Friday, August 5, 2016

Back to the Future: Resetting Your Mindset in the Classroom

Don't you just love those movies? Classics! 
I had the privilege during our IC Institute this week to listen to Kristine Mraz speak. If you have not had a chance to read some of her books "Purposeful Play" and "A Mindset for Learning", you need to get on Amazon NOW! Today I will be focusing in on this particular book:

Go ahead and jump in your Delorean and reset your mindset for your classroom! 

I left the session after hearing her speak with a sense of validation, excitement, and realization.
Validation that the feeling that had been stirring in my heart and practice was true.
Excitement to share it out.
Realization to the fact that I had been doing some things a certain way for awhile I "thought" were best, but a realization that I can and need to continue to grow.

During the session we focused quite a bit on classroom management and behavior. For as long as I can remember this has always been a topic of concern and intrigue for teachers. 
"What do you use to manage your class?"
"How does it work?"
"Does it work for all?"
"What about _________ kids that _______?"

There are a million different stances on this topic. It can also turn into a very heated debate. However, what I took away from this week was a renewed sense of purpose for the "WHY" behind what we do to manage our classrooms and behaviors. 

Society today speaks for itself. I don't have to tell you our culture and environments around us have become very startling and in fact saddening. Hurt people hurt people. Many are always looking for the next best thing, or quick fix. I don't know that there really is a quick fix...except for Jesus ya'll! 
But for real, these kids in the here and now will grow up to lead us. The question is: How will they lead? And do we want to follow?

Well teachers, I'd have to say that it is up to us to cultivate a mass of future leaders that we feel secure knowing are leading. We also need to educate parents as well in the process. It takes a village right?
Now I don't live in denial land and I realize we can't change the world all at once, but what we can do is change our immediate environment. 

One thing that was brought up in the session was: sticker charts, clip charts, DoJo, etc. I am sure you have heard of these or even have used them in your own classroom. I know I have. Why? It's what were learned from someone else, what was safe, seemed like a positive way to reinforce good behavior. 
But if you stop for a moment to think about what we are reinforcing...things that should already be a base expectation? 
Now, like I said, I have used sticker charts, a clip stick and Dojo all like a boss. There is always the discussion of well if you don't use that then what do you use? We feel like we have to constantly bribe the kids. But what if we just explicitly taught behavior/social skills like we teach our content (reading, math, science, etc) 
What if we taught kids what was acceptable, expected, and right throughout our days and integrated it into our planning just like any other activity? Will it take time and some thought? Probably. Can you do it? Absolutely! 
Is it being said you need to go rip your clip chart to pieces and scrap DoJo and any other management technique to have in place? No. Just start somewhere. 
It truly will have to start with the mindset of the teacher. You are the model.
 You can plant that seed and help it to grow. 
Keep in mind SAFETY is the key to unlock the potential of your classroom. You have to make the kids feel safe to make mistakes and be alright doing so. 

Be honest with yourself, your colleagues and with your kids. Questioning the "why" behind things can get a conversation started. It can help lead you to your ultimate goal.

This particular feeling had been stirring inside of me for a few years now, especially in the last two years. I have always had this little, let's say, mindset angel sitting on my shoulder. I would often ask myself if there was a better way to manage my class each year without having to use the clip stick or give prizes for good behavior all. day. long. So I challenged myself. I took away those sticker charts. Guess what? We all survived and learned other new ways to achieve desired behaviors. 

I started integrating teaching those social skills and expectations much more frequently and with more fidelity than ever before. I spent A LOT of time building that community. I had always tried to build community in the classroom, as I think most teachers want to. But I REALLY made it a priority instead of the "Oh you cleaned up!" "Here is a sticker" Ummm cleaning up is an expectation in a community. You do it as an adult (well some do lol)  I started taking more time out in the mornings to set the tone for the day (another post for all that later) I focused on spreading the JOY about each other. Kids now days need to be taught how to gain pleasure and reward intrinsically. And yes, sadly today we have to teach that. 
Kristine said, "Compliance and control are short term solutions." We need to be teaching and cultivating the WHOLE child.

Another piece I started that paid me back ten fold was morning meeting and starting the day to rate our day for how we wanted it to go. I taught them the scale of 1-3. 1 being I have no positive expectations/struggle bus (maybe something happened on the way to school, etc) and 3 being "We are going to Disney World" (it will be epic and I am going to word hard today)! 
This gave me a good chance to glance around and maybe a kid that was holding a 1 or 2 I might spend some time one on one figuring out why they came in like that so early in the day and finding a solution to turn it around. Even if a kid held up a 3 doesn't mean we need to forget about them but can help us lead their day to stay at a 3 or help others throughout the day as well!
We discussed how sometimes our day will change and can go up and down like a roller coaster and that is okay. It is all how you manage the changes and being open to feedback and learning how to be in control. 
The second part of that is ending the day to debrief. Now I taught 1st graders and they were modeled what that was, looked like, and sounded like and they rocked it! 
Basically I would have them pack up maybe 5-10 minutes early and we sat together as a community and discussed our day. 
-what was positive?
-what was new learning?
-what maybe was not so positive and how do we deal with that?
-what can we change for tomorrow?
They would then rate their day again on the same scale and we could debrief that as well. 

The list can go on  and on! Basically diving into that Growth Mindset shift. Did we get to it every. single. day. ? happens, fire drills happen, bleeding happens, throw up happens, getting really into your teaching happens; but if we didn't get to it I made sure they all tried to leave feeling accomplished about their day. Maybe a whisper quickly, a high five, a thumbs up, something to show them they matter. 
How you start their day and end their day can have a major impact. 

Another amazing piece of advice I got was: when you are planning for your weeks make sure you ask if there is a:
1. Content goal (that's automatic when teaching right?)
 2. Language goal  
3. Social Goal 

If you plan that meaningfully then your behavior and social goals can be met. 

Be personal when choosing mentor texts and read alouds to use in reading and writing workshop. Can those be connected to the behavior/ social side as well as content?

In writing workshop you can teach and write about social stories. 
-How to solve a problem w. friends, teachers, etc
-How to speak to each other
-dealing with failure
-building each other up
-how to tell someone to stop
-what does empathy look like

Model and teach "self talk". Talking becomes thinking. A kid has a meltdown because they can't draw or get their color crayon how can they be taught to self monitor and self talk their way through it?

Here are some anchor charts she showed that could be created in your own classroom.

 Are all kids created equal? Is what works for me what will work for you? Will you have perfect days yourself? I'm going to say no to those questions. 
Can you adjust and make it your own? Can you take a leap and try one or two things? Can you be more meaningful in making those connections for social behavior in your teaching? I am going to answer YES to all of those questions. 
There will always be kids (and adults) that certain strategies are not working for them. Welcome to real life right? It is not being said everyone will always fit into the same box. That's when you as the teacher sit down and reflect, get creative, seek council and try other things. 

Another thing that moved mountains in my classroom once I decided to be more finite in my community, was taking the time to have those discussions with my kids. Whole group, small group, one on one, walking down the hallway, stepping out, at recess. I made a much more concerted effort to "be there". Sometimes curriculum was paused for a bit. 
As a teacher I understand all too well the "Time Game". We all play it day in and day out, most of the time losing, never passing GO, sometimes getting thrown in "jail" so to speak. Time is fleeting. Time won't slow down and it never stops. It's the fact and once you accept that then you can move onto changing your mindset and shifting your thinking to shift your kids thinking. Baby steps. Rome wasn't built in a day eh? 
It was also said, "Self esteem is the outcome of good habits." 
If we can build those habits, especially when they are young, the world opens up. Interactions open up. Leading opens up. 

Remember when I said it starts with YOU. It really does. 

It takes self awareness too and honesty with yourself. 
When you want to say "Ok I can't draw so don't laugh at me." or "I was never really good at math either." What is that showing them? 
Instead be aware of your own mindset and words. Maybe say, "I know this is hard, but I can get better at it. It may take time."

This is such a vast topic I totally understand. I could go on and on. I also know we are creatures of habit. We need to break our own habits and comfort levels to be able to step outside the box for our future. 

How do you start?
Well this is the perfect time because it is the beginning of the year with a fresh start! 
If you are like, Ashley I can't let go of my clip chart! It's a part of me! Ok keep it...put it somewhere you can see it but maybe don't introduce it to the kids. Maybe it's a comfort thing for you, but those kids won't know any better. Start strong with teaching behavior expectations, social skills, building that amazing community and I bet you won't even need or remember you had that clip chart. 
Or if you are a sticker chart person don't even put them on the tables. 

Some things I like using and see an effect:
-Table points (helps reinforce tally marks and team building)
-BIP/VIP system (you can see that here and here)
-Growth Mindset teaching (see my resource here)
-Coupons (be choosy which ones you incorporate)
-Positive notes home/picture sent via email/Bloomz
-Positive verbal feedback
-Morning meeting/Afternoon wrap up
-My time & attention (simple as that)
-Whole Brain Teaching
-Think time reflection
-Constant communication with parents

Some things to let go of:
-Sticker charts
-Clip chart or clip stick
-_________ (insert others not listed)

All the while fostering a community of safety, expectations and growth! 

I kept my clip stick for 8 years. But this past year I also experimented with not relying on it as much once I built that little community of family. Did I feel like I was missing something every time we walked out the door? Or a kid had an issue? At first yes...I was used to this. Did I get over it? Yes. I actually found myself not even noticing anymore. Did the kids notice and over throw me? No! They were ok as well because they had been taught and modeled with other positive mindset strategies. They knew I was going to be there to support and give space when needed. To love and laugh. To give feedback and spend time working through. 

Will you encounter bumps along the way? Kids that it doesn't "seem" to reach or work for? Days it seems like a bear you are wrestling only to be defeated? Again, yes to all of this. Should you give up? No! Will you want to? Maybe. That's where an accountability buddy comes in handy! Find at least one that can help pump you up, be honest with you, and you can trust! After all, how can we teach little minds to believe us if we aren't walking the walk and talking the talk ourselves? 

Is there WAY more to be said on all of this? Of course! This was just the tip of the iceberg. It is up to you to start those conversations and get geared up to start somewhere! 

I am going to leave you with some resources already in my Amazon cart! Keeping informed and knowledgeable helps tremendously when trying to give feedback to parents and keep them informed as well about how your classroom runs. 

Books for educators:

In my next Back to the Future post, I will address the 5 most powerful attributes to incorporate into your classroom community! Stay Tuned!

One last thing: A quote I have clung to:

"Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us."
 John 4:11-12

I love that this verse can be easily weaved into this post today. Love those kids enough to show them the way. Use God's gifts he has given you to spread Joy throughout your communities (personal and school). Plant that seed of hard work and perseverance. The end result is more enjoyable even through failure. 

Have a BLESSED weekend!



  1. Wonderful article, Ashley - Your passion for growth mindset is contagious! I'll be using your growth mindset bundle in my room this fall - thanks for the amazing resource! :)

    1. Thank you girl! I appreciate the positive feedback! I hope it works well for you! Please feel free to share how you use it!