You’re all excited about the new school year—you’ve got your school supplies, your new planner, and class schedule. You are ready. But then. . .you remember some behavior issues from last year, or worse yet, another teacher warns you about that student, who’s in your class this year.
You know the one. He’s always off task, she’s disruptive. Or this one is just off. I’ve been there—in fact, I had 3 of those students in my class this past year, and another one added at the end of the year.
You’re completely ready for the new semester, but what’s a girl to do when you have so many disruptive behaviors?
You need a teacher super-power—a secret ingredient. You need a growth mindset classroom.
“That’s ridiculous,” you may say. “There’s no connection between teaching children to make mistakes, learn from them, and persevere and helping children improve their behavior.”
But here’s the deal: many times disruptive behavior is the result of a child shutting down from learning, putting up a wall, because they feel “stupid” or at the least feel defensive, because teachers in their past experience have been frustrated with them.
For example, this past year I had another teacher tell me all about Jayden—his lack of focus, disruptive behavior, and overall lack of effort whatsoever. She told me there was “just something off” about him and she just couldn’t reach him.
In my classroom later on, I did notice those behaviors in Jayden (she wasn’t exaggerating at all) but I also noticed he was a good reader. And as I consistently taught and created a culture of a growth mindset in my classroom, slowly I began to see a change in him. He worked more—with fewer disruptive behaviors. He was able to dig deep—he understood many of the challenges the characters faced in the text because he had experienced hardships himself.
But it wasn’t perfect. One day after a small group lesson when Jayden was way off task, I asked him to stay after the other students left.
I asked him if anyone had ever told him he was smart. He shook his head as he offered a quiet “No.” I looked him in the eye and told him, pronouncing each word slowly with emphasis, ”You are smart.”
I saw a shift in him, his eyes brightened and his shoulders pulled back. He felt what I was saying.
If he hadn’t already learned a growth mindset, blended with a classroom based on acceptance and kindness, there wouldn’t have been a change. But there it was—and it stuck.
With Jayden, his “strangeness” made him stick out, and his slowness with certain tasks frustrated both his peers and his teachers. They reacted to him, so he reacted back with his own misbehavior.
Jayden changed. And I learned.
But he’s not the only example. One other student, Jaime, came to me the last segment of our semester, moved from another teacher’s class after bullying and threatening physical violence against another student.
I was not excited.
The first day, I taught him the classroom rules and procedures. He bucked—quite a bit—but once he learned that I was consistent in my implementation and remained composed about it, many of his behavior challenges calmed.
Except when it came to new learning—he shouted out, refused to work, stole other peoples’ materials, and argued with them.
But over the last weeks of school, he discovered something about a growth mindset and how a growth mindset classroom works. Teachers don’t get frustrated over mistakes—and we don’t grade practice work.
Other students, who had been in my classroom all year obviously, taught him what it means to persevere, and how mistakes are part of learning—and expected.
While Jaime was still far from perfect, he began to adopt this classroom culture. His effort went through the roof—and his yelling out decreased. While his uniqueness (and especially his struggles with math) brought out frustration in his previous teachers and his peers, he didn’t get the same reaction in my classroom that caused him to rebel in the first place.
Students react to what we feel. If they’ve had teachers who taught from frustration, or they feel behind or not good enough, they will either shut down or rebel.
With both a classroom culture of a growth mindset and a wonderful teacher like you, they will succeed. And you will too.
Take that knowledge with you to empower you through the new year. You can do it.