Changing lives through education has been my passion and calling for over 35 years. Four years ago an exciting opportunity came my way when I worked with a team to develop a new early learning school model for my district.
Our school serves all of the Kindergarten students within the district, about 400 students, as well as all PreK students. Our model’s foundation integrated Oregon’s new Early Learning and Kindergarten Guidelines: Approaches to Learning and Social-Emotional Development. These key components underpinned my team’s professional urgency to ensure that we create an early learning model that develops the whole child.
My team of early learning professionals had experienced the pendulum swing away from addressing critical developmental needs, and the consequences of focusing too narrowly on their academic needs. We wanted the development of growth mindset and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) to be a core component within our model alongside the development of rigorous academics.
Our district had already established core content materials for math and reading, and had to select a program for this third crucial component. Some of our New School Planning Team members were piloting a program called Growing Early Mindsets (GEM™), which was unique in that it is integrated into teachers’ existing daily practices, was developed specifically for early learners, and is literacy-based. For these reasons, we selected GEM as our growth mindset and SEL core component program.
As we developed this integrated growth mindset and SEL model for our students, we also developed our individual understandings and experiences regarding our own growth mindsets. We faced enormous challenges during the first year developing our new model and opening a new school. It’s no surprise then that our individual experiences brought depth and meaning to our understanding of how important it is to develop a growth mindset and SEL within our students. This shift within ourselves impacted and added depth to the development of our model and our work with our students.
Look at a school’s Master Schedule, and you can see that what is prioritized is what matters. We knew that in order for the integration of growth mindset and SEL to become a reality, we needed to make sure that our Master Schedule included dedicated time each day for growth mindset and SEL practices. In addition to building in this dedicated time into the Master Schedule, we also knew it had to be integrated throughout the whole day. Our team viewed these components as crucial to the development of the whole child.
With this in mind, we made sure that our Master Schedule had dedicated time at the start of the day to include the weekly GEM Essential Question and lab focus, and then dedicated time later in the day for application, called, “Pre-Frontal Cortex Time” (GEM Lab 8 Learning Routine). This occurs during the last 30 minutes of the day. During this “Intentional Play” time, students make a variety of developmentally appropriate choices from a magnetic Choice Board. Teachers then facilitate as “coaches,” using growth mindset and SEL language and practices.
A key component of implementing any new instructional model is planning what it will look like school-wide. Our model includes a school-wide culture and environment that believes in, practices, and integrates growth mindset and SEL into everything we do. Walking throughout our school, you will hear and see our practices on display. Our beliefs are framed and hanging on our walls, they are heard within our conversations with students, parents, and colleagues, and they are felt the moment you enter the doors of our school and within any classroom.
Now in year three of our new school model, we can look back on the dedication and courage it took to blaze a new trail within our region for early learners. We can look back and see how the experience shifted each of us, and how while we thought we were developing a new model for our students, we were also developing a new way of thinking and learning for ourselves.
Dr. Desireé Margo has been actively engaged in education for 34 years, including 20 years teaching at various levels prior to going into school administration. She has served as the assistant director of student services as well as principal of an elementary school. Now at The Redmond Early Learning Center, Desireé has been leading efforts to instill a growth mindset foundation, fueling development of SEL in order to nurture the whole child and improve academic/behavioral outcomes for hundreds of students. She received both her master’s and doctorate degrees in educational leadership and is passionate about providing opportunities for ALL students. Her personal vision is Every Child, Every Chance, Every Day!