Imagine if your new class this fall was full of students who would:

  • Be willing to try new things
  • Stick with hard tasks and not give up
  • Push themselves to do their best work, not just what’s “good enough”
  • Believe in themselves and their own ability to learn

Here’s the great news–these are traits that we can help develop in our students by teaching them about how their brains work.

Many students enter our classrooms believing they’re either smart or not smart, good at reading or math, or not good in those areas. This belief that our basic qualities like intelligence and talents can’t be changed is called a fixed mindset. Often our students figure: Why bother trying at something that’s hard for me? I’m not naturally good at it, and I can’t really do anything about that. 

Our students may not realize that their brains have the ability to change and grow through their experiences (neuroplasticity). Students need us to teach them that the human brain is like a muscle that can be trained through repetition and practice. When students realize this, they develop a growth mindset: the belief that abilities can be developed through commitment and hard work.

And once they have a growth mindset, they can learn anything.

Because a growth mindset is a critical element of success in school, I recommend teaching about it from the very first day. Here are 6 ways to do that:

Back to school tips for teaching growth mindset

1. As you teach classroom routines, explain how they are designed to benefit kids’ brains.

For example, when you teach students how to do collaborative learning activities, tell them that talking about what they’ve learned helps them own and process the information better, and grows more dendrites. When you teach water fountain procedures, let kids know that their brains need hydration in order to function well, and remind students of the benefits of drinking water.

2. When kids don’t follow the procedures you’ve taught, respond in casual ways that help them rebound.

When we overreact to mistakes or get frustrated with students’ inability to internalize classroom routines right away, we undermine our message that learning is a process and failure is a natural part of that process. Make it your goal to respond to students’ mistakes with patience and nonchalance. Remind students: Each time you practice this routine, your brain is getting stronger, and it will be easier for you to do it the next time. When kids forget what to do, let your tone and facial expression communicate: Mistakes don’t upset me. We can fix this, and fixing it together will make us both smarter.

3. Get student input on creating helpful classroom displays that reinforce learning.

You don’t have to start the school year with a perfectly decorated classroom–leave space for students to create and suggest displays! During the first few weeks of school, find out what students would like to have as a reference in the classroom to help them maintain a growth mindset and take ownership of their learning. Would students like to make an anchor chart with strategies they can use when they get stuck? Do they want to display growth mindset vocabulary words and definitions so they can try to use them in their conversations? Or maybe they’d like to display some of their reflections about or strategies for learning to help other kids in the class?

4.  Use specific feedback and helpful vocabulary that guides students to identify how they achieved success.

We give tons of positive feedback and praise as students first start learning the expectations for the new grade level, but we don’t always point out the character traits students demonstrated in order to experience that success. Integrate growth mindset vocabulary into your daily routines, and continually point out when students demonstrate those qualities. You might say, “This was hard for you, but you persevered, and now you’ve almost got it!” or “You had a setback when your strategy didn’t work, but you found resources to help you. You showed a lot of resilience, and it paid off!” You may even want to end the school day on a daily basis by having students turn and share ways they have shown grit that day (or struggled to show grit, and brainstorm strategies for doing better tomorrow.)

5. Model growth mindset so kids can see it in action.

Show students how to respond constructively to setbacks and failures. Let kids see how you brainstorm solutions and different strategies to try when a piece of technology doesn’t work, you can’t find something you need, or a surprise fire drill prevents kids from finishing a task. Allow students see that you are willing to learn and try new things, even when they are hard for you, and be honest when you try things in the classroom that are out of your comfort zone. Let students see that learning new things, taking on challenges, and rebounding after making mistakes are all a natural part of life and help train your brain to grow stronger over time.

6. Start formally teaching kids about growth mindset / neuroplasticity through books, apps, and other resources.

Two of the best children’s books on growth mindset are Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by Dr. JoAnn Deak and Making a Splash: A Growth Mindset Children’s Book by Carol E. Reiley. There is a $4.99 app for “Your Fantastic Elastic Brain” which includes an eBook version of the book along with interactive features. Or, you might want to try the $2.99 Brain Jump app for iPad and iPhone. I also like the free online brain songs provided by the University of Washington.

Growth Mindset Unit: 10 complete lessons, interactive journal for students, growth mindset bulletin board, and printable posters.

Want more structured support? I’ve created a complete 10 lesson unit with teacher’s guide, bulletin board set, printable posters, and a 20 page interactive student journal to provide everything you need for teaching your students about growth mindset. Designed for grades 3-5, this unit is highly flexible, and can be taught in any timeframe you’d like (I recommend one lesson per week during the first month of school, with the remaining six lessons spread out through fall and winter.)

Once you print the materials, your prep work is done and the teacher’s guide walks you step-by-step through each activity. However, the tasks are open-ended and adaptable so you can be responsive to your students’ needs and adjust things easily as you go.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To help you get ahold of my growth mindset activities and other great back-to-school resources, I have discounted the product 20%, and I’m giving away TWO $25 gift cards to TeachersPayTeachers! Both the discount and the contest end on August 2nd. You can enter to win above.

Back to school survival guide for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers: TONS of awesome tips here from 20 different bloggers!

I’ve also partnered up with some other teacher bloggers who are sharing back-to-school tips and giving away TpT gift cards!

Be sure to stop by each of their blogs by clicking the icons below. In each post, you’ll get more detailed, informative back-to-school tips like you did here, and you can enter to win $50 worth of gift cards from each blog. That’s over $1,000 worth of TpT gift cards that are up for grabs! All the contests end at midnight on August 2nd. Good luck and happy reading!


12 of my favorite podcasts for teachers

July 21, 2015
podcasts for teachers

I started my Truth For Teachers podcast in January, and since then, I’ve heard from dozens of educators who are now hooked on the format and are anxious to find other great education podcasts to follow. That makes me so happy! As I wrote in my post PodcastPD: What You’re Missing If You’re Not Listening, podcasts […]

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Beyond GOOD JOB: effective, creative ways to encourage kids

July 8, 2015
6 tips for encouraging students

Have you gotten in a rut of using the same phrases over and over to encourage students? Repeatedly saying “You did great!” can cause the sentiment to lose its effectiveness over time and even start to sound insincere. And relying only on praise like “You’re so smart!” can cause kids to attribute their success to innate […]

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One word that every idea from #ISTE2015 depends on

July 1, 2015

I’ve spent the last 4 days at ISTE surrounded by 21,000 incredibly passionate educators. I’ve learned more about makerspaces, genius hour, flipped learning, STEM, STEAM, BYOD, PLCs, project-based learning, game-based learning, differentiated learning, personalized learning, and approximately 4,752 different apps and web tools to make it all possible. And when I reflect back on big […]

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How YOU can build a positive school culture, no matter where you teach

June 24, 2015
Join Jimmy Casas, Krysta DeBoer, Hope King, and Amber Teamann as they share a behind-the-scenes glimpse into schools that have reflected carefully on school culture and created systems that work. Learn practical, actionable tips for supporting kids and colleagues, winning over negative co-workers, creating change in toxic school environments even when no one else is supporting you, and more.

BONUS extended episode! Join Jimmy Casas, Krysta DeBoer, Hope King, and Amber Teamann as they share a behind-the-scenes glimpse into schools that have reflected carefully on school culture and created systems that work. Learn practical, actionable tips for supporting kids and colleagues, winning over negative co-workers, creating change in toxic school environments even when no one else is […]

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Understanding by Design de-mystified: how (and why) to get started now

June 17, 2015

Understanding by Design (UbD) is a powerful but potentially daunting approach to planning curriculum. I’ve invited Jennifer Martinez, of everything just so, to share how she went from dreading UbD to allowing it to transform teaching and learning in her classroom. Jennifer, who’s from Columbus, Ohio, taught for nine years and spent a year writing curriculum for the NEA Master […]

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3 online book clubs and conferences for teachers this summer

June 7, 2015
Join us for the Unshakeable summer book club! We

There are three awesome online professional development events for teachers happening in July! I’m participating in all three and hope you’ll join in either the summer teaching conference and/or the summer teacher book clubs. They’re going to be a terrific way to connect with other inspiring educators, learn new ideas, and get motivated for the fall. […]

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#TruthForTeachers Season 1 wrap-up and reflection

May 31, 2015
truth for teachers season 1 wrap up

EP 24: In the final regular episode of Truth for Teachers until season 2 begins in August, I’m taking a moment to reflect on my first five months of podcasting. I’ll share which episodes resonated most with listeners (and which ones didn’t), my plans for changing the podcast in the fall, and an idea for some bonus extended episodes I’d […]

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5 strategies for helping families overcome the stigmas of special education

May 27, 2015
overcoming special education stigmas

I’ve invited Nashima Harvey to share some tips for helping teachers remove the stigma from special education through building positive relationships with students and families. Nashima is a New Jersey certified educator with over 20 years experience working with kids and families. She’s the founder of the Little Green House LLC, global awareness learning collective that helps build a bridge of 21st Century learning […]

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How to share your teaching expertise and get paid for it

May 24, 2015
how to share your teaching expertise and get paid for it

EP 23: Looking to earn extra money this summer? Why not create long-term passive income for yourself through sharing your teaching ideas! In this episode, you’ll learn how you can establish yourself as an expert in the education field and start getting paid for your teaching ideas and resources. Explore different possibilities that can help you not only earn […]

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8 ways to redirect off-task behavior without stopping your lesson

May 21, 2015
8 ways to redirect off-task behavior without stopping your lesson

Do you continually have to stop your lessons because of one or two off-task or disruptive students? Are you frustrated because the kids who don’t want to learn are continually interrupting the ones who do? Here are 8 ways to redirect off-task behavior without interrupting your lesson or allowing your entire lesson to be derailed. 1.  Use fewer words […]

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How use summer to re-energize your teaching and yourself

May 17, 2015
use summer to re-energize

EP22: Summer break always goes by quicker than we imagined, leaving a long list of tasks undone. Learn how to create time for the things that matter most to you in life, and schedule in activities that are energizing for you as a person and as a teacher. This post is based on the latest […]

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#PodcastPD: What you’re missing if you’re not listening

May 12, 2015
Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go! A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.

I’ve probably said a thousand times how much podcasts have been inspiring and motivating me over this past year and a half. I know some of you are not totally sold yet on the idea of an online talk radio program that you can download and take wherever you go. With my Truth for Teachers podcast, many of […]

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How to keep from giving up on apathetic students

May 10, 2015
how to keep from giving up on apathetic students

EP21: You can’t lose sleep over disengaged students, but you can’t give up on them, either. In this episode, I’ll share how to overcome the feeling of powerlessness that comes from working with unmotivated students, and break free from the trap of trying to nag and shame them into working harder. Learn where to focus […]

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New teacher t-shirt designs for the end of the school year

May 7, 2015
Happy last day of school shirts for teachers (and kids!)

Wear your teacher pride and say what’s on your mind with these teacher tees! Check out the new designs at Angela Watson’s T-Shirts for Teachers. As always, everything is under $20. I thought this “Happy Last Day of School” shirt would be perfect for wearing in the classroom as well as to any after school celebrations your colleagues, […]

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Take your students on a free virtual field trip to The Nature Conservancy

May 5, 2015
Nature Conservancy field trip

All students in grades 3-8 are invited to participate in a live Google Hangout on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 from 12:00-12:40 p.m with The Nature Conservatory. This virtual field trip allows kids to explore the diverse ecosystem of Palau’s Coral Reefs and the symbiotic relationships between its many organisms, plus what endangers the reefs and […]

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Speaking out about race, poverty, riots, and our students

May 3, 2015
Speaking out about race poverty riots and our students

EP20: In this episode, I’m digging deep into the systemic issues and misplaced outrage that are holding back our youth in impoverished communities. Learn what you can do to make sense of what’s happening and educate your students about it, too. These issues affect ALL of us, and we all have the ability (and responsibility) […]

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Giveaway: Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

May 1, 2015
A giveaway for Teacher Appreciation Week: win an autographed book + a $25 TpT gift card. Plus EVERYONE gets a free download of a fun hands-on learning activity called Puzzle Strips!

Teacher appreciation week is coming up, and I wanted to do something to say thank you to each and every one of you on behalf of your students and the communities you serve.  First off, one blog reader will win an autographed copy of ANY book I’ve written (all four options are below) PLUS a $25 […]

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Get kids collaborating with the Brown Bag Art Challenge

April 28, 2015
Art with Jenny K Round Logo

It can be tough to find time to integrate arts into an already overstuffed curriculum. So today I’ve invited an experienced elementary and middle school art teacher, Jenny Knappenberger of Art with Jenny K, to share one of her favorite ways to get kids creating and collaborating. Thank you, Jenny! Teaching students with an art-infused curriculum […]

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How to balance test prep and authentic learning

April 26, 2015
how to balance test prep

EP19: You’re a teacher, not a tester. In this episode, you’ll learn strategies for staying focused on what’s really important, both in your mindset and your daily practice. Discover specific, practical tips for getting creative with test prep so it feels more like the authentic learning activities that matter most. This post is based on […]

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