Educators learn how to foster growth mindsets

Dr. Kendra Coates teaches at the GEM Institute

Feb. 26, 2020 - Educators around Douglas County are diving deeper into innovative ways to support student learning and well-being. 

Through a curriculum called Growing Early Mindsets, teachers are finding that the classroom practices they have increasingly sensed were important to student achievement are actually backed by modern discoveries in neuroscience.  

Growing Early Mindsets is a literacy-based framework that teaches principles of growth mindset, social and emotional learning, and mindfulness in pre-K through third-grade learning environments. The framework, known as GEM, was developed by Dr. Kendra Coates, regional director of P-3rd Education for Central Oregon. 

“We are living in an exciting period of time right now,” Coates said. “We have now discovered what is happening inside the brain and that the brain is malleable.”

Coates served as trainer at a GEM Institute this month at the Douglas Education Service District. About 70 educators and other community members, including several from Lake and Klamath counties, signed up for the first day of the conference. Fifty of those participants, all early learning educators, kindergarten teachers and child care and preschool providers, attended a second day of professional development as part of a cohort that will participate in additional video conference training through September.

The GEM Institute and cohort professional development opportunities are funded and organized by Kindergarten Readiness Partnership & Innovation (KPI), a program of the South Central Early Learning Hub and Douglas ESD. KPI serves Douglas, Klamath and Lake counties by promoting, supporting and funding innovative strategies and activities that focus on kindergarten readiness skills and smooth transitions; family engagement in children’s learning; professional development; and alignment, connection and collaboration with early learning professionals and early learning educators.

Fifteen sets of the GEM curriculum were granted to each school district, early learning organization and child care provider that sent representatives to this month’s institute.  

The goal behind the GEM curriculum is to foster children’s innate love of learning while nurturing and supporting the whole child. It integrates research about the brain and neuroplasticity that reveals new truths about how we learn. According to the GEM framework, growth mindset is the belief that intelligence, abilities, skills and talents are malleable and develop through effort and learning. This is opposed to the fixed mindset, which is the belief that these qualities cannot be changed. 

Teachers learn how to help students develop growth mindsets and social-emotional learning skills, both of which have been shown to improve student achievement. For example, students learn problem-solving skills, how to build healthy relationships and how to persevere in the face of challenges. 

“I think we’ve always believed that social-emotional learning is a big, important thing, and this is just kind of giving you some real tools on how to do it,” said Amanda Sandoval, a kindergarten teacher at Winchester Elementary School in Roseburg who attended the institute. “This teaches how to talk about it, how to identify what kind of problem you have, identify the size, what strategies can you use … so it really gives kids the tools that they need to self-regulate, to problem solve, to start creating some meta-cognition skills inside of themselves.”

GEM also incorporates what it calls a spiraling teaching and learning concept in which subjects are taught and retaught in ways that allow students to learn at their own pace. 

“What that means is you are constantly going and diving deeper and deeper into concepts and constructs and principles and practices and skills by revisiting and being intentional,” Coates said. 

Coates compared the concept to adults watching the same movie or reading the same book over and over again. 

“We do a lot of things over and over again,” she said, “and we gain something deeper and more meaningful each time we do it.”