Friday, June 5, 2015

Book Study: Mindsets in the Classroom with Hello Sunshine

Good morning! I'm very excited to announce here that the collaborative blog I'm a part of, Hello Sunshine, is doing a book study for the entire month of June with Mindsets in the Classroom by Mary Cay Ricci! Every 2-3 days, a different blogger will be covering a different chapter over on the blog where you can link up with your book study blog posts and have some wonderful collaboration and conversation.

I have to be honest -- I knew absolutely nothing about this book when my friend Jennifer over at The Blessed Teacher suggested we use this book for our summer book study, but after reading the first chapter, I'm already hooked! Mary Cay Ricci introduces the book with some powerful statements about growth and fixed mindsets and how it can positively and negatively affect our students. Check out the frame below for my chapter highlights - I'll go more in depth with each point further down in this post.


A growth mindset asserts that intelligence is a malleable quality that can be changed and developed. Learners with a growth mindset believe they can learn just about anything.

As a kindergarten teacher, I often notice that kinder kids lack confidence in themselves, especially at the beginning of the year. School is already a new and intimidating place to most kids when they first come to school and they can worry a lot about everything in their new surroundings. Nearly everything that is introduced to them in their first school year is a brand new concept and they often feel as if they will "disappoint" their teacher if they do something wrong on their work. A key phrase I am always using in my classroom is "Try your best!" If a student tells me they can't do something, I tell them that all I want them to do is try, even if they get it wrong the first time. The kids pick up on it quickly to the point where if a student says they can't or don't know how, I prompt the kids and they encourage their own peers by saying, "Try your best!" It really provides a sense of support amongst everyone just to encourage with those three simple words; and rarely does a student not respond to it.

The focus of a growth mindset is on learning, not on looking smart.

Students put so much stock in "looking smart" that they often are scared to try for fear of looking anything but. A growth mindset encourages effort and hard work and celebrates even the smallest amount of growth because we KNOW they will get there!

An educator with a growth mindset believes that with effort and hard work from the learner, all students can demonstrate significant growth and therefore all students deserve opportunities for challenge.

This part of the chapter really stood out to me. Mary Cay Ricci writes, "Add to this belief an effective teacher armed with instructional tools that differentiate, respond to learner's needs, and nurture critical thinking processes, and you have a recipe for optimum student learning.

OPTIMUM. STUDENT. LEARNING. Isn't that what we all hope, dream, and strive for as educators?! Imagine what your classroom would look like if you had optimum student learning. It excites me so much as an educator. Think about how engaged and challenged your students would be in this type of environment. I envision student-led learning, cooperative learning groups, encouragement, and inspiration. Think about how much growth your students would achieve here!

To piggyback off of that statement, I want to bring you to the one line that really hit me in the gut:

An educator's mindset directly influences how a child feels about him or herself and how he or she views him - or herself - as a learner.

There's no middle man. There's nothing to go between you and your student. It is YOU that is directly responsible for how your students view themselves as learners. How powerful is that? It's why I will never understand how anyone can be a teacher who wasn't completely passionate about their job. As for myself as a kindergarten teacher, I understand that I am giving my students their very first school experience; and I don't take that lightly. I am setting the stage for their entire school "career", if you will. My attitude and my mindset are going to be so influential to my young learners. I want my kids to be excited to come to school and learn. If I've achieved that, then I know I'm going in the right direction.

The Role of Potential and Hard Work

Mary Cay Ricci writes about how the word "potential" is often used in ways that have a negative connotation. She notes a phrase that we hear thrown around all the time: "We will help your child reach his full potential." Now looking at that phrase, it initially sounds great. Everyone who says it is well-meaning in their statement. But Ricci makes a great point when she asks, "How does potential become full? Potential can never be full; it is never-ending and our possibilities are limitless." It's easy to put limits on students we see struggling, or who get certain test scores. We often times remove them from challenging situations. 

She writes that one major obstacle for hampering student potential is that we judge students on the speed in which things are completed. As a teacher, I absolutely loathe this new mindset that seems to have infiltrated schools and districts everywhere. Testing has become such a huge focus that everyone wants to "compact the core" or shove tons of information at students before they are cognitively ready to move on. When I first started teaching, we did not introduce and go in depth on the teen numbers in math until January. This gave us an opportunity to really dive in to numbers 0-10 and teach number sense, counting, decomposing numbers, etc. which gave them a strong foundation for when we did introduce those tricky teen numbers. When we started having new benchmark tests, however, they included teen number concepts, which essentially cut our time in half for teaching numbers 0-10 and rushed through teen number concepts so that they would have some sort of background knowledge when they saw the problems they had to solve independently. I really noticed a difference in my students in that their number sense and number identification concepts were not as strong as they were when we had more time to really engage with the concepts.

To wrap it up, I thought Ricci's classroom survey was really telling in the change of mindsets in students. She entered a kindergarten classroom and reported that 100% of the students demonstrated a growth mindset. They believed they could, so they did! This is one of the reasons I absolutely love teaching kindergarten. They are so excited about school that they cheer for something as simple as getting a brand new notebook from the teacher. It's so easy to get them invested and excited in their learning because they haven't been jaded by school yet. When she moved up to 3rd grade to survey them, the number had dropped all the way to 42%! I just so believe that this is a result of all of the importance and focus placed on testing. Kids start to see their scores and lose belief in themselves because teachers are forced to make it such an important goal. And while assessments are important, we all know as educators that test scores don't tell the whole story of a child.

So, what's my take away?

You all are amazing and I know that the majority of teachers believe in their students and want the best for them. I'm excited to see what other golden information I can gleam from this book as I keep reading! I hope you will join in and link up with us over at Hello Sunshine - we'd love to hear your thoughts about it as you read along with us!
Click the button below to head to Hello Sunshine and join in the book study!

Hello Sunshine!


  1. Encouragement is key, I love that simple statement and yes I believe we influence our children's mindset in a huge way! Great post Caitlin!

  2. Great post Caitlin! The part about growth mindset being focused on learning and not on looking smart has been HUGE in my classroom. I teach the gifted cluster, which means that I have all of the third graders identified as gifted in my room. Growth mindset has been such a huge thing for them because I have found that many of those kids are afraid of challenges and taking risks because they fear not looking smart! Love that we are all going through this study together!