Teaching Profession CTQ Collaboratory

How to Take a Growth Mindset Approach to Summer Learning

By Elizabeth Stein — June 20, 2017 6 min read

For many, the mention of summer school conjures an image of sluggish students slouched in their seats—with that all-too-familiar, dazed look on their faces—as a teacher cracks sappy jokes. Hard as the teacher tries to create a relaxed, motivating summer learning experience, these students cannot be persuaded; they have already surrendered to the notion that they are not smart enough. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth.

What if we challenged the typical vision of summer school by designing an active, summer learning process that cultivates a true connection between learners and learning? What if we replaced common learning myths with a deep understanding of brain-based learning and immersed students in the belief that they can grow their intelligence?

How to Keep a Growth Mindset at the Center

As the coordinator for my district’s Summer Resiliency Academy, I work alongside courageous, curious, and dedicated administrators and educators to co-create a middle school experience that guides each student to connect with a meaningful learning process. Developing a unique summer learning experience for students who struggle throughout the school year has come with many challenges: educating the whole learner; keeping academics and social-emotional learning on target; empowering and supporting teachers’ personal mindfulness beliefs and habits; and increasing teachers’ awareness of personal attitudes and language. My colleagues and I have come a long way since we launched our program in the summer of 2013. We have approached each challenge with our own growth mindset convictions firmly in place, and continue to do so today. Our collaborative steps include a focus on:

1. Teacher self-care. We have enlisted Project Presence to lead training in social-emotional learning (SEL). Practicing mindfulness through breathing techniques and exercises has helped my colleagues and me take care of ourselves—so we can take the best possible care of our students.

2. Professional development. To expand its focus on educating the whole learner and to embrace social-emotional learning, our district has invited teachers to participate in SEL training throughout the school year, not just as preparation for the summer program. Since implementing year-round instruction, we’ve found that teachers come to the summer program prepared to apply mindfulness and SEL practices.

3. Growth mindset language. By hosting roundtable discussions and other activities, teachers practice their ability to embed intentional, empowering language within instructional time. Teachers can then model for students the thinking, speaking, and action steps necessary to persevere through the challenges that come with any meaningful learning experience.

4. Instructional focus and classroom structure. During the first year of the program, we found that teachers tended to approach academic and SEL instruction as separate entities. We fell into our default mode of emphasizing teacher-centered experiences, with teachers serving as the key decision makers and drivers of educational experiences. In our second year, the scale tipped way in the other direction as we began prioritizing student-centered experiences. Our third year was the charm! We realigned our schedule to include rotating academic and SEL workshops, and we incorporated project-based learning to reactivate and harness students’ passions for learning. In daily genius hours, students explored one idea they would like to learn more about—and as they honed their research skills and unleashed their creativity to find solutions, our students became leaders of their learning.

To this day, our instructional focus naturally incorporates the principles of universal design for learning as we keep learners—teachers and students—at the center of the learning process.

Resiliency Training for Students

The overall goals of our summer resiliency program are to close students’ personal achievement gaps and to reconnect students with their natural curiosity to learn. Summer is an optimal time to embrace a whole learner view and introduce some powerful skills that move beyond the traditional focus on content knowledge and academic supports.

To maintain a focus on the whole learner, educators can consider the five core competencies developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. In their work to cultivate these core competencies, students learn to apply focused strategies to help them accept, embrace, and persevere as mindful, strategic learners. In the summer program, for example, we begin by reframing students’ thoughts of self-doubt. This helps students reach a place where they are willing to push through challenges to find (and celebrate!) personal successes. Here are a few key strategies to increase students’ interest in becoming resilient learners:

1. Storytelling. At our summer program, teachers share stories of famous achievers who have demonstrated tenacity and overcome obstacles, from Michael Jordan to Albert Einstein, as well as personal stories of family members, friends, or fellow teachers. Then teachers ask students to tell their own stories—keeping in mind that they are in charge of how their stories unfold.

2. Student choice. Students often come into the summer program and sit quietly waiting for teachers to guide them, tell them, and in essence, think for them. After the first week or so, we notice a huge shift as students have opportunities to make choices in their learning processes. Choice allows students’ thinking to drive their journey toward becoming self-regulated, self-motivated learners. By applying strategies that align with the Universal Design for Learning Principles and Guidelines, we strive to cultivate expert learners who reach a unique personal best, and we hope students will carry this feeling of accomplishment with them throughout the following school year.

3. Movement and expression. We incorporate movement into our lessons in order to encourage students to forge a bond between what they are learning, why they are learning, and how they learn best. Some movement is naturally embedded in our rotating workshops and project-based learning activities, and we strategically plan our lessons to take advantage of these opportunities. In addition, we introduce yoga, mindful walking, and intuitive art and journaling to help students focus on their mind-body-energy connection and create a more relaxed, positive outlook on learning.

Students need to have an active role in the learning process, so they can gain content knowledge and develop the social and emotional skills they need to achieve personal goals. Summer is the perfect time to capture students’ natural curiosity within a relaxed setting. Teachers can use this time to guide learners to tap into resiliency when the going gets tough. As more students gain these resiliency skills and more teachers integrate resiliency into their instruction, I hope that the summer classroom will evolve to be a more dynamic, innovative, positive place—and the traditional vision of summer school will become a thing of the past.

Related Tags:


School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online
School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Building Equitable Systems: Moving Math From Gatekeeper to Opportunity Gateway
The importance of disrupting traditional American math practices and adopting high-quality math curriculum continues to be essential for changing the trajectory of historically under-resourced schools. Building systems around high-quality math curriculum also is necessary to
Content provided by Partnership for L.A. Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion What Can We Do to Help the Well-Being of Teachers?
A Seat at the Table focused on the social-emotional well-being of teachers during the pandemic. Here's what we learned from the guests.
1 min read
Sera   FCG
Teaching Profession Nearly 9 in 10 Teachers Willing to Work in Schools Once Vaccinated, Survey Finds
Nearly half of educators who belong to the National Education Association have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
4 min read
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., on March 15, 2021.
Nurse Sara Muela, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Rebecca Titus at a vaccination site set up for teachers and school staff in Reading, Pa., on March 15.
Matt Rourke/AP
Teaching Profession Q&A Nation's Top Teachers Discuss the Post-Pandemic Future of the Profession
Despite the difficulties this school year brought, the four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award say they're hopeful.
11 min read
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
National Teacher of the Year Finalists (clockwise from top left): Alejandro Diasgranados, Juliana Urtubey, John Arthur, Maureen Stover
Courtesy of CCSSO
Teaching Profession Teachers Are Stressed Out, and It's Causing Some to Quit
Stress, more so than low pay, is the main reason public school teachers quit. And COVID-19 has increased the pressure.
7 min read
Image of exit doors.