Jill Balzer, Principal at Charles Patterson Middle School in Killeen, TX, on how Mindset transformed their school culture

Charles Patterson Middle School is located in Killeen, Texas which is also home to one of the largest military institutions in the world, Fort Hood. Our student population is diverse; 44% are Active Military, 40% are economically disadvantaged, 38% are African American, 31% White, 27% Hispanic, and 4% Asian/Pacific Islander. The wide array of social, cultural, and economic backgrounds provides the students and teachers at CPMS with unique opportunities. With this variety in life experiences and an annual mobility rate of over 40% comes the constant search by our staff to look for ways to improve the quality of our students’ lives. We believe that this is best accomplished by giving them tools that they will be able to take with them wherever they may go.

As a public school educator for 18 years (13 years as a teacher and 5 as an administrator) I have seen a myriad of education programs come and go, some good and some bad. The daily correspondence that I receive from companies who claim that their programs are either the “next big thing” in improving test scores or THE program that finally and completely eliminates bullying behavior, are simply astonishing. I attended a conference where I heard a very dynamic presenter named Debbie Silver (presenter and former teacher) speak very enthusiastically about the book “Mindset”; I was immediately intrigued, as this was the first time I had heard a message that sounded different from all of the “quick fix” programs that I am bombarded with on a regular basis. Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset”, lays out clear and compelling research and methodologies, which validates that it is “people” not “programs” that make the largest impact on students; we must first work on the mindsets of our students and staff in order to positively impact issues such as student achievement.

Implementing school-wide change takes everyone. Therefore, we developed a plan to first get our staff excited about the concepts of Growth and Fixed mindsets prior to getting our students involved. Since money is always an issue, we purchased enough copies of the book for one-half of our staff. The administration team did a book study in the summer of 2010, and then in the fall we introduced it to the rest of our staff. The administration team was so excited about the possibilities; our staff fed off of this excitement, and was really responsive to the book study. However, because our teachers were so busy, we put them in teams of six and had them “jigsaw” the book. “Jigsaw” is the practice of each person reading one section to the point of becoming the expert, and then presenting their chapter to the rest of the group. This approach worked very well, because it encouraged the staff to be creative in their presentations by utilizing avatars, iMovies, keynote, skits, etc., while not overburdening them with having to read the entire book.

Once the collective momentum started to happen, conversations between staff members began to change; it was at this point that we took the Mindset concepts to our students. During the daily advisory period, the administration team created engaging lessons to teach Mindset concepts to our students. As growth mindset beliefs started becoming embedded into our school culture, we put up posters and made announcements that incorporated the common language of the book. It was amazing how quickly our students took to the concepts. It became widespread practice for students to stop saying that they were “not good” at something, instead saying that they were not good “right now”, but with a growth mindset they learned that they could work harder and get better. In addition, our teachers changed their language patterns to ensure that they were not just rewarding “natural talent” and “being smart” but rather facilitating the process of perseverance and hard work. One example of this is when three of our 8th grade boys each spoke to our 6th grade students at an Honor Roll assembly; each of them told how having a growth mindset helped them to persevere and know that they could be more successful. These boys had been selected to speak because they had accomplished an academic goal that had previously eluded them prior to learning the growth Mindset concepts.

The last thing that we did was purchase the Brainology program for our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade gifted students. The program really helped our students and staff to have a common language. By going through the modules, our students were able to understand how their brain works, and how they could increase their success with study skills. After completing the modules, one 8th grade boy made the A/B honor roll for the first time since 3rd grade. When I asked him what the difference was, he said that now he understood that learning was not always going to come easy to him and that didn’t mean he was stupid, it just meant he needed to work harder on that subject. In addition, our teachers commented on how their students who would usually give up were staying more engaged through the learning process and were having the understanding that continuing to persist did make a difference.

We knew that our shift to a Growth Mindset school culture was successful when we received a rating of Recognized from our State Accountability System. Given the high mobility rate and low socioeconomic levels of our students, this rating is significant. Our overall student pass rate of the Math portion of the state accountability system was 90%, which was an increase of 6% from the previous year and 6% higher than the state average. Additionally, our African American and Hispanic students saw an increase of 9% and 7% respectively from the previous year in math. I truly believe that the growth Mindset concepts and the Brainology program were a huge factor in our success.

We are looking forward to another school year and continuing to expand the knowledge of the power of Mindset. I would recommend all administrators to embrace the concepts as a way of creating a common culture that values hard work and perseverance. Our hope is that all students will understand the power that lies in them and that their heredity, circumstances, and past does not have to determine their fate.