Just over four years ago, my friend and I were meeting to collaborate on fifth grade lesson plans for the following week. She had just returned from a conference, and before I could even ask how it was, she began talking. In her excited pitch, I caught the words book, mindset, Carol Dweck, research, ability, brain, intelligence, fixed, and growth.

The fact that I am a hopeless book addict and brain-research freak had nothing to do with what I did next…honestly. Rather, what caused my next action was the fact that as my friend was conveying her newly-discovered knowledge, it was as if these random dots in my head were illuminating and connecting—slowly, deliberately, and beautifully.

I immediately opened my laptop, typed a few words, clicked a few times, and voila: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success was to arrive in five to seven days at Doniphan-Trumbull School, our small rural K-12 Nebraska district.

Little did I know that because of its arrival, a personal and professional revolution was going to emerge.

Even before I finished the book, I was telling anyone I could about mindsets—my family, principal, colleagues, students, parents. It was obvious to me how important this knowledge was—especially to education. Within the next two years, our entire staff read the book in PLC-style. Through reading, reflecting, and discussing this book, we now had a common language. This language, based in scientific research, gave us a new lens with which to see ourselves and our students—as humans capable of accomplishing anything despite past experiences. This language enabled us to talk to and about students in a new way—defined not by deficits or labels, but as miracles with potentials entirely unknown.

Two years ago I left the 5th grade classroom at Doniphan-Trumbull and accepted a job as a staff developer at Educational Service Unit #9 in nearby Hastings, Nebraska. My new role provides me with the opportunity to work with teachers in about fifteen area schools. I support them as they gain knowledge and explore best practice in an effort to improve student learning. Mindset is a critical piece of that.

One day, as I was exploring the mindset website again, I was checking out Brainology. I had always been curious about this program and its effects on students. I happened to come across something called the MindsetMaker (TM). As I read about this, I was pretty sure I struck gold! What a tremendous opportunity for students and teachers. Students could be learning about mindsets and their brain through the interactive Brainology program. Meanwhile, their teachers could engage with mindset information in three different ways. They would have the opportunity to learn about the mindsets, the brain, and how to create and support a growth mindset in their classrooms through online interactive modules. The teachers would also have access to a toolkit filled with practical mindset resources, and they could participate in online mindset community where they can discuss, reflect, and share ideas and experiences.

I did some more exploring and communicating about the MindsetMaker and the  Mindset Works® SchoolKit, and the principal at Doniphan-Trumbull, where I used to teach, was curious enough about it to agree to participate in the pilot study. Fifth and sixth grade students and teachers were going to take part in this mindset adventure. I was thrilled!!

Even though most of the staff already knew about mindset, the training allowed us to revisit this critical educational concept. It was obvious from the comments posted within our group in the online community that a reminder was necessary. In order to fully embrace and encourage a growth mindset, I truly believe we have to continually immerse ourselves in it. It is something that must be practiced. And this project was a perfect way to do just that.

As a staff developer, I realize there are many different methods to help others move towards positive change—like trying to create and sustain a growth mindset culture. One of the best professional development methods is through on-site small group education, conversations, reflections, and coaching. Recognizing that is not always possible, the School Kit has created an effective model. Using technology, teachers not only learn about mindset, they have ‘conversations’ and are able to reflect on what they learned.

The modules were beneficial, as they not only shared necessary information, but they also included student interviews. I felt those were powerful because teachers heard real words from real students—which connected them to students in their classrooms.

Personally, I thought the on-line Community was incredibly valuable, as it gave educators a place to reflect and respond. Learning about something is only half of it; being able to personalize, reflect, respond, and apply the learning is the other, more critical, portion.

Another aspect that stood out to me was working with Mindset Works’ staff. I was very impressed with the support, enthusiasm, openness, and commitment I witnessed. Sylvia Rodriguez was amazing to work with throughout this project, as she was helpful, quick in responding, patient, and always friendly. It was very obvious that she and the team were passionate about this project and the potential effect it could have on students, teachers, administrators, and school-wide culture. I will be encouraging any schools I work with to consider utilizing this, because real learning always starts with a growth mindset.

Four years ago I was introduced to mindsets; this was just the beginning. My passion to cultivate a growth mindset continues through my work as a staff developer, a parent, a wife, and a human being. Although I am aware of how mindset affects me, I am always thinking bigger. What kind of culture might be created when all participants embrace and practice a growth mindset? My journey continues…

About Jill Osler

Jill is a professional development specialist serving schools in Educational Service Nine in Hastings, Nebraska.