2016’s ‘Whole Child’ Issues: Growth Mindset, Transgender Rules, School Cops

By Evie Blad — December 30, 2016 5 min read
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Educators and policymakers interested in supporting and nurturing students had a lot to watch in 2016, but several issues rose to the surface as major points of interest. While Rules for Engagement covers issues ranging from school safety to school lunches, this blog’s most read posts of the last year had several major trends.

Rules readers continued to be interested in social-emotional learning and student mindsets, with a particular focus on deeper research on those issues. And balancing student civil rights concerns—specifically related to school police and accommodating transgender students—also drew many readers. Let’s take a look at this blog’s top 10 posts of 2016.


This Principal Has a Creative Way of Encouraging Positive Student Behavior

Denise Hausauer, the principal of Damonte Ranch High School in Reno, wears a jingle bell on a lanyard around her neck so students can hear her coming down the hall. She wants to catch them doing something good so she can reinforce positive behaviors through praise.

I met Hausauer when I was in the Washoe County school district to learn about its methods for teaching and measuring social-emotional learning. Readers were interested in her small and creative way of encouraging positive student behavior.


Angela Duckworth: To Grow Students’ Grit, Balance Challenges With Support

University of Pennsylvania psychology Professor Angela Duckworth released a new book on grit this year, exploring the depths and misconceptions about her research on persistence and passion.

Readers have met the concept of grit with both enthusiasm and skepticism.


Chronic Absenteeism: New Data Paints Clearest Picture Yet of ‘Crisis,’ Feds Say

A new, first-of-its-kind trove of federal data on chronic absenteeism showed the depth of what officials and advocates have labeled a crisis. What was previously unknown—the number of students missing at least 15 school days a year—can now be examined on a national and state-by-state level.


A Growth Mindset May Counteract Effects of Poverty on Achievement, Study Says

A growth mindset may buffer students from the effects of poverty on academic achievement, Stanford researchers concluded after studying test scores and survey results for 168,000 Chilean students.


Judge Halts Obama Administration’s Transgender-Student Rules Nationwide

Court battles over school accommodations for transgender students came to a crescendo in 2016 after the Obama administration released guidance instructing schools to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, even if it differs from their sex at birth. In one of two multi-state lawsuits challenging that guidance, a Texas federal judge in August issued an order that temporarily halted the application of that guidance nationwide while the court considers the case.

The issue is also due before the U.S. Supreme Court, which will consider in 2017 a Virginia student’s assertion that his school violated federal civil rights laws when it restricted him from using the boys’ bathroom.

After the Texas judge’s order, I went on PBS Newshour to discuss the legal landscape for transgender students.


As Students Join National Anthem Protests, How Should Schools Respond

A silent act of protest started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick spread beyond the NFL and onto the sidelines of many high schools as young players joined in, kneeling quietly during the national anthem to protest police treatment of black Americans. Schools are missing out on a learning opportunity and violating free speech laws if they respond to students’ national anthem protests with discipline rather than discussion, a First Amendment advocate told me.


Baltimore School Cops, Chief Put on Leave After Teen Kicked, Slapped on Video

Viral videos of violent school arrests drew attention to concerns about school police in 2016. Civil rights groups say the actions documented in those videos are part of a larger national pattern of school police brutality against students of color. In March, officials in the Baltimore City school system placed the district’s in-house police chief and two school police officers on leave after a video emerged of one of the officers kicking, slapping, and swearing at a teen boy outside of a school.


Social-Emotional Learning: States Collaborate to Craft Standards, Policies

Eight states will work collaboratively to create and implement plans to encourage social-emotional learning in their schools, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning announced in August. One of the states, Tennessee, later dropped out of the working group.


Middle School Student Handcuffed, Charged With Crime for Taking Free Milk

The mother of a Virginia middle school student said her son was handcuffed, charged with a crime, and suspended from school after he retrieved a carton of milk he get for free through the National School Lunch Program.

On May 10, after filling his lunch tray, the boy returned to the lunch line to pick up a carton of milk. A Prince William County police officer working in the school accused the student, who is black, of stealing the milk. He was handcuffed after police said he was disorderly.

Civil rights groups said the incident was an example of heavy-handed school discipline policies that criminalize student behavior and disproportionately affect black students.


Nurturing Growth Mindsets: Six Tips From Carol Dweck

Encouraging students’ growth mindset is about more than just praising raw effort, Stanford University professor Carol Dweck said in this super popular post.

As fans of Dweck’s research can quickly explain, people with fixed mindsets see strengths and skills as innate traits, like eye color. You’re either born with them, or you’re not. But people with growth mindsets recognize that the brain can grow and change through effort, and they embrace failures as opportunities for developing new strategies and approaches to learning content and concepts they find challenging.

In this post, I summarize some of Dweck’s efforts to debunk myths about her research and some of her strategies for shifting the way we think about learning and failure. One of her tips? Give your fixed-mindset self a name and learn to recognize what triggers it.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.