Helping Students Maintain Positive Mindsets

Recently, I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA 2012 Marathon in Washington, DC. At about mile 19 of the 26.2 mile run, I realized that the goal time I’d set for myself was not achievable. For the next mile or so, I felt defeated—I had done so much work towards meeting that goal, and I had failed.

I quickly realized, though, that this mindset wouldn’t help me finish the race strong and happy, so I changed my outlook to examining the positives. I had already run 19 miles! I was going to finish the marathon! I had overcome some tough challenges I hadn’t anticipated—such as near-80-degree temperatures in March and running with a crowd (24,000 people were on the course that day). With this shift in mindset, I crossed the finish line with a smile, knowing I was a lot closer to accomplishing my hope and dream than I’d been six months before.

Later, I started thinking about students who haven’t attained the goals they set for themselves earlier this year. (Many Responsive Classroom teachers use a goal-setting process at the start of each year; you can read about it how to do it in the article “Our Hopes and Dreams for School.”) Right now, many students may be feeling the way I felt around mile nineteen: defeated and wondering why they should keep working now that the end is in sight. The shift in mindset that helped me persevere can help these students, too. But students may not know how to make the shift on their own.

Teachers can help by reflecting with students on the progress they’ve made and assessing how much they’ve accomplished through their hard work. For instance, if a student has fallen short of her goal of memorizing all multiplication facts this year, show her that she has learned all of the 2’s, 3’s, 5’s, and 10’s. If a student has made fewer friends than he wanted to, point out kind interactions he’s had with classmates, how he’s involved in more games at recess and is invited to partner with classmates during work times.

In “Reflecting on Hopes and Goals,” Margaret Berry Wilson suggests some wonderful books that can help you guide students through reflecting on how much they’ve accomplished—and what they might want to accomplish in the last few months of school and on their own during the summer.

We can also teach students how to persevere when the road ahead seems way too challenging. In “Getting Past ‘I Can’t’,” Andy Dousis shows how breaking big tasks into smaller ones and helping children see and build on the skills they already have can give them hope and keep them going.

There will always be another race to run and there will always be more to learn; the only thing that will keep us from continually moving forward toward our goals is giving up. As teachers, our job is to help students maintain the positive mindsets that will enable them to continue trying, and to feel proud of each success they achieve along the way.

Sarah Fillion is a Responsive Classroom professional development designer.

Tags: Hopes and Dreams/Learning Goals

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