Building Growth Mindset & Intrinsic Motivation

I have this one class. (I know you have it too) For me it’s my homeroom. When I looked at my list for the year, I saw I had 15 8th graders who technically failed the year before. Meaning, they did not pass teacher standards and they did not pass the end of grade tests. Therefore, they are what we label as ‘low’. And we all know when students have this label they often come with behavior issues and I Don’t Care attitude.

As we all know as educators because we’ve been around the block a time or two, their performance the year before was not due to ability (none of them were in the EC program).

These 15 students were all in this class because of the stories they came to believe about themselves. Stories that were told to them by parents, teachers, friends, and themselves. Stories that told them they were lazy, they weren’t good in reading because their parents weren’t good in reading, and they just weren’t good at testing.

This is the kind of class that pushed every single button I had, and I had to figure out something in order to make it through. I knew the behavior and apathy was a learned behavior and defense, so I needed something to start to combat this. Something that would take them beyond our normal ELA lessons, it had to be something that would help them in life. So, I started a little something called Life Class.

And I have to tell you, Life Class is a favorite!

It’s where we start to learn their parent’s stories are not their stories. They start to learn that they are in control because things don’t happen TO them; they are not victims of circumstances; they are 100% responsible for how their days plays out. It’s where we learn what was doesn’t always have to be what will be. 

I stress small changes and tiny shifts will completely change the course of their life. Just like if a boat changes course just 1 degree every day, in 180 it will be headed in the complete opposite direction. Plus, if we focus on changing all the things at one time, it would be too overwhelming and failure would inevitable.

How Life Class Works:

Monday-Setting Course: We start with a short motivational video from Youtube, and then we work on setting goals for the week. During this time, we really focus on establishing WHY for their goals, and steps they are going to take to make it happen. In addition, I want them to think about challenges that could get in their way in making this goal harder to accomplish. For example, if you are wanting to lose 20 pounds, but it’s Teacher Appreciation Week. So you know the challenge is going to be that the workroom is going to be filled with so much sugar it would make the Land of Sweets jealous. You plan for this challenge. You practice what you are going to do when you walk in to the workroom, what you are going to say to yourself and others, how you are going to think and feel, and what you are going to eat instead. Wow! This was so nice of PTO and our parents, but I’m going to stick with my overnight oats and coffee. This is planning for a challenge. So we need to have conversations with our students about challenges that will come up, and what to do to face this challenge head on. Essentially, we are helping them build new positive habits to replace the negative ones. This day is the longest and usually takes about 20 minutes to complete from the motivational video to setting goals.

Tuesday-Personal Reflection: This day is a journal writing exercises to get the students focused on the good things about themselves and diving deep into what makes them unique. Sometimes I want them to focus on gratitude, and other times we work on realizing and accepting what makes us amazing! It is shocking to me how students sometimes feel like there is nothing they are good at. For whatever reason, they are uncomfortable with success. These reflective journals help uncover their greatness! This day takes about 5 minutes.

Wednesday-Building a Growth Mindset: Growth mindset gets all the praise hands from me since I am a product of growth mindset. I mean, I was tested for the special education program in third grade, but here I am now rocking my ELA teacher status with a masters degree. All because I had a teacher who told me I was a hard worker and smart, and that is what I became. Intelligence is not fixed; it grows. We know that. Now we just have to get our students to realize it! This day is all focused on growth mindset activities and usually takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Thursday- Focus on Others: This is where we show gratitude and appreciation for others. I have them start small with writing letters to someone who has had an impact on them. They can send the letter or not, but just the act of getting the words out on paper helps them realize they are not alone and there are people helping and supporting them. This activity usually takes about 5-10 minutes.

Friday- Reflection: How do we grow? By looking at where we started, analyzing what went well, talking about what was not a success, and making plans to fix it for next week. I give them three categories: school, home, and relationships, and I have them answer three questions: What were some highlights from the week? What were some challenges? What is one thing you can do next week to make this area better? This activity takes about 10 minutes.

I have found that in order to make this work and be meaningful, it has to be done on a consistent basis. And sadly, it does not always reach every student. There are still some who have so much they have dealt with in the past that a short daily activity only chips away at their mindset. But, we do what we can do. My hope is that some of the lessons will stick, and one day when they are ready for it, they can look back or remember the lessons from Life Class and start shifting their course.

Do you want to try it out with your students? Click below to get what I use in my classroom that first week. Because I love it so much and I know you want to make a difference, it’s totally free!

Happy Teaching,

Savannah Kepley