Behavioral Mindsets

Carole Dweck’s concept of growth mindset, or the belief that intelligence is changeable rather than fixed, has been widely embraced by educators across the country. I know many teachers who have spent quality time in these first weeks of the school year fostering a classroom culture that values taking academic risks and making mistakes in order to learn and grow. There are google searches and pinterest boards full of ideas for posters, anchor charts, and lesson resources emphasizing the “power of yet” and the importance of growth mindsets. Research shows that this kind of teaching can impact students’ mindsets and leads to more positive motivational patterns and subsequent academic achievement.

I wonder…what would a classroom be like if a teacher also embraced a growth mindset with regard to student behavior instead of just academics?

Too often, teachers focus on controlling and tracking student behavior with management systems such as color-coded clip charts or online behavior tracking tools. A student misbehaves and a teacher gives a warning and then a consequence, like changing their card to a different color and missing part of recess. Management systems like this convey a fixed mindset with regard to student behavior. Teachers assume students are going to make poor choices and when they do, they need consequences to deter them from continuing to make poor choices. This system has an end result of making students feel labeled as a “good” or “bad” color. Not only is this humiliating, but it is largely ineffective, as students typically continue their patterns of behavior regardless of the change in color. Why? Because they are not actually learning the skills needed to change their behavior and grow in character or in composure. Their behavior is being judged and tracked, but not necessarily taught.

If teachers approached classroom management with a growth mindset, they would begin with communicating a foundational belief that all students are capable of behaving appropriately. They would encourage students to use effective strategies to self-soothe, regain focus, and practice kindness to one another. They would help students identify gaps in their behavioral skills and work together to problem solve and actually learn the skills needed to succeed in school. Not because they want to stay on a “good” color, but because they want to grow and improve in all ways.

What does this look like in a classroom? How can teachers actually manage behavior without a system like a color chart to track it? First, it is critical to define classroom expectations and procedures that are taught and practiced to perfection at the beginning of the year, and rehearsed as often as needed. Additionally, students need rationales for why the rules and procedures are important for the classroom community. This can be accomplished by a teacher-led discussion or by student input into the rules and classroom norms. Then, when infractions do occur, students can be immediately reminded of the agreed upon expectations. After a reminder, if the unwanted behavior continues, this should be recognized as an opportunity for growth, just as a mistake on a math problem can be viewed as a chance to learn. The student should be given an opportunity¬† to reflect on the behavioral issue, perhaps in a designated notebook or on a “stop and think” slip that the teacher makes available. The teacher can then follow up on the student’s reflection and use it as a teachable moment to brainstorm solutions or coping mechanisms to put into place the next time a similar situation arises. When students later use the appropriate skills, their improvement in behavior should be recognized and celebrated with praise.

In Catholic schools, we believe in educating the whole child. To me, this means having a growth mindset towards behavior as well as academics. We can respect the dignity of our students and meet them where they are in their character and skills development as we help them grow to their God-given potential in and out of school.