Classroom Hack: Growth Mindset Toolset & Resource Bank

Ever hear something that instantly resonates with you and makes everything in your life seem incredibly simple and straightforward?

Me either.

But, the closest approximation to this is Carol Dweck’s mindset theory. Not familiar? Check it. I’ll wait.

Mindset Theory

In short, Dweck theorizes that there are two types of mindsets: those that are fixed and those that are not.

People with a fixed mindset (named as such) see their traits as unchanging- what they’ve got is what they’ve got, and their self-worth and importance is defined by these traits. Things like talent, intelligence, and performance can have dramatic effects on how people with a fixed mindset see and think of themselves. In a school setting, we might see this with grades. Students who have a fixed mindset believe they are determined by their grades. They will celebrate an A, but instantly feel a panic. Now that they’ve received one A, they will absolutely have to get an A every time thereafter. Anything else is failure. The expectations heighten, as does the anxiety, and the pressure to perform becomes suffocating. If failure does happen (which– with impossible standards, how could it not?), it can lead to disappointment, shame, or even self-loathing.

Yet, interestingly, this desire to grasp this identity doesn’t always translate into work. This is because people with a fixed mindset, as you recall, think they’re either born with it. To be challenged is to be threatened. The path with the least chance of failure is alluring and essential to maintaining self-esteem for those with a fixed mindset.

At this point, it’s probably clear that there are some consequences with fixed mindsets. If you’re always taking the easy path, how much are you really gaining- let alone, growing? If you can’t expose yourself to trying to new things because you’re crippled with fear of failure, how long until even the things that you excel at start to frighten you?

Enter growth mindsets.

To grossly oversimplify, a growth mindset is the opposite of a fixed mindset. People with this mindset are excited by challenge and see failure as one option and merely that. Failure, nor success, defines someone with a growth mindset. Rather, it’s the process of figuring out how to get to the next level. Growth mindset people are motivated, rather than intimidated, by goals. Rather than be intimidated by their started point, they are excited about their end-point.

In a school setting, you might see a student who is really eager to become a writer, or a scientist, or a programmer, or fluent in another language. These students are motivated by the end-point and while they may experience failure along the way, their failure doesn’t define them; rather, their goal ultimately energizes them and propels them forward.

So… we can probably say with certainty that growth mindsets are objectively more desirable. They help us learn, grow, change personally. Arguably, a person who adopts a growth mindset tackles challenges and likely helps others along the way. Not to say a fixed mindset person isn’t; but if someone is consistently avoiding challenge, it’s likely they are also quick to hide from others in the face of something that makes them feel vulnerable.

So, we all agree?

I’m pretty sold on the growth mindset. It’s productive, positive, and freeing. I’d love to see all challenges as simply obstacles. It seems like I can do this in some areas of my life easily (filing my taxes— I have to do them, and they’re confusing; but whether or not I do them well does not have much of an effect on how I view myself ) and not so easily in others (when I feel a lesson or activity I’ve facilitated has flopped, I immediately think: I’m a bad teacher, and therefore I am worthless).

Now, how do we get there?

While I intuitively recognized two readily available examples of where I waver with growth and fixed mindsets, there’s a better (more responsible and holistic) way or two. Let’s dive into the resources:

  1. THE TEST: Before we start looking into resources, let’s get our starting point. The test, developed by Dweck herself, and takes less than 3 minutes to complete. You get a very basic idea of where you fall. (Pssst: if you want some more detailed results, check this test, in addition).
  2. THE BOOK: You’ve taken the test, have a fuzzy idea of what it’s all about, and you’re ready to change your life and take on the world, right? Wrong-o! Equip yourself with more information. Read the book and treat yourself to the wide range of context to which mindsets can be applied. Personal checklists and guides included. Appropriate for adults
  3. THE JOURNAL: The company Big Life has tackled creating resources for kids, tweens, and teens focused on developing (and practicing!) growth mindsets. The Journal, also available in free (!!!) printouts, walks kids through scenarios, reflections, and activities they can recognize in their own life from school to sports to family to friendships. On a meta level, a growth mindset comes from practice; the practice of journaling (about mindset) doubles down on the progress towards kicking the fixed mindset to the curb.
  4. THE TEACHING RESOURCES: Ready to take your growth mindset to the next level? Check out the abundant free resources made specifically for teachers. This includes how to adopt a growth mindset as an educator; language and norms that encourage a classroom buzzing with growth mindset; and resources and activities you can use with parents and students.
  5. FOR THE LITTLES: It’s never too early to start cultivating a growth mindset. How cool are these children’s books (picked by teachers)?


Like any change, adopting a growth mindset will take time, and it’s likely we’ll fall back into old habits steeped into our bones and routines…but as we know, these are merely obstacles on our path to growth.

…tell me:

  • Do you know your mindset?
  • Have you brought mindset theories into your classroom?

[Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash]

Curriculum, Instructional Tools

Classroom Hack: Table Captains for Small Group Work

Small group-work: on the surface, it seems like a fantastic way to foster inquiry, bolster peer-to-peer interaction, and give students a taste of those real-world skills of collaboration, problem-solving, and communication.

But, as any substitute teacher will tell you, small group-work does not just happen. In fact, giving students a set of directions and letting them at it is most certainly a recipe for not-total-success. There are a lot of implicit assumptions on the teachers’ end: that students will know when they’ve reached the end of the task; that students will have all of the resources to finish the task; that all students will contribute and roughly equally; that all students will know exactly what needs to get done and a general idea of how. And the list goes on.

And, if your students are anything like I was when I was 11, if any of the above assumptions prove faulty, soon the task at hand, the collaboration, and any form of focus will fly across the room faster than a spitball.

So what to do?

First, let’s cover the bases. In order for group-work to…work, the following is a quick to-do list for teachers:


…come to think of it, this is probably an applicable framework for introducing anything in the classroom. But, I digress.

One of the problems with giving directions and letting students have at it is that students likely need more support when it comes to role definition. It’s unfair to constantly assume one student will “step up” as a leader. This is typically an extroverted student who perhaps doesn’t always particularly like the role, and it also makes it ever-challenging for introverted or more timid students to take on a role, which they may actually love!

Enter Table Captains: an equitable way for students to practice leadership roles, either as designated leaders or active followers.

How it works

Here’s the gist:

  • Students are divided into groups of 3-6
  • Each group has 1 Table Captain
  • Table Captains have extra responsibilities are in charge of keeping the team in line with respect to task completion; timing; and organization

A Table Captain is in charge of all materials and ensures the small groups stay on task within the given time frame. The philosophy is that students without a strong focus or drive tend to rapidly dissipate. With a clear leader in the group, students know who to turn to when they have questions about the task at hand. Additionally, when students have a leadership role, they are more likely to be invested in the tasks at hand, and ultimately, the learning at hand. This strategy also allows students to practice speaking to one another, instead of simply just to a teacher. In doing so, you’ll find students are learning from one another, and really… isn’t that kind of what we’re going for here? (Nod your head)

The Goods

Below is a sample Table Captain Task Page:.

Table Captain supplies in my (Grade 5-7) classroom typically include Post-Its + Folder with all necessary articles and Table Captain task page. I announce Table Captains the night before so students who may need (or appreciate) it can mentally prepare for being a leader.

Putting it all together

In order for students to understand how this works, follow the above to-do list:

  • EXPLAIN IT (have a conversation with your class about leadership opportunities)
  • EXPLAIN IT AGAIN DIFFERENTLY (show students a Table Captain sheet. Ask them what roles a Table Captain seems to hold)
  • MODEL IT (use a fellow teacher, aid, student, etc. and show, in a condensed version, of what this process looks like. For real. Do it.)
  • PRACTICE IT (give a sample task to the class. Offer students the chance to demonstrate to the class, if they’re confident)
  • DO IT (give a real task! Let it rip!)
  • COACH IT (wander about while students engage in Table Captain tasks. Check in with your Captains after class. Have them send you a quick email, including what went well and what was challenging– 1 sentence each)
  • PRACTICE IT AGAIN (keep doing it! You won’t know how it’s going until you’ve done it more than once)
  • SUPPORT IT (check in with your Table Captains. Be consistent. Even if it seems to not work the first few weeks, give it a chance. Don’t judge it until students have been Table Captains at least 3 times. That’s approximately 12 rounds. Data is important!)
  • REFINE IT (something work better or differently in your classroom? Get creative! Own it, customize it, rock it.)
Social-Emotional Learning

GIRL em(POWER)ed: Tools & Tips to Embolden Girls


It’s no secret that girls today are facing adversity. With gender pay gaps still a reality and the hard truths of the #metoo movement exposing trauma and , it’s a scary time to be a girl. As educators, it’s more important than ever that we are tuned in to our students– not just their names or their grades, but a holistic understanding of who they are and what their world is. If we can’t recognize the gamut of conditions that exist in our students’ worlds outside of the classroom, we’re not doing our jobs.

This series, GIRL em(POWER)ed, will speak to the need to cultivate strength, boldness, and confidence in our girls. All of the activities can certainly be applied to any gender, but they were created with females in mind.

So, what are girls of today facing, exactly? Geography pays a huge role. If we focus on North America, we eliminate some of the tragic issues faced by other nations, including limited access and incentive for schooling; poverty and forced labor-force participation; limited curriculum available to girls; long distances to school; violence; sex trafficking; and forced family creation. There are a few amazing, dedicated organizations who have made their mission to girls education (see: PlanCanada, CARE, Malala Fund, Global Girls Alliance, to name a couple).

This series provides bite-size, easy steps for your classroom, club, organization, family, and so forth, that you can use on a daily or immediate basis with limited planning and resources. It’s founded on three central themes for fostering strong girls:

Freedom to Individuality: Girls are bombarded on all sides with messages, often wildly conflicting, about how they should be, who they should be, how they should act, and what they should or shouldn’t do. It’s impossible to shut out all of those voices as you’re just beginning to navigate who you are. While we want to foster strong and bold girls into women, we must allow them to try on many versions of themselves and be individuals and ultimately, allow girls to choose who they are. Let them be free to discover themselves and support them relentlessly on the journey.

Relationship: Navigating this world feeling like nobody cares or is on your side is truly the worst feeling. There are so many contentious messages regarding self worth girls are internalizing, and doing it solo is not only painful, but also unhealthy and even unsafe. Fostering relationships with girls is critical not only for the girls themselves but for healthy, happy, thriving classrooms. Find out their interests, make connections. Ask them how their swim meet went. Care about their weekends. Really read what they write in their creative essays. Invest in girls. 

Belief: Believe in girls’ abilities to learn, to change, to grow, to try, to care, to evolve. Some of my own most vivid memories that defined my self-worth as a young woman are offhand comments a teacher or coach made, both the positives and the negatives. I had a cross-country coach who said to me once, “You really don’t care, do you?” I actually really did- I just didn’t believe in myself. That comment has stuck with me until today, and still makes me feel ashamed. Conversely, my 6th grade science teacher complimented me in front of a group of my peers, saying my poster layout I contributed for the team was sophisticated. I have never forgotten how proud that made min that moment. We likely all have moments like this, and the takeaway is: tell and show girls that you believe in them. Be a mentor who encourages and believes in them without condition.

How are you empowering girls in your schools? I’d love to hear about it!