Mentoring Matters for Elementary Principals: April 2016

Leadership-life Fit: Mindfulness

Make these 4 simple mindful practices part of your daily routine to increase your efficacy and improve your well-being.

Leading Learning – Nurturing a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, professor at Stanford University and well known for her mindset research and its correlation to student achievement, recently addressed misconceptions about her work at an Education Week event. Blogger Evie Blad shared a summary of the take-aways. The following is adapted from that, and her full blog can be accessed here.

Most who recognize Dweck’s name understand that people operating from a fixed mindset see intelligence, ability, and other skills as innate traits like eye color and height. The implication for teaching and learning is that students are viewed as limited by the skills with which they were born. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset recognize that the brain can grow, that skills can be nurtured and developed and that intelligence is not something static. Consequently, all students can learn and grow if schools adapt to their needs and identify the strategies and practices that will help each student to develop his her abilities.

Dweck offers six suggestions for effective application of her research:

  1. Growth mindsets are not a silver bullet. Dweck cautions against expecting that change in mindset alone will result in increased learning. She encourages educators to understand the power in believing that all students can learn at high levels. (Hattie’s research affirms that high expectations in terms of what teachers believe about their students and their own abilities to reach their students in addition to what students believe about themselves can most significantly impact student learning and achievement—the effect size is 1.44!!)
  2. Mindset is not an either/or proposition. Students and educators alike have degrees of fixed and growth mindsets. For example, if I ask faculty to draw a pictorial representation of a concept, I might be triggering a fixed mindset for some who believe they can’t draw. This can serve as a barrier to their deeper understanding of the concept itself. The key is to be aware of the triggers—of those things that cause learners (adults or students) to retreat or disengage.
  3. Name your fixed mindset. Dweck suggests bringing your fixed mindset into the open by naming it. If a student is uncomfortable and believes she will fail when called upon randomly, she might note, “When we’re in a large group, and the teacher poses a question to the group, then looks my way, Matilda shows up.” In this example the student is bringing to light the fact she retreats when she fears being called upon at random. Not wanting to look dumb or stupid is reflective of a fixed mindset.
  4. Move beyond effort to strategies and practices. Help students like the one mentioned above in #3 to understand what strategies she might adopt to help herself as well as how she might work with the teacher to create a strategy for helping her grow in her comfort when called upon randomly. Perhaps the student puts her pencil in her right hand when she doesn’t have an answer.
  5. Develop a supportive, learning-oriented culture. How does your school and district respond to mistakes? How are innovation and learning encouraged? Does learning equate to one right answer in most classrooms? Or, are students and teachers encouraged to inquire, try a variety of solutions and resolve the problems they encounter? 
  6. Avoid labels. Labeling can result in making excuses—if someone is labeled as having a fixed mindset, then we might use that as the explanation for low performance rather than working to identify strategies that will help that person learn and grow. Or, labeling someone with a growth mindset might result in assumptions that they readily adapt and need no supports to learn because they are “naturally” oriented toward growth and learning. Again, mindsets are not an either/or proposition.

You can view Dr. Dweck’s full keynote:

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How do expectations for student performance impact your culture?
  2. How do expectations for teacher performance impact your culture?
  3. Where do you see examples of fixed mindsets in both staff and students? In yourself?
  4. Test your mindset:
  5. What strategies/practices might help you to support your staff in continuing to develop a growth mindset?

Leading Learning –Engaging Young Children in Project-based Learning

What does project-based learning look like for our younger students and why do we need to go beyond numeracy and literacy at this age? The challenges our world faces demand passionate learners and creative problem-solvers. Developing this mindset and capacity needs to begin with tapping into the innate curiosity of our youngest learners. Learn more from Judy Harris Helm’s article “Children's Thinking Takes Flight” in the March edition of Educational Leadership.

Project-based learning and teaching beginning in preschool and throughout the elementary years.


  • Today’s elementary students will face problems and opportunities that we cannot anticipate.
  • They’ll need to be passionate about learning.
  • They’ll need to be creative problem-solvers.
  • They’ll need to be persistent and driven to figure things out.
  • They’ll need to collaborate.
  • How they think today determines their ability to think in the future—if a student doesn’t use certain neurons of the brain early on, those pathways “prune away.” Opportunities for independent thinking early on strengthen those patterns in the brain for more independent thinking in secondary school and beyond.

How Project-based Learning Addresses these Needs:

  • PBL engages students in deep exploration of a topic and offers many hands-on opportunities.
  • PBL sparks deep questioning—both on the part of the teacher and from the students.
  • PBL requires students to do the thinking—which is especially valuable for young students who have not yet mastered reading and writing.
  • PBL is one component of a rich educational experience—not the entire day. It’s both PBL and other approaches.

Correlation between Mind, Brain, and Education Science and Recommendations:

  • Create student-centered learning environments that include teacher modeling of appropriate intellectual exchanges and authentic tasks. The teacher embeds facts and skills in natural contexts.
  • Include opportunities to practice higher-order thinking and apply the knowledge and skills students are developing.
  • Encourage students to interact with each other and engage in debate to connect to the social nature of learning.
  • Use past experiences to evoke emotion to help students connect to new learning in support of memory and recall of information.
  • Guide students in thinking about their thinking to help them consolidate and integrate their new learning—metacognition.
  • Maximize opportunities to engage students in new learning involving different people, places, and topics. This keeps students attending.

Resources to Support Elementary Teachers in Trying PBL:

Kohl's Childrens Museum Resources
Teachers Project Planning Journal
Best Practices, Inc.
Ohio Resource Center
Nature Connections Young Investigators Program

Access the full article from the March edition of Educational Leadership here.

Monthly Checklist: 

These lists are intended as a guide—we encourage you to process in your mentor-mentee team to identify other items that may need your attention!