A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Voices from the Classroom: A new teacher is empowered by idea (and practice) of ‘growth mindset’

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By Rachel Goodnight
Lincoln Elementary School

“At the end of the day, the students should be the ones who are tired, not you.”

This fantastic piece of advice, given to me by my superintendent, is meant to say teachers should be facilitators of learning, but students should be the ones engaged and putting in the hard work during the lesson.

Truth be told, I go home exhausted every day.

As a new teacher, I’m often at school 10-12 hours each day. I work with energetic kindergarteners who have disabilities. We dance, we sing, we play games, we learn together; it’s a fun and tiring job!

For a while, I was starting to feel like I was doing something wrong.

I was wearing myself out teaching, while wondering if my students were even engaged in their learning and making progress. You see, it’s easy to doubt yourself when your student who knew one number at the beginning of the year only knows two numbers now. It’s easy to doubt yourself when another student hits a peer again, even though you’ve been working so hard to teach him calming strategies. It’s easy to doubt yourself when a student comes back after the weekend and no longer remembers the letter sounds she learned last week.

As I was walking down the hall past the lobby of the school one day, feeling defeated, I saw a new display on the wall. It was a picture of a brain; half of the brain was drawn in black and white, while the other half was filled in with bright, rainbow colors.

On the black and white side, there were posters with sayings such as “I’ll never be good at math” and “This is too hard.” But on the rainbow side, the posters glowed with phrases like “I’m going to train my brain in math” and “I’ll use a different strategy.”

This visual representation of the idea of “growth mindset” that I had been hearing so much about got the wheels turning in my brain.

I decided that instead of feeling like I wasn’t making a difference, I was going to change my mindset, change my strategies, and try even harder.

Switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset had a huge impact on me and my teaching. I wanted my students to feel the amazing effects of having a growth mindset too!

So when a student knows seven numbers, but he only knew six last week, we celebrate! When a student has a rough day, we talk about how he can improve his behavior tomorrow. When a student forgets a letter sound, we look back at all the progress she’s made with letters since the beginning of the year and say her brain is still growing.

It’s amazing to hear five and six year olds say things like “I made a mistake, but I can try again!” or “I’m growing!” or “I fixed my problem!” I find myself learning from them on how I can improve my own growth mindset!

I may still go home exhausted every day; now I know that’s because I’m still learning. The best part is, my students are too.

To grow together in our first years of school — my first year of teaching, their first year of elementary school — is a unique and special experience that excites me for all of our futures.

Rachel Goodnight is a first year teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Dayton where she teaches kindergarten special education. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Northern Kentucky University in Elementary and Special Education. Rachel and her fiancé reside in Lakeside Park.

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