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The Vital Role of a Positive Mindset in Student Success

Schools across the country will soon be back in session. In some states, students are already back.

As students begin filing into classrooms, pay close attention to their energy levels. Are they bounding down the halls with enthusiasm, or sulking from room to room with sullen summer hangovers?

The new school year is sure to bring mixed emotions–excitement, nervousness, stress, even depression. Such emotions are often intense, and potentially damaging, especially for those who struggle in school, or who’ve experienced trauma during the summer.

The first days of school represent an opportune time to help students lock in a positive mindset, and get kids in the right headspace for school.

In a post in Edutopia, psychology professor and social-emotional learning advocate Maurice J. Elias offers several tips for teachers and administrators to help kick school off on a positive mental note.

First impressions matter
Think what it feels like when you start a new job, search for a new home, even go on a first date. The welcome matters. School is no different. If students feel welcomed and invited, they’re much more likely to have a positive experience.

How you engage students on day one sets the tone for the rest of the school year. Make them feel excited and challenged, so that they start the year off with energy and purpose.

Leave nothing to chance.

Even the way your classroom is arranged can pay huge dividends, says Elias. “Teachers have told me the importance of decorating classrooms in ways that catch students’ attention and gives them something to think about at the same time.”

Self-assessment and self-reflection
Take the first few days to help students focus and recalibrate their summer brains. Encourage them to set goals for the school year.

Elias suggests a questionnaire, survey, or some other creative project in which students ask themselves questions, such as  “What motivates me? What are my best abilities? Who are my best sources of help?”

Have students share their answers in groups or with the entire class, so that everyone understands each other and how they think. As you move through the year, don’t be afraid to circle back to this discussion, to check in with your students, and to make sure they’re still on track to achieve those early personal goals.

Poll your students
To understand and improve students’ mindsets it’s important to take their emotional “temperature” right away.

Elias suggests a “living poll” in which you ask students to agree or disagree with certain statements—think “I think school is pointless’ or ‘I think school is important, and I need to learn so that I can succeed.” Then, have students stand in different parts of the classroom, depending on how much they agree or disagree with a statement. From there, ask students to explain what they’re feeling.

“There is great value in students hearing peers’ views about why they have turned to a more positive mindset,” writes Elias. “And it’s instructive for the teacher to get a sense of students’ views.”

If you think it will be difficult to get students to open up in front of classmates, design a class- or school-wide survey to empower them to share their thoughts openly and without reservation.

Make sure you know where your students stand on day one and develop a strategy to keep them excited and engaged throughout the year.

What steps are you taking this year to get students off on the right foot? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for a way to gauge students’ emotions going into the new school year? Here’s a few ideas about how to engage them.