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All schools are, or should be, planning for what to do for all students when schools re-open, presumably (and hopefully) in the Fall, for the 20-21 school year. My schools are planning, and I believe that all schools should be planning, for supports that all students will need and the supports that the most vulnerable students will need.

Re-establishing cultures, mindsets, and expectations for all

In addition to reinforcing social norms, we will need to re-establish emotionally physically, and intellectually safe learning environments and the positive cultures and mindsets that schools have worked so hard to successfully establish. Parents and teachers have worked so hard to retain normalcy in these distance learning times, but learning by oneself and in pajamas is not the same as working together, both in and out of classrooms, in schools. 

Beyond a collaborative culture, a belief in the ability of all students to learn (academic and behavioral skills) at high levels is fundamental. Students know when educators have high expectations for their success (Zimmerman et al., 1992). When educators have high expectations, students learn at higher levels. There is no reference to that student or those students. No labels are allowed to persuade educators that students cannot self-regulate, be motivated, or be cooperative. With proactive and positive supports, educators can make significant impacts, and all students can be on track (or get back or track) for college, career, and future readiness. We have experienced it, and researchers demonstrate that behavioral skills are malleable (Farrington et al., 2012). Schools have worked so hard to establish cultures of high expectations for all learners achieving at high levels. We’ll need to rededicate ourselves, with staff enthusiastically, energetically, and passionately communicating to students that they can!

We cannot use a perceived lack of student motivation as an excuse to deny supports to students. Motivation is a symptom. Student needs in the areas of precognitive self-regulation, mindsets, social skills, perseverance, or learning strategies will likely lead to a lack of motivation. 

What can we do at the beginning of this new year to reestablish high expectations of positive mindsets? I recommend that schools develop an action plan to promote more positive student, and staff mindsets, directly related to the indicators provided by Camille Farrington and her colleagues (2012):

  • “I belong in this academic community.” – Here are steps that could be taken to increase students’ connections to school: Initiate or reinvigorate homerooms or advisory periods within secondary schools or classroom meetings in elementary schools; keep track of interactions within classrooms to ensure that a conversation (however brief) happens with every student at least every week; expand the quantity and type of activities or clubs at school so that every student can be involved, and will be held accountable to being involved, and connected to something on campus.
  • “My ability and competence grow with my effort.” Here are steps that could increase student and staff beliefs that, given time and the right supports, all students can learn at high level: Stop assigning points when work (quizzes, papers, tests) are returned, instead highlighting errors (opportunities for improvement) that all students are expected to correct or improve; stop assigning zeros that effectively let off the hook, instead assigning incompletes and requiring students to complete all assignments that were worthy or being assigned in the first place; require students to refine assignments and retake tests that are below an agreed upon level of mastery, instead of denying them the opportunity to show you what they now know after correcting errors, relearning concepts, and receiving support; consistently communicate a “not yet” approach to lack of understanding, as in, “I don’t get this yet,” instead of, “I don’t get this;” explicitly learn from errors, using a routine like “My Favorite No” (, in which a “good” mistake is shared with the class an opportunity to grow.
  • “I can succeed at this.” Here are steps that could increase student and staff beliefs success with the task is possible: Learn about, and truly commit to, differentiation and scaffolding, for example, providing text that is at students’ reading level so that they can access science or social studies content or adjusting the complexity of numbers so that students can be successful accessing mathematics concepts; providing students with multiples ways of showing what they know, for example, videoing, screencasting, or recording audio of responses.
  • “This work has value for me.” In addition to striving to design experiences that tap into students’ lives, promote more voice, choice, and agency to increase the value that students place on their learning. Voice: Listen to students and use their input when providing options for the content with which they engage, process used for learning, and the products they use to show what they know. Choice: Allow students to exercise some choice over the place, pace, path, and time of day that they learn. Agency: Give students a stake in their learning, inviting (or requiring) them to track their progress toward learning.

Schools promoting positive mindsets sometimes believe that the teaching, modeling, and nurturing of behavioral skills is only for students who don’t seem to “care,” students at risk, or students from historically underperforming subgroups. This could not be further from the truth. All students will benefit from support with mindsets. We have met high-achieving students who do not persevere, and gifted students with fixed mindsets. Schools need not worry about when they will pull vulnerable students to teach them behavioral skills. The teaching and learning of behavioral skills is for all, and must be part of every school’s Tier 1, core environments:

Students are not likely to develop learning strategies in the absence either of explicit instruction or classwork that requires the use of such strategies. It may be most helpful to think about noncognitive factors as properties of the interactions between students and classrooms or school environments. Rather than being helpless in the face of students who lack perseverance and good academic behaviors, teachers set the classroom conditions that strongly shape the nature of students’ academic performance. The essential question is not how to change students to improve their behavior but rather how to create contexts that better support students in developing critical attitudes and learning strategies necessary for their academic success. Thus, teaching adolescents to become learners may require educators to shift their own beliefs and practices as well as to build their pedagogical skills and strategies to support student learning in new ways. Academic behaviors and perseverance may need to be thought of as creations of school and classroom contexts rather than as personal qualities that students bring with them to school. (p. 72)

So how do educators do it? What silver bullet or magic formula will help teachers and schools help students develop these habits? While there may be unique strategies about which educators do not know, the practices that are likely to help develop critical behavioral skills are the very same research-based best practices about which educators have read but may not have found time to implement or have not implemented well—rigorous and relevant teaching, collaborative learning, and differentiated instruction, to name a few.

The path is clear. This does not, however, mean that’s easy. Mr. Elmer’s Intervention Compass can help:

  • The universal screening of mindsets is available within Intervention Compass.
  • Data from these screeners can be organized and analyzed within Intervention Compass’ Data Walls.
  • Research-based strategies, found within Intervention Compass’ Intervention Library, can be used to promote more positive mindsets.
  • Students’ mindset needs and staff response to these needs can be documented within Intervention Compass’ notes section.
  • Progress monitoring can be scheduled, administered, and data plotted within Intervention Compass’ assessment support system.


We can be prepared to meet students’ behavioral needs. We must. Mr. Elmer is the best solution to help us in this critical work.


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