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Psst. There’s one magic phrase that teachers can say to students to encourage a growth mindset.
Do you know what it is?
Growth Mindset First Day of School activities can be a great way to kick start a learning attitude in your class.
There’s something symbolic about the first day back.
- Back to School Activities after summer holidays…
- the start of a new semester or term in middle school or high school…
- the first days back after a long weekend, holiday break or March Break.
This is a fantastic opportunity to start a growth mindset in your students!
And the second-best time to start building a growth mindset with your class is today.
Whether you’re reading this article before your school term begins, or whether you found us sometime mid-year, there are two things to know:
- Creating a class community of students who have a let’s try attitude is hard work. (Both for the students and teacher.)
- How we give feedback to our students can make a huge difference.
There’s one magic phrase that teachers should say to students…
Want to know the magic phrase to use? Read on!
Students (and teachers) have had a whole summer to relax and melt their brains.
Sure, there might have been some challenges and obstacles that got in the way of learning at the end of last school year.
But, now, the first days and first weeks of school represent a fresh start for everybody.
We’re all coming back to school with a fresh (or mostly fresh) attitude: students, teachers, parents/guardians, principals, etc…
And the Back to School season represents a fantastic window to start building a growth mindset in your class before the going gets tough again.
How long does it take for the “looking-forward-to-school” feeling to fade and for things to return to the daily grind?
Sound harsh? A little.
But, if we’re honest, we know that school can be an uphill battle for everyone at different stages of their life.
Usually, the small talk banter during the first week of school goes like this:
Hi! How was your summer!FIRST WEEK of SCHOOL. (Note the exclamation point of excitement!)
The small talk during the second week of school often shifts to something like this:
Where did the summer go?SECOND WEEK of SCHOOL. Note the question mark. Sometimes this line is delivered with a period when the beginnings of despair creep in and we realize the struggle is real.
The first week of school often revolves around fun getting-to-know-you activities and the endless administrivia of forms, paperwork, letters of introduction, and setting up classroom routines and systems.
And then the homework begins, the first assessments happen, and we’re back to the daily grind. Before you know it, we’re at parent-teacher interviews and report cards.
How your students deal with the struggles depends a lot on their mindset:
Do your students have a growth mindset?
Teacher Tip: This idea of a growth mindset comes from Dr. Carol Dweck’s book which is a fantastic read. She also has a TED talk which can be found here.
PSST: We are not associated, affiliated or connected with her book. We simply read her book and tried to teach the concepts to our students. Where possible, we used her direct words or paraphrased her words when we’re explaining her research to our students.
Thinking about teaching from the perspective of a growth mindset is a game-changer.
For many students, school is about playing the game, jumping through hoops, memorizing facts and giving the answers that the teachers want.
School often seems results-oriented to students (and parents).
How often have you heard your students say things like this::
- How well did you do on that test?
- What mark did you get on the report card?
- How fast did you run in that race?
Yup, there’s definitely a place for diagnostic quizzes, formative assessments, and summative evaluations. They can be great signposts to tell people if we’re headed in the right direction.
But in the 21st century, the kinds of problems that our students will be facing when they grow up haven’t even been invented yet.
And do we really want to (continue to) raise a generation of people who are waiting for an adult to tell them what to do and how to do it?
Very quickly, our students start to think of themselves as…
- Good at math or not good at math.
- A great athlete, or not a great athlete.
- A creative artist or just not that good at art.
- Smart or dumb
- A success or a failure
And that’s just the way it is. Or is it?
This year, when you’re doing your Back to School activities with your class, why not try to focus on process?
As teachers, we can put the emphasis on process in the way we give feedback during back to school activities (and our day-to-day lessons.)
It’s one simple change. But, it’s a big paradigm shift.
At the start of the school year, when we’re getting to know our students, we often give praise as we create a welcoming atmosphere.
- Wow, you’re a natural athlete!
- Oh my gosh, you’re so creative!
- You’re brilliant!
Want to know the one phrase teachers should tell students this year during back to school activities?
Here it is:
Good job! You worked very hard!
Good job! You’re really smart!
Note the emphasis on process? You worked hard and that’s why you did a good job.
Wait. That’s it? The magic phrase that teachers should say to students is, “You worked very hard!”
Okay, the title, “One Thing Teachers Should Say During Back to School Activities” is pretty clickbaity. But, you knew that coming in.
Of course, there is no one magic solution to make students want to struggle through learning obstacles.
It’s not that easy. But, nothing in life worth having is easy. You knew that, too!
Helping to build character in our students is a process.
As teachers, we got into this gig because we’re passionate about the work.
Saying, “Great job, you worked hard!” is just the tip of the iceberg to shaping resilient students who are able to pick themselves up after they fail.
“Great job, you worked hard!” reinforces the idea that effort is required to lead to success. (And not that you did a great job because you are inherently brilliant.)
So, building character and resilience is an ongoing process. And, it starts with you saying, “Great job, you worked hard!”
QUESTION: Do I say, “Great job! You worked hard!” even if they haven’t worked hard?
No, of course not.
We don’t want to reward lack of effort. We want to recognize true effort when we see it to encourage more of that behavior.
After all, you do want to see your students genuinely try, don’t you?
A tougher question might be what happens if the student succeeds without needing to apply any effort at all?
Are they learning?
Or, better yet, what are they learning?
And what happens when eventually, later on, they finally hit a grade or a point where it doesn’t come easily any more?
Have they developed a mindset and cultivated an outlook on life that will help them keep going? Or, do they hit a wall?
So… what is a Growth Mindset and why do I want my students to have one?
What is a Growth Mindset?
The idea of a growth mindset is that “success is based on hard work, learning, training and not giving up.”
On the other hand, a student with a fixed mindset would believe that “success is based on what you were born with.” In other words, your innate ability.
Research shows that you can change your mindset just by changing the way you talk to people
…praising the process that kids engage in, their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement. This process praise creates kids who are hardy and resilient.Dr Carol Dweck, TEDx
How do I put students into a Growth Mindset?
If we tell ourselves (or students), “Good job. You’re very smart!” it reinforces the idea that smartness is something that we are, or are not.
But if we tell ourselves (and our students), “Good job. You worked very hard!”, it reinforces the idea that working hard produces results and if we apply strategies and efforts, we can achieve success.
The key take aways to tell students are:
- The ideas about growth mindset and fixed mindset are based on research.
- The power of our mindset is MORE IMPORTANT than ability.
So, how do I use this magic phrase during Back to School activities?
The first week of school activities tend to be fun, welcome back activities about getting to know each other!
Let’s say you’re doing a get to know you icebreaker like Name BINGO / Human BINGO.
Name BINGO or Human BINGO is a Back To School activity where students are given a BINGO card with different questions in each box. The goal is to go around the class, ask classmates questions, and collect signatures.
There are some questions like…
- Find someone who competes at a regional, provincial, or national level.
- Find someone who loves to read.
- Find someone who knows pi.
Instead of complimenting your students based on intelligence or talent, try praising them on the process and effort:
Wow, you must train really hard to be able to compete at that level!INSTEAD OF “Wow, you must be a natural athlete!”
Wow, you must really love to learn!INSTEAD OF “Wow, you must be really smart!”
Take the Survey!
How do I teach a Growth Mindset to students?
Great question! There’s no one way – different things will work for different peeps.
For some of us, the idea of a growth mindset represents a huge paradigm shift in the way we teach.
I find when I do this activity with students…
Sometimes, I have to give examples of different scenarios so students can figure out which answer to circle.
- If you think how smart you are is a core fact about you and it definitely can’t change, then circle “strongly agree”
- If you kind’ve think that, “Yeah, I guess how smart you are is part of you and it doesn’t really change,” then circle “agree”
- If you think, “No, you can change your intelligence and how smart you are, but only a little bit,” then circle “disagree”
- If you think, “This is absolutely wrong. How smart you are isn’t a part of you. It can change a lot,” then circle “strongly agree”
TEACHER TIP: As you go through the questions, there’s a screenshot of the handout to help visual learners.
You can also draw attention to the yellow highlight on the slideshow to show students which question we are on.
Things get more interesting when you start asking students questions about other aspects…
Is creativity or artistic talent something very basic about you that you can’t change very much?
What about sports ability? Or personality and character?
Taking up the Growth Mindset student survey is a great way to start talking about the difference between Growth Mindsets and Fixed Mindsets
The start of the school year is a fantastic time to have this conversation.
We all can find ourselves slipping into a fixed mindset about different obstacles, and when that happens, we can make a choice to choose to shift into a growth mindset.
Okay, so what do I do after I introduce Growth Mindsets and Fixed Mindsets to my students?
This is the key part. You need to introduce the idea that strategies are things students can use to try to produce results. Success doesn’t happen randomly.
Sudoku is a fantastic BACK to SCHOOL activity to explain the concepts of strategies and to build perseverance!
☑ Sudoku comes in a series of progressively difficulty puzzles
☑ Easy to differentiate for different student abilities
☑ Sudoku can be frustrating. This is an opportunity to build character and resilience!
HOW often do you hear your students say the following when they face a learning obstacle:
☑ I don’t want to.
☑ I’m confused. I’m stuck.
I’m not sure what to do.
☑ I tried, but it didn’t work.
I give up.
SHOW your students STRATEGIES to try when they get stuck…
This doesn’t mean giving students hints on reading this paragraph or scaffolding the lesson.
Literally give students universal strategies that might help in any obstacle – whether they’re stuck on a sudoku puzzle, or a writing assignment!
Working harder isn’t always the answer. But, what does work smarter actually mean?
This is huge.
Students often think that working harder is the answer. And, it is, sometimes, but not always.
Lots of students think writing more will get them a better mark. But more is not always a four.
(In Ontario, we use levels. Level 4 is an “A”. Level 2 is a “C”. So, giving lots of level 2 work does not mean the work becomes a Level 4 in terms of complex thinking.)
Working hard is important…
But, students also need to know the difference between working hard, and working smart.
☑ Did you try different STRATEGIES?
☑ Did you put in a real EFFORT?
(Did you actually try)
☑ Did you keep track of how things are going and OPTIMIZE what you did by focusing on what seems to work?
☑ Did you TINKER and try little experiments that probably wouldn’t work, but you could learn from the successes and failures?
We wrote about this SEOT approach to overcoming obstacles and achieving goals by using a wheel of success metaphor. Check out the free lesson on our other site: SEOT.ca
I don’t have time to make this lesson.
Nope, you really don’t.
You’re busy doing a million other things trying to get ready for the start of the school year:
☑ Collaborating with colleagues.
☑ Going to staff meetings
☑ Going to impromptu meetings about issues that pop up.
☑ Figuring out how to differentiate for the wide spectrum of abilities in your class.
☑ Photocopying a million things
☑ Organizing field trips.
☑ Contacting parents / guardians
☑ Figuring out extra-curricular activities.
☑ Trying to get an up-to-date class list
☑ Trying to stay sane and maintain some sort of healthy work-life balance.
Oh, and school hasn’t even begun yet!
SAVE HOURS of PREP WORK! We got your back!
Want to empower your students with a growth mindset by using a strategy based approach?
We spent over 500 hours in prep work, research, and making resources look pretty so that you wouldn’t have to.
We SAVE YOU TIME by providing:
☑ high quality lesson plans,
☑ handouts and resources
that excite students with learning opportunities to develop strategies for success.
QUESTION: What do other teachers say about our stuff?
We sell our lessons on the Teachers Pay Teachers marketplace. Here are some of the reviews:
QUESTION: What if I want to change or delete slides?
This is really important because you know your students best. So, we made it easy for you to switch things up to fit your reality!
Edit the resources to fit your specific classroom needs and teaching style!
☑ Microsoft Powerpoint (.PPTx)
☑ Microsoft Word (.DOCx)
☑ Google Slides (make your own copy and modify!)
(We provide also provide PDF versions so you can just print right away!)
QUESTION: Is it safe to buy resources online?
We sell our resources on Teachers Pay Teachers which is the world’s most popular online marketplace for original educational resources…
I want to save TIME and MONEY, please.
Yup. You already spend a lot of money on buying resources for your classroom.
Plus, you already spend so much of your life dedicated to your students and your classes. There’s a reason why the burn-out rate for teachers is so high.
We love what we do.
We do important work.
Teaching is who we are.
What’s in the MEGA BUNDLE?
We put everything you need to introduce a growth mindset to your students by explicitly teaching them about 21st Century Skills / Competencies.
- It currently has over 10 awesome teaching resources around 21st-century learning skills.
- We plan on adding more bonus goodies to the bundle!