Empowering Through the Growth Mindset

Standardized tests can be really hard on kids’  self esteem. They send the message that a child’s worth is defined by a number. A few months ago, my school administered middle-of-year testing. Once the results came in, I had a conversation with one student about her performance so far during the year. She identified that her score dropped from Fall to Winter. I asked her what she think changed between Fall and Winter (expecting her to reflect on her study and organizational skills, which could use some development). What she said instead made my stomach churn: “I got dumber.”

Though I wasn’t surprised that a student would respond this way to seeing a score drop, the hurt and disappointment in her eyes was still jarring to me. I responded with a description of a “growth mindset,” telling her that I didn’t think there was such a thing as “smart” and “dumb.” I told her that there are a lot of things that could have happened, but none of them reflect her ability, just her skill level. It was likely that she forgot some skills, but that didn’t mean she was any less intelligent. We just needed to come up with a plan of action for getting those skills back. She really seemed to respond well to our conversation, but I wasn’t sure there would be any change in what I saw in class.

A few days later, the same student stayed after school for extra help in Social Studies. After office hours, she came running into my room, crying. I was obviously concerned and asked her what was wrong. She replied, “Nothing! Nothing’s wrong at all. I’m just really proud of myself. I stayed focused in office hours, and now I really understand all of this stuff about the constitution. You were right—if I work hard, I can learn anything!”

Now, any time I have a hard day at work (because, let’s be honest, teaching is just plain hard work), I remember that day. Afternoons like that are the reason why I teach. Teachers, and adults in general, have a lot of influence on the way children see themselves. It is up to us to show them that they are more than just a number. We need to think very intentionally about how we show kids that we believe in them and know they can succeed. Please join me this week in taking the time and making the effort to tell a child you believe in him or her.

— Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor and Special Educator

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.

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