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Mindset Matters

By Summer Perhay Kuba | April 2020

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Have you ever felt totally overwhelmed from the rush and increased workload of the end of the year, or maybe it was a dismal year all around? You can’t wait for summer to start. Then, partway through the summer break, you become more relaxed and refreshed. Your mindset changes. You begin to think you can accomplish anything and look forward to another school year, another chance to do everything you can for your students, another chance to help your school counseling program – and your students – grow.

Summer is the perfect time to adjust your mindset to feeling of excitement about what’s to come instead of dwelling on things you wish you’d done differently.

As a new school year approaches, take note of what worked and what didn’t. Reflect on your students’ positive growth your students and how you want to make your school counseling program even better. Let the fog lift and open your mind to new possibilities and new learning. Realize those negative thoughts were fleeting and that your mind is beginning to reset to positivity and confidence in what your school counseling program can do for your students.

What happens when your students are struggling to realize their full potential? When they repeat negative things about themselves and forget about that positive self-talk you worked so diligently to foster within them? When some faculty, staff and even parents don’t see a student’s potential and won’t view mistakes as opportunities to grow and develop? With all these questions comes our obligation to grow young (and old) minds by teaching that mindset really does matter.

Fixed versus Growth

Several books and resources are available that really dig deep into the difference between a fixed and growth mindset and provide hands-on resources for the school setting. In particular, check out “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” by ASCA conference keynote speaker Carol Dweck, Ph.D.

A fixed mindset is seen as unchanging. But more than that, a fixed mindset fosters negative thinking where intelligence stays the same and brains know what they know and don’t grow. For example, a student with a fixed mindset might be heard saying things such as: “I can’t do this,” “I’ll never be good enough,” or “I give up.”

A growth mindset, however, fosters more positive thinking and a belief that intelligence can change, develop and grow. It is the belief that people can learn from their mistakes and that the brain is like a plant, always ready to soak up new information. A student with a growth mindset might say: “I’m not going to give up,” “I’m going to keep trying,” or “I can do this.”

Think of mindset as a set of attitudes, beliefs or ideas each student possesses. These attitudes, positive or negative, may come from their home life and their personal experiences, or they might have been learned at school. No matter their source, what you do to foster a growth mindset really does matter.

As you begin planting the seeds of a growth-minded, schoolwide community, take these steps to grow both young and old minds within the school.

Educate staff and faculty: Does anyone in your school believe that there are students who will never make learning gains? Or will never be good at math? Or believe that, although a student has expressed an interest in college, they will never be college material? This is the mindset you’re obligated to eradicate. Start by gauging the overall mindset in your school community. Developing a survey to assess the mindset of the school’s faculty and staff will help identify a starting point for change. You can then use that information to develop small learning communities or schoolwide professional development opportunities. Basically, school personnel need to understand the brain is a muscle, and when it is exercised, it will grow.

Educate students: Next, expose students of all ages to the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. Help them recognize that their beliefs can and will change the way they perform in school. Regularly remind them they can get smarter each day, and they will learn from their mistakes. Teach them that how they take care of themselves has an impact on their brain’s ability to grow.

Developing school counseling core curriculum lessons about a growth mindset is the best way to grow as many young minds as possible. Once you’ve educated all students about mindsets, you can develop small groups to work with students who still struggle with self-esteem issues and those needing additional practice reframing their fixed mindset thoughts and actions.

Educate families: Families also need to learn what it means to have a growth mindset. Parent workshops create a sense of community and collaboration between home and school and will encourage the common growth mindset language being taught in classrooms. Some parents may see grades as the only means to measure success. Teach parents that success, whether academic or social/emotional, is achieved through growth, development and learning from mistakes. Move parents away from the belief that an “A” means the child is smart toward recognizing that growth is seen through hard work, dedication and motivation.

Model a growth mindset: It’s your job as a school counselor to continuously model growth-minded language and behavior and help create an atmosphere leading to success. Think about your schoolwide practices and what mindset they might foster. For example, how does your school recognize students based on report card grades? Most schools have an “honor roll” ceremony where students who earned all A’s or A’s and B’s are recognized for working hard and a job well done. What about those students that once were earning all D’s and F’s and are now earning all C’s? Don’t they deserve to be recognized for their academic growth? Does anything less than A’s and B’s signify lack of intelligence? I challenge you to think outside the box and reflect on your schoolwide practices. If you have a practice that falls into the fixed-mindset category, what are you going to do about it?

Watch it Grow

Now it’s your turn. When the fog clears this summer, it’s time to create a plan that works for you, your school counseling program and your school as a whole. Using these ideas, you can introduce a growth mindset culture where learning and resilience are evident across grade levels. You are building a place where all students learn to grow their mindset, realize their full potential and achieve academic and social/emotional success, all while preparing for their future.

Summer Perhay Kuba, Ph.D., is the program director and assistant professor for the school counseling program at Liberty University and is the Florida School Counselor Association advocacy chair. She can be reached at