M is for Mindset

Audio as read by Lynn Thomas

There is a lot of talk about mindset in education today, and I agree, it is important; I just think that we put too much emphasis on only one type of mindset and we need to broaden our scope. I see mindset on three levels that are interdependent, picture three concentric circles if you will. In the centre is have, surrounding that is encourage, and surrounding that is support.

This may seem redundant, but it helps me really flesh out how I see mindset.


What mindset do we have as a teacher? As a person? What is our prime focus, our motivation? How deeply do we truly explore our own mindset? Our mindset can’t be merely surface-level nods to the appropriate response of “I believe in growth mindset” or whatever the latest trend may be because what we believe deeply will always reveal itself and be reflected no matter how much we like to think we can cover it up. This came to light for me recently when I had the opportunity to co-host with Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley on the VoicEd podcast This Week in Ontario Edublogs. The program features discussion of various blogs by educators in Ontario. One of the posts was particularly poignant to me. In fact, it was quite disturbing. A Guy Walks into a Bar, from The Beast, a blog co-authored Kelly MacKay and Andrea Kerr, relays the conversation of two people on a date at a bar. This may sound rather mundane, but it is anything but when the conversation dives into the exploration of privilege. The importance of deep self-reflection becomes apparent as seemingly innocuous comments and attitudes reveal an ugliness beneath. A further example of how apparently harmless quips become insidious indoctrination into extremist ideologies is shown in this Twitter feed from Joanna Schroeder about how social media is used to promote white supremacist and racist ideologies by undermining the idea that privilege exists. This post drove home the idea of how easily our personal beliefs, our mindset, is reflected positively or negatively in everything we do and there is no way NOT to have it affect our teaching and our students so we better have a very clear and realistic grasp of our own attitudes, biases, and beliefs.


What mindset we encourage happens in a number of ways. Part of it goes back to HAVE and what we silently reflect, what we model every day. The other part is more explicit in how we teach. What methods are we using? If we teach to the test, the mindset will be one that sees failure as negative and that learning doesn’t matter, the mark does. The methodologies we incorporate in our classrooms speak volumes in encouraging a positive student mindset. Kathleen Carroll, in her article from Edsurge, Teenage Brains Are Elastic. That’s a Big Opportunity for Social-Emotional Learning, outlines the importance of mindset and how using methods that encompass social-emotional learning develop a mindset ripe for life-long learning. She says:

“Social-emotional learning, or SEL, encompasses the broad spectrum of skills, attitudes and values that promote success in school and in life, things like managing emotions, setting and achieving goals, persevering through adversity and working in a team. It explicitly acknowledges the importance of mindset and the fundamentally interpersonal project of education, in which knowledge is developed through a series of trusting relationships between teachers, students and peers.”

Kathleen Carroll

One technique described in Carroll’s article that encourage this type of learning is referenced as “maze moments”. Looking at learning as navigating through a maze

“[gives] teenagers a new way to understand and articulate their roles as not-yet-perfect masters in school and in life. Instead of a frustrated “I don’t get it,” students can visualize their position in the maze: what they’ve learned so far, what they don’t yet know, and how they might persist past this current challenge to chart a different path and solve the problem.”

Kathleen Carroll

Do the techniques we use every day, whether that be in how we deliver a lesson, or our assessment methods, promote this kind of social-emotional learning? Again, we need to deeply examine what messages are being sent silently in our classrooms that can encourage or discourage positive student mindset.


You may think HAVE and ENCOURAGE covers it, but I think SUPPORT is vital. Examining and adjusting our own mindset and the methods and assessments we utilize in class go a long way in supporting student mindset regarding learning, but we all know that mindset goes much deeper than one area of life. Our daily practice also needs to support the whole child including their personal mindset, in other words, their mental health and wellness. I have talked about mental health and wellness in my blog posts before (see The Long Dark Days of November and H is for Happy), but it is paramount in my opinion that we focus a great deal more on it throughout our curriculum, not just in health class. A person whose mindset is affected by stress, grief, depression, anxiety, etc cannot learn to their full potential. Thus, the first step in being supportive is understanding, in which case people need to be more educated, myths and misconceptions need to be revealed for what they are and the stigma needs to be reduced. Addressing mental health and wellness – because we ALL have mental health – should rank first in supporting healthy, positive mindsets.

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