“Growth Mindset” Helps Helen M. Smith Students Learn

Helen M. Smith Elementary School first-grade teachers Lilly Kulaszewski and Sarah Dlouhy can often be seen wearing T-shirts that say, “I believe in the Power of Yet.” The shirts may attract puzzled looks at the grocery store, but resonate on the school campus. That’s because the “Power of Yet” is a cornerstone of the school’s “Growth Mindset” framework, in which all students learn how to overcome adversity and accept responsibility for their own learning.

The “Power of Yet” calls for a change in the way a student looks at a problem or challenge. Instead of saying, “I can’t do that,” the student says, “I can’t do that, yet.” As Principal Robert Hinchliffe explained, “Even though a student may be struggling now, they are encouraged to keep trying and eventually get it. There’s a big difference between not knowing and not knowing yet.”

Inspired by the book, “Mindsets in the Classroom” by Mary Cay Ricci, the Growth Mindset is now in its second year at the school, and Hinchliffe calls it a huge success. “It’s been great watching our school come together and make excellent use of the Growth Mindset principles.” As explained by Kulaszewski, “It’s built into our culture and how we talk to our students. It’s about setting goals and making things happen.”

The Growth Mindset includes a unit about the brain and how it works. Teachers tell children about the neuron connections that happen when students are faced with a challenge. Those connections result in more neurological pathways and strengthen the brain.

Part of the Growth Mindset framework is the Class Dojo app which shares information about each student with the parent in real time while also disseminating schoolwide, grade-level, department and classroom highlights via photos and video. Ninety-five percent of the school’s parents have signed up for the app, giving them unprecedented access to the school and encouraging greater parent involvement.

Dlouhy said the Growth Mindset has a positive impact on communication among students and teachers. In the past, a teacher may have told a student “You did so well.” Under the new paradigm, the teacher is much more specific in their praise and brings home the point that a student can achieve anything so long as they have grit and determination.

Kulaszewski said her students cheer each other on as they learn. “One child is happy for another’s success. It’s amazing to watch, and it’s the most powerful thing I’ve seen in my class.”

Dlouhy and Kulaszewski are spreading the word about the program to other teachers in Nevada and nationwide through social media and other means. They have even started selling “Power of Yet,” “Got Grit?” and “Neuron Connections are my Jam” T-shirts online, and are excited to see other educators embrace the Growth Mindset principle and use it to transform their classrooms.