!

Social Skill: How to Get the Teacher’s Attention
Skill Steps:
1. Look at the teacher.
2. Raise your hand and stay calm.
3. Wait until the teacher says your name or nods at you.
4. Ask your question.
Classroom Activity:  Start by asking your students: “What is the WRONG way to get your teacher’s attention?” Encourage them to demonstrate all the wrong ways—waving their hands in the air wildly, jumping up and down, calling out, etc. They will enjoy this! Then, have volunteers model the correct way to get your attention.

Social Skill:  How to Disagree Appropriately
Skill Steps:  
1. Look at the person.
2. Use a pleasant voice.
3. Say, “I understand how you feel.”
4. Tell why you feel differently.
5. Give a reason.
6. Listen to the other person
Classroom Activity: Disagreeing without arguing is a skill that many adults as well as kids and teens find difficult. Like all social skills, it takes resources and practice. That’s why going over the steps of each skill is so important. Give students the chance to practice debating and disagreeing when the stakes are low. For example, write a controversial statement on the board such as, “Rum raisin is the very best flavor of ice cream,” or “Rap is not music,” and invite your students to disagree politely!

Social Skill:  How to Make an Apology
Skill Steps:  
1. Look at the person.
2. Use your best serious, sincere voice.
3. Begin with “I’m sorry for…”, or “I want to apologize for…”
4. Do your best not to make excuses.
5. Explain how you plan to do better in the future.
6. Say, “Thanks for listening.”
Classroom Activity:  Let’s face it: apologizing is hard, but it does get easier with practice. Consider tying your discussion of apologies to a book you are reading as a class. From David Shannon’s picture book No, David! to Louise Fitzhugh’s classic Harriet the Spy, many stories lend themselves to discussions of social skills, mistakes, and apologies.

 Social Skill:  How to Accept “No” for an Answer
Skill Steps:
1. Look at the person.
2. Say okay.
3. Stay calm.
4. If you disagree, return to the subject later in a respectful manner.
Classroom Activity: Accepting “no” can be difficult when we feel strongly about a situation. This is a skill that needs to be modeled repeatedly as its draws on other important skills. In order to accept “no” gracefully, a child needs to be able to respect authority, see another’s point of view, and have self control. Write 5-6 situations on notecards and give them to groups of students.  Examples: The class wants to ask the teacher to hold class outside.  Asking your parents if you can watch an R rated movie.  Challenge students to model how they will ask, and how they will handle the answer.  Talk about how they could return to the subject with a respectful argument at another time.

Developing the “I Can” Attitude

By Peggy James

Self-esteem is an essential quality of a successful student. A student without confidence in their own ability to learn will not learn to their full potential. A student without self-confidence can be an easy target for bullies and will seldom take risks reaching out socially or academically. Taking these types of chances gives students opportunities to grow, so this growth is limited in kids with a lower self-esteem.

By integrating ideas of acceptance, tolerance, and personal safety into our daily teaching, we can arm students with the confidence to learn anything. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t–you’re usually right.” This week, I am looking at resources and activities that will help students think they can.

Joann introduces three resources in her column (linked below) to help you include the study of self-esteem in your classroom. She presents an interesting discussion about finding quality lessons that aren’t too “fluffy” or “touchy-feely.”

Although slightly on the “touchy-feely” side, I really like the visual reminders about self-esteem from the book, “Have you filled a bucket today?” Learning to Give developed a self-esteem and anti-bullying lesson based on the book. Their lesson, Buckets of Kindness is a nice introduction to the topic and the bucket theme can be carried on throughout the year in discussions of self-esteem, kindness, and bullying.

Since every group of students is different, I recommend searching the Gateway for a perfect self-esteem curriculum for you. There are all different types. My initial search for self-esteem pulled up these 79 resources. Remember that you can narrow your search many different ways to find just what you need.

Are you interested in a high school lesson? Narrow your search by grade to find something like Chalk it Up: Self-Esteem, an activity that uses events and themes from the classic story of the Three Little Pigs to explore the topic.

Do your students need an activity that gets them moving? Narrow your search by subject area (physical education) to find resources like Self-Esteem Builder from PE Central.
There are many different ways to narrow your search, so I’ll let you find what’s right for you. As you prepare to teach the topic, you may want to read the following inspirational poem. Good luck developing self-esteem in your students this week!

The Victor by C. W. Longenecker

If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you like to win but think you can’t,
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost.
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellow’s will.
It’s all in the state of mind.
If you think you are out classed, you are.
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win the prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man.
But sooner or later, the man who wins
Is the man who thinks  


21 Simple Ways to Integrate Social-Emotional Learning Throughout the Day

by Elizabeth Mulvahill

ESSA recognizes social-emotional education as an important factor in helping students develop crucial life skills that go beyond academics. For an awesome infographic on the core competencies of social-emotional learning, click here.
Here are 21 simple ways you can support social-emotional learning for your students every day.

1. Start the day with a check-in.

Make it a goal to start each day with a personal connection. It doesn’t need to be a time-consuming or elaborate procedure. It could be as simple as giving a warm greeting to welcome each person as they arrive in the morning.

2. Use story time for teachable moments.

Read-alouds are the perfect tool for exploring social-emotional themes with your class. They’re not just for little kids either—there are tons of gorgeous picture books with complex themes and vocabulary that older kids will love too. Here’s a list to help start your social-emotional book library.
Storytime - 21 Ways to Integrate Social Emotional Learning

3. Work in partnerships.

Give kids lots of opportunities to work with partners. Working with a partner helps kids learn to cooperate and builds community in your classroom. Alternate between strategically assigning partnerships and allowing kids to make their own choices.

4. Teach them how to work in a group.

Being able to work in a group setting is an important life skill. Students will learn how to negotiate with others, develop leadership skills and figure out their own strengths so they can best contribute to the group. Click here for tips to make group work more productive.

5. Nurture a culture of kindness.

At the beginning of the year, read Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, a story about the power of kind words. Then create your own bucket for the classroom. Get a small tin bucket from a craft store and cut 3-by-3-inch pieces out of card stock. Kids can write messages of kindness, appreciation and love on the cards throughout the week to fill up the bucket. At the end of each week, spend a few minutes sharing these notes of encouragement to end the week on a positive note.

6. Give them new words to say.

Here’s a free poster, “8 Phrases That Nurture Growth Mindset,” that gives students positive phrases they can use to foster their resilience and overcome failure. Hang a large copy on the wall, or give them their own smaller version for their journals or planners.

7. Set up a Peace Place.

Create a special place in your classroom for kids to take a break when they are upset or angry or need to calm themselves. This space should have a peaceful atmosphere and might include comfy pillows to sit on, noise-canceling headphones, a fish tank, journaling materials, calming images and/or books about peace.

8. Teach your kids how to manage conflict with peer mediation.

Peer mediation is a problem-solving process that helps students involved in a dispute meet in a private, safe and confidential setting to work out problems with the help of a student mediator. There are lots of programs out there—here’s one sample curriculum.

9. Use anchor charts to teach social-emotional skills.

You can create anchor charts with your class about many different topics, from “Owning Your Learning” to “What Does Respect Look Like?” and “Be a Problem-Solver.” Check out the WeAreTeachers Classroom Management Anchor Charts Pinterest board for many more ideas.

10. Practice lots of role-play.

Sometimes you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to truly understand a situation. Taking time to role-play tricky or troubling situations that show up in your classroom helps kids develop empathy and understand other people’s feelings. For example, it’s a great strategy to use when discussing bullying. Read The 10 Key Benefits of Role-Play for Children.

11. Allow for talk time.

Give kids a lot of opportunities—both structured and unstructured—to talk to one another during the course of the day. Bouncing ideas off of one another or figuring out problems with a little give-and-take will help your students build understanding and confidence. Here are 10 great techniques to try with your students. When your class is cracking up and getting wiggly, taking a five-minute chat break is a great way to hit the reset button.

12. Play games to build community.

Cooperative-learning games can promote social and relationship skills. There are tons of resources out there for activities to play in your classroom. Here’s one we love: 10 Team-Building Games That Promote Critical Thinking.

13. Buddy up with an older or younger class.

Having a special connection with another class is a great way to build positive ongoing relationships in your school community. Kids are always amazed at how easy it is to find common ground with younger or older students. The big kids feel important and the little kids feel special. For how-tos, check out The Power of Buddy Classrooms: 19 Ideas.

14. Build community with teams.

Consider an alternative seating arrangement that allows kids to sit in teams. Let each team create an original name, motto and flag. This is a great way for students to feel a sense of belonging, and it encourages collaboration and cooperation. Change up teams every 6 to 12 weeks.

15. Teach them to monitor their own progress.

Make personal goal-setting (academic, emotional, social, etc.) a regular activity with your students. It will strengthen their intrapersonal skills and give them ownership of their own learning. Help them develop the habit of revisiting and adjusting their goals often to monitor progress. Am I meeting my goals? What do I need to work on next? How do I want to grow? For more on goal setting, click here.

16. Hold class meetings.

Check in frequently to celebrate what is working and address things that need tweaking within your classroom community. Empower all of your students with a voice and a vote to give them ownership of their environment.

17. Make space for reflective writing.

Give your student time to journal and free-write. Put on quiet music. Dim the lights. Make writing time a quiet, soothing break from busyness that your students will look forward to. For stubborn starters, you can provide a menu of optional prompts. For more information, read 6 Benefits of Journal Writing.

18. Encourage expression through art.

Sometimes students think and feel things that they can’t quite put into words. Art is a great tool to allow them to explore topics from a different perspective. Sketch your thoughts and feelings out as a prewriting activity. Create a painting as an interpretation of a piece of music or poetry.

19. Assign interview projects.

Have your students interview each other throughout the year about topics such as cultural background, family traditions or opinions about a current event. Conducting a formal interview is different than a casual conversation and teaches skills such as focused listening and conversational skills. In addition, learning about their classmates will broaden their perspective as they consider that everyone’s background and experience is not necessarily the same as their own.

20. Put ’em to work.

Classroom jobs teach responsibility and give kids ownership of their classroom. Pride in a job well done is a great confidence-builder. Here are 25 fun, easy job charts you can create for your classroom.

21. End each day with a checkout.

Circle up for just a few minutes at the end of each day to reflect on your day together. Check in with how your students are feeling, talk about what went well, read some notes from the kindness bucket and set some goals for tomorrow.