Thinking about everything in your life right now, what feels the hardest for you?
Out of all the questions on Cielo Vista Elementary’s SEL Survey, it’s the one that has made the biggest impact on student success. Answers to that question—ranging from making friends to the STAAR test and self-esteem—informed Cielo Vista Elementary’s goal to implement tiered supports that increase growth mindset.
The school, which enrolls 380 students as part of El Paso Independent School District in El Paso, Texas, has increased focus on growth mindset and social-emotional learning (SEL) over the past few years.
Growth Mindset: Student perceptions of whether they have the potential to change those factors that are central to their performance in school.
And that focus has made a big difference for students. By centering student voice, Cielo Vista has seen an 8% increase in growth mindset over the school year—and they’re just getting started. The school’s campus-wide focus on strengthening this key social-emotional skill is also moving the needle on student behavior and academic success.
Building a Foundation for SEL
While the Panorama SEL Survey highlighted the need to boost students’ social-emotional skills, Cielo Vista was entirely new to teaching SEL competencies like growth mindset. School leaders recognized they first needed to build adult capacity for learning—and teaching—growth mindset skills.
“It takes the whole school,” says Maria Guerra, Principal at Cielo Vista. “We wanted teachers to feel empowered to teach growth mindset in the classroom, so we took steps toward that. And this isn’t just one activity and we’re done. Teaching growth mindset is an ongoing process for the entire community.”
So the school implemented programming, training within PLCs, and a book club to target growth mindset. They offered teachers the opportunity to complete surveys, assessing their own understanding of growth mindset. “We talk to teachers about so many aspects of growth mindset, including what their classroom could look like,” says Cristina Diaz, Counselor at Cielo Vista. “We even discuss setting up tables and chairs to show these spaces are supportive of growth mindset.”
Diaz notes that building adult capacity for teaching SEL skills is an ongoing process—but it’s already making a difference in Cielo Vista. Their focus supporting teacher and staff capacity for growth mindset has created a school-wide foundation for social-emotional learning.
“We talk to teachers about so many aspects of growth mindset, including what their classroom could look like. We even discuss setting up tables and chairs to show these spaces are supportive of growth mindset.”
-Cristina Diaz, Counselor, Cielo Vista Elementary School
Developing School-Wide, Tier 1 Growth Mindset Supports
Once Cielo Vista had created systems of support for adult social-emotional learning, they shifted focus to teaching growth mindset skills in the classroom. Creating a strong base of Tier 1 supports was central to the school’s approach to boosting SEL skills, and they decided to start building that base with a book club. All students read—or watched videos about—The Fantastic Elastic Brain, a picture book that teaches children they have the ability to stretch and grow their own brains.
“This year, we’re going deeper into growth mindset. We’re doing a monthly theme,” says Diaz. “We’ve had an ‘I Can Learn!’ theme. We’re even doing a neuroscience theme, because kids need to know what the brain does. They need to know what happens when we’re upset and how much control we have over our feelings. And we also have a themed month on communities—how we’re all part of this campus community. These are all important parts of building a growth mindset.”
"Growth mindset is a lot of things. It’s about feeling accepted and part of a community. It’s about having goals. It’s about grit and not giving up. So we’re taking each of those pieces one step at a time.”
-Cristina Diaz, Counselor, Cielo Vista Elementary School
School leaders are data-driven in their approach to developing these themes and tiered supports. They continuously review data in Panorama to identify trends or areas of focus, then share data with teachers in PLCs. They discuss the why behind each book or activity, and they’re very specific about which social-emotional learning skills they’re targeting each month.
“For example, we had a lot of survey responses about the pandemic,” says Diaz. “Students were concerned about people being sick or passing away, or they hadn’t been able to see family—that was all still concerning to them. So we had to consider that when developing supports.”
The school made those supports front-and-center for all members of their community. Guerra describes the school’s main hallway, which has become a growth mindset hallway where students display projects they worked on throughout each themed unit. As they walk to class, students read about fixed mindset vs. growth mindset, and they see examples of building a growth mindset.
Morning meetings set the tone for students arriving at school. They receive high fives and fist bumps, and the kids decide how they want to be greeted. “This builds a sense of community,” says Diaz. “It reminds students that they’re part of this school—because growth mindset is a lot of things. It’s about feeling accepted and part of a community. It’s about having goals. It’s about grit and not giving up. So we’re taking each of those pieces one step at a time.”
Creating Groups for Tiered Supports
While Cielo Vista is committed to creating a school-wide culture that supports growth mindset, they also recognized that some students needed additional support. To ensure students received targeted academic, behavioral, and social-emotional support, the school analyzed survey data, looking specifically at free response answers to elevate student voice. And they used filters to create small groups that support student growth.
“We especially focused on the free responses in the Student Survey. That qualitative data tells a story,” says Diaz. “We used students’ responses to the question ‘Thinking about everything in your life right now, what feels the hardest for you?’ to make specific support groups, including a group on self-esteem, a group for students who were struggling academically, and a group for kids who wanted to learn how to make friends.”
Panorama for Social-Emotional Learning. Demo data is displayed
Diaz notes that when they looked at differences in data, they were able to identify different cluster groups. For example, they already knew that, generally, their third grade boys were having behavior issues—and because Cielo Vista is a small campus, those students were grouped together in the same classroom. However, the school was surprised to see these students’ behavior issues aligned to a low perception of growth mindset.
“Behavior has been an ongoing issue with this group of students, and this was reflected in low perception of growth mindset in surveys. In their mind, that was who they were and how they acted: they misbehaved. They had to learn they don’t have to act that way—they have the potential to change,” says Diaz. “So teachers focused on extra activities with that group. They learned how to work together and be cooperative, that the world is about working with other people.”
Survey data also showed fourth grade students struggled with growth mindset, which Guerra notes was a surprise. She says that, generally, their fourth grade students were smart and successful, with supportive teachers and tutors—yet their survey responses revealed a huge amount of anxiety.
"We had to help them build a growth mindset. We taught them that it’s ok to get things wrong—that’s how we learn and grow. And they were very successful! At the end of year, these fourth graders had the highest STAAR scores.”
-Maria Guerra, Principal, Cielo Vista Elementary School
“There was an enormous amount of pressure on these kids, especially after the pandemic, and they thought they couldn’t achieve their goals. They were worried about math, reading, and STAAR, and they were afraid of failure,” says Guerra. “They had a high-achieving mindset, which means they had a hard time with growth mindset. So we had to help them build a growth mindset. We taught them that it’s ok to get things wrong—that’s how we learn and grow. And they were very successful! At the end of year, these fourth graders had the highest STAAR scores.”
It's All for the Kids
Guerra returns to Cielo Vista’s commitment to supporting the entire school’s capacity for growth mindset. She notes that, during a recent staff development day, they offered a PLC entirely focused on social-emotional learning. And they showed a presentation filled with pictures of their campus community—moments that showed students and staff feeling a sense of belonging.
“Growth mindset is just part of the whole supportive environment we’re creating at Cielo Vista,” says Guerra. “This is why we do what we do. And it’s all for kids.”