Mindset and Resilience: Some Strategies to try with Students

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Resiliency Theory and Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset has really resonated with me as a future educator. I believe wholeheartedly that resiliency is one of the key ingredients in overcoming any risk factor, and teachers can play a significant role in helping children to develop this trait over time. Knowing how to go about doing so however, is not always so easy, so I’ve compiled a list of my favourite classroom applications of Mindset and Resiliency Theory, as discussed in my At-Risk concentration course:

  • Place emphasis on strengths: No matter the student, always keep your attention primarily on what he or she CAN do, rather than what he or she CANNOT do. Doing this both implicitly and explicitly will eventually help children to develop a higher level of self-efficacy, confidence, and resilience, because it allows them to see themselves as talented and capable individuals.


  • Create a safe and inclusive space: While this is certainly not an overnight process, it can be one of a teacher’s greatest tools in helping children become resilient. This is because inclusive, welcoming, respectful classrooms in which every child feels cared for, loved, and valued as individuals provide a safe space for both academic and personal growth. They give students a haven in which they are free to be their true selves, and this in turn provides the emotional support that they will need to overcome life’s obstacles.


  • Learn something new: This technique is aimed at helping kids to unpack their definitions of “intelligence,” and shift their focus from doing everything correctly, to growing as learners and making mistakes along the way. In my curriculum course for Mathematics, I experienced this technique first-hand when I was given the task of learning a new skill that incorporated Mathematics in some way. I chose latch hooking (or rug hooking), and found the experience of stepping back into the shoes of the learner incredibly useful and eye-opening. I think a great idea would be to choose a new skill to learn as an entire class, and to experience each phase of the learning process alongside your students, in order to demonstrate to them the importance of frustration, setbacks, mistakes, and perseverance  in achieving our goals.


  • Model Learning Goals: One of the main ways that I incorporated this strategy in my practicum classes was through the use of anchor charts, which I introduced to the class at the start of a new unit, and kept on display in the classroom during work periods. To me, learning goals help students to develop a growth mindset because they focus on individual improvement, knowledge building, and skill development, not on achievement or grades. In order to be successful, learning goals must focus on specific skills, be written in student-friendly language, and make use of “I” or “we” statements. For example, the learning goal for my recent Grade 6/7 Poetry unit was “We are learning to write different types of poetry about topics that are related to one of the four elements (Water, Air, Earth, Fire).” I then expanded on this learning goal with the following success criteria: “The language in my poem uses the 5 senses to help my reader make mental pictures,” “I have used detail and descriptive, creative writing to make my poem sound interesting,” and “my poem is my best possible work.” I chose these criteria because they gave my placement students a goal to focus on, without having them become pre-occupied with a mark. Instead, I wanted them to put their attention towards reaching their potential as writers, and developing new skills along the way.


  • Give Praise for Effort: As teachers, it can be easy to fall into the trap of citing ability as the reason for our students’ achievement. But well-intended compliments such as “You’re so smart!” or “Great job– you’re really good at [insert skill or subject area here]!” can potentially backfire because they cause children to develop a fixed mindset about themselves and their successes. Instead, it is often more effective to praise children for their hard work and effort, and expressing genuine pride and excitement when they persevere during a more difficult task. This will let students know that they are capable of improvement, and it also makes them more likely to respond positively to challenges.

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