See What’s Possible: Role Models Matter

By: Angela Duckworth

This is the last in a three-part series on the legacy of Albert Bandura. Read the first one here and the second one here.

“Angela, do you think the United States will elect a female president in your lifetime?”

Years ago, this was the last question of the last interview for a scholarship that, alas, I didn’t win. Reflexively, I frowned and shook my head no.

As the interview ended, I sensed that I’d given an answer the committee found disappointing. “Yes, of course there will be a female president in my lifetime,” they wanted me to say with a confident smile. “And I hope I have your vote.”

Where does the audacity to set ambitious goals and strive for them come from?

A decade before I was born, a young psychologist at Stanford named Al Bandura asked the same question. He randomly assigned preschool children to three groups. One watched adults play aggressively with an inflatable clown called a Bobo doll, another watched adults play quietly with a different toy while ignoring the Bobo doll, and a third had no exposure to these adult role models. Next, each of the children was left alone with the Bobo doll.

Like most children, my first role models were in my family.

Angela Duckworth

The results were striking. Only the children who watched adults play aggressively later imitated what they’d seen. They did so with eerie precision, punching and kicking the Bobo doll, hitting it with a mallet, and sitting on it just as they had seen the adult do.

Like most children, my first role models were in my family. My dad had a PhD in chemistry. Most of my uncles—and countless cousins—were doctors or scientists. So if you’d asked me in, say, third grade, “Angela, could you become a college professor someday, if you tried?” Without a shred of evidence that I’d be any good at such a career, I’d have nodded my head. “Sure. Why not?”

If, instead, you’d asked me, “Angela, do you think you could become an Olympic swimmer, if you tried?” I would have shaken my head. After all, nobody in my family was a professional athlete, and for the most part, the athletes on television didn’t look like me.

In the Bobo doll study, trends in the data suggest that boys were more likely to imitate the behavior of men, and girls were more likely to imitate the behavior of women. Likewise, in a more recent study, college students who were assigned to teaching assistants of similar race or ethnicity were more likely to attend office hours and discussion sections. This match also led to improved student performance in sequenced courses and positively influenced decisions on college majors.

Don’t assume that children know they can be anything they want when they grow up.

Do go out of your way to expose the young people in your life to inspiring role models they can relate to, whether it’s an Olympic athlete or a local entrepreneur. And now that we have our first female vice president, can the first female president be far behind?

With grit and gratitude,



The Future of Learning is Wellness: Turnaround for Children and Thrively

By: Christina Theokas and Joe Erpelding

All students have unique strengths and needs that vary over time and are expressed differently. This year, the world has experienced extraordinary unforeseen challenges with the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racial discord. This collective trauma is contributing to heightened levels of stress and uncertainty. Schools are working to identify how best to support students in navigating these experiences, engaging with their learning, and making progress toward their goals. Assessing perceptions of wellbeing is one way to do this.

Student well-being is commonly valued but not commonly measured in schools, leaving teachers to rely on what they see (e.g., overt acting out behaviors) and believe is important to address. Given that students respond differently and not all responses may be directly noticeable to the classroom teacher, many students and needs could be overlooked. Further, many existing resources to understand student functioning take a deficit-based approach – asking what is wrong with students and trying to “fix” them (e.g., Youth Risk Behavior Survey). The current system has led to overidentification of students who have historically been marginalized by the system, reinforcing implicit bias, rather than supporting reflection on structured inequalities. Now, more than ever, it is important that schools take an assets-based approach – one that values subjective experience and creates space for students to directly voice how they are feeling and functioning, and invites them into the problem-solving solutions. Interventions grounded in a strengths-based approach are less stigmatizing and more equitable than those grounded in a deficit-based approach.

Thrively Well-Being Pulse Check-in

Well-Being Pulse Check-in: 60 Seconds with Thrively 

The Well-Being Index (WBI), created by Turnaround for Children and Thrively, is a tool meant to help educators hear directly, quickly, and systematically from all their students. It is designed to capture a holistic view of each student’s sense of their own physical, emotional, and social health and specifically how they are both feeling and functioning.  

Thrively portal

The Well-Being Index can be taken daily or weekly by an entire class in 60 seconds. Students and staff have instant data feedback. Thrively enables students to embark on a strengths-based journey that develops the whole child. The learner-centered platform offers personalized learning through an interdisciplinary approach that starts with an industry-first Strengths Assessment (developed by leading pediatric neuropsychologists). The Thrively Strength Assessment measures 23 strength areas to allow learners to focus on what is strong versus what is wrong.

Through Thrively, students are able to be self-aware and teachers are quickly able to identify what’s strong with kids vs. what’s wrong with kids. “Thrively allows kids to be heard. Every day we take attendance but how do we know that kids are ready to attend? Thrively helps to move the needle and changes how we look at wellness data,” Joe Erpelding, Senior Vice-President of Education at Thrively.

Personalized Wellness

Schools are saying that wellness matters. By accessing the Well-Being Index, teachers have strong conversation starters and students feel comfortable expressing their feelings. Students often feel like they don’t have a trusted adult, but through emoji and written reflections, they are able to chart their feeling to function and get real-time responses from their teachers. “I don’t have to share my feelings in person. I can tell Thrively how I am feeling. The teacher gets a notification,” Connor, Thrively student user.

The Well-Being Index helps kids to see what high-level functioning looks like through their theme-based playlist. With selections based around strengths and brain-based research, students and teachers are able to personalize the playlist based on their needs. Students are also able to understand mindset work, their passions and curate their personal interests through Sparks.

Benefits of the Well-Being Index 

With the needs of both students and educators in mind, the Well-Being Index:  

  • Takes an asset-based lens to well-being that encourages educators to understand and learn more about their students, rather than look for what is wrong with them  
  • Includes two developmentally-appropriate versions – a shorter version for grades 3-5 and a more robust one for grades 6-12  
  • Can be administered as frequently as desired to capture the dynamic picture of a student’s wellbeing

Using this tool prompts educators to support students in understanding and protecting their own wellbeing, rather than leaving educators to make assumptions about students based solely on observable behaviors or life circumstances. This tool can encourage my peers to reflect on their well-being without much pressure. “We have a Thrively Thursday where we check our emotions and we can do the well-being any day we need it because I like to know how I am feeling each day,” Max, Thrively student user.

Now, more than ever, it is important that schools take an assets-based approach – one that values subjective experience and creates space for students to directly voice how they are feeling and functioning, and invites them into the problem solving solutions.

Christina Theokas And Joe Erpelding


The Well-Being Index consists of 12 items that measure physical, psychological, emotional, and social elements of well-being. There are multiple items covering each element including, for example, energy level, sleep, hopefulness, mood, engagement, sense of connectedness, and the feeling of being valued and accepted.

The 12 items group into two domains to add additional meaning and direction for next steps:

  • Feeling refers to a perceived state of mind, commonly reflected in mood or satisfaction. 
  • Functioning refers to how a student is getting along with daily activities and experiences.  

When completing the self-assessment, students choose a value that best describes their experience of each statement using a 10-point Likert scale (represented as kid-friendly emojis) – ranging from No to Yes – with a higher score indicating a higher level of well-being. Teachers will see a profile of scores for each student and summary scores for their classroom. An administration guide with a set of reflection questions helps teachers understand the data and how to use it to strengthen relationships, environments, and experiences for students.  

“Sometimes you don’t even know you are having a low day,” Veyda, Thrively student user. Talking through experience creates common humanity for students. By creating space for students to express themselves and talk to others, they discover their place in the world and find their purpose. The Well-Being Index removes the complexity of whole-child learning and makes learning more holistic. The Well-Being Index provides an access point for teachers to look at real data about what really matters, how students show up and feel throughout the day.

Christina Theokas, Ph.D. is the Chief Applied Science Officer at Turnaround for Children.

Joe Erpelding is the Sr. VP, Education at Thrively.

This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.

All Together Now: The Lesson of Swimmy

By: Angela Duckworth

This is the second in a three-part series on the legacy of Albert Bandura. Read the first one here.  

Do you know the story of Swimmy?

Perhaps, like me, you read the 1963 book by Leo Lionni over and over again as a young child. Or, like me, you read it night after night to your own children.

Here’s how it goes.

Swimmy is a little fish who lives happily in the ocean with his many brothers and sisters.

One day, a much larger fish comes darting through the waves and, in one gulp, swallows every fish in the school except Swimmy himself.

Swimmy escapes to wander the seas and, though at first scared and lonely, eventually comes upon another school of fish just like his own family.

“Let’s go and swim and play and SEE things!” Swimmy says happily.

But the fish are hiding in the dark shade of rocks and weeds. If they come out, they explain, a big fish will eat them all.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

Margaret Mead

Swimmy thinks for a long time.

Suddenly, he says, “We are going to swim all together like the biggest fish in the sea!”

And he shows them how, if they swim close together, just so, they will look like one giant fish.

Swimmy and the triumph of these little fish leaped to mind when I read one of the articles Stanford psychologist Al Bandura selected, among the hundreds he’d written, to mail to me months before he died.

The choice was timely because Al was working on a book on collective efficacy, a group’s belief in their combined power to achieve shared goals. The choice was also timely because, as he pointed out in what would be our last phone conversation, a single person alone can’t solve challenges like climate change, social inequality, or the pandemic.

Just as self-efficacy emboldens the individual to chase their dreams, collective efficacy motivates the group to set shared goals, coordinate their actions, and overcome obstacles.

​​“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” said anthropologist Margaret Mead. “Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Don’t think that solving problems depends on either the individual or social structures. “Personal agency and social structure,” Bandura wrote, “operate interdependently.” It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

Do share the story of Swimmy with a young person in your life. And remember the legacy of Al Bandura when you read the very last line: And so they swam in the cool morning water and in the midday sun and chased the big fish away.

With grit and gratitude,


Our Students and Educators Are in Crisis But Not For The Reason You Think

By: Jesse Kohler, Christine Mason, PhD and Jeff Ikler

“Violence in Schools Seems to Be Increasing. Why?” — EducationWeek, November 1, 2021

“Why So Many Teachers Are Thinking of Quitting” — The Washington Post Magazine, October 18, 2021

“Classroom Time Isn’t the Only Thing Students Have Lost” — The Atlantic, September 7, 2021

“Too Much Focus on ‘Learning Loss’ Will Be a Historic Mistake” — edutopia, April 16, 2021

“Even before COVID-19 pandemic, youth suicide already at record high” — UC Davis Health Newsroom, April 8, 2021

Headlines like these are increasingly common as school personnel and students attempt to adjust to the current stage of the pandemic. But the reality is the pandemic only exacerbated the trauma that many students were already experiencing. Upwards of 40 percent of students in the U.S., according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, have been exposed to some form of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), not to mention those who have been exposed to other potentially traumatic events and stressors.

The impact on student learning is disastrous. To access the part of our brain where cognitive processing takes place, students must feel safe and secure. Environments that produce feelings of stress and anxiety cause the emotional region of a student’s brain to hijack the cognitive processes in unconscious ways. As one neuroscience researcher recently told us, “If students are in a state of high stress or trauma, the part of the brain that facilitates learning is inaccessible. Student academic achievement rests on the shoulders of student wellness.” Thus, contrary to recent criticisms that it’s not the schools’ role to support a students’ emotional wellbeing, neuroscience tells us that educators can play a critical role if traumatized students are to have an equal shot at academic achievement.

Doubling down on academic rigor – however well-intentioned – is not the answer. Our staff and students need a different, long-term approach to schooling, one that balances the traditional intense focus on academics with one that promotes psycho-social-emotional wellbeing. As a middle school principal recently championed during one of our interviews, “The days of us primarily focusing on academics are over.”

And it’s not just students who are in crisis. Staff are burning out at higher levels than ever before. A principal recently informed us that his district had to cancel school for a day because hundreds of teachers called in sick in need of a mental health day. Dysregulated adults cannot help regulate dysregulated children, so it is equally important that we meet the needs of school staff so that our students’ needs are met.

How do we help students develop a sense of purpose and meaning, so that they feel they can have a positive impact in life?

The stress and adversity that everyone is facing is too overwhelming to ignore any longer. Trauma-informed approaches improve outcomes across school environments and create a better place for all people to be. By addressing the needs that students and staff bring with them to school each day, we can help students better engage with their studies, learn, and develop into the contributing members of society that we so desperately need. By understanding how stress impacts brain functions, we can better support regulation, cultivate resilience, and ultimately help people and environments thrive.

To address the overwhelming adversity and chronic stress that so many staff and students face today, we can teach students regulation skills to increase their ability to focus, learn new skills, and problem solve at school. However, it is an insufficient response if we just expect people to work through difficult experiences. We must create environments that prevent adversity and stress in the first place. To reduce the overall impact of trauma, we must transform our school systems to answer two questions:

  • When students graduate, what do we want them to be able to do with their knowledge and skills as they confront uncertainty in our complex and rapidly evolving world?
  • How do we help students develop a sense of purpose and meaning, so that they feel they can have a positive impact in life?

Many schools, districts, and states have successfully moved toward trauma-informed approaches to create these types of safe and supportive school environments. Our recently launched podcast series — “Cultivating Resilience: A Whole Community Approach to Alleviating Trauma in Schools” — explores promising practices and ways that we can transform the education system to meet the needs of our staff and students. Academics are important, but they’re not more important than students’ mental health and wellbeing. That equal emphasis sets the stage for optimal learning and academic achievement, positive relationships and, ultimately, an improved quality of life.

Jesse Kohler: Executive Director of the Campaign for Trauma Informed Policy and Practice

Christine Mason, PhD: Assistant Clinical Professor at Yale University’s School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Program for Recovery and Community Health, and  the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Educational Improvement

Jeff Ikler: Director of Quetico Leadership Coaching and co-host of “Getting Unstuck: Educators Leading Change”

Guided Mystery: The Scaffolding You Need to Grow Stronger

By: Angela Duckworth

This is the first in a three-part series on the legacy of Albert Bandura.

When Al Bandura died in July, he was 95 years old and among the most eminent psychologists in history.

In the year before his death, Al and I began a lively correspondence—by phone calls, email, and once via U.S. mail.

So much of what Al spent his career studying—and his own life exemplifying—is what all young people need in order to fulfill their dreams and their potential: personal agency.

What is agency? The conviction that you shape your own future.

What is the opposite of agency? Believing that you’re helpless to make your dreams come true. Seeing yourself in life’s passenger seat, likely on a trajectory you don’t like and didn’t choose.

How did Al become so fascinated with agency? Early in his career, Al told me, he was a clinical psychologist working with patients with phobias. He noticed that fear is self-perpetuating. A patient who was afraid of heights, for example, would take pains to avoid skyscrapers, airplanes, or even stairwells—and thus never learn to overcome their fear.

“And it’s not so much the fear and the rumination that is the problem,” Al told me. “It’s believing you’re helpless to change your emotions and thoughts. That’s the real problem.”

In an experiment that would become the foundation of his theory of human behavior, Al showed that snake phobias could be “cured” by what he called guided-mastery treatment. This approach combines two active ingredients. First, the therapist models a desired behavior in response to a challenge (e.g., calmly looking at a photograph of a snake). Second, the therapist progressively ratchets up the level of challenge, ending with actually handling a live snake. The process is collaborative right up until the end when the patient learns to manage challenges entirely on their own.

What is agency? The conviction that you shape your own future.

Angela Duckworth

“And do you know why I knew this was really important?” Al asked me.

I didn’t.

“Because months and months later, some of the people in that study came back to see me in my Stanford office,” he said. “Not only were they still freed from their debilitating fear of snakes, they had a sense of resilience and efficacy in other areas of their lives as well. They had a sense of agency they’d never known before.”

For parents and teachers, there’s a profound lesson in this classic psychology research. And it is this: Young people need both challenge and support to develop confidence. We can neither solve all their problems for them nor expect them to grow without scaffolding.

Don’t tell anyone they have complete control of their destiny. That’s not true. And yet each of us, no matter our circumstances, has some control, particularly over our own thoughts and actions.

Do provide training wheels. It may seem paradoxical, but the young person in your life needs your help to develop a sense of personal agency. They need you to nudge them to try things that scare them a little. When still finding their balance, they need your steady hand. And when they’re ready, they need you to let go, so they can pedal on their own.

With grit and gratitude,


Angela Duckworth is the Founder and CEO of Character Lab. She is also the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change for Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics

The Hero’s Journey Of Educational Reformers

Many of us in education have always fashioned ourselves as change agents. We have spent our entire careers advocating for some very core concepts. They usually relate to relevance, agency and pedagogy. We have been excited at times about the changes occurring, while simultaneously being disappointed in the slow pace or missed opportunities. We love that we have such great education technology, but are also frustrated that too many are doing the same old worksheet digitally. We love that project-based learning is being done in some places, while surprised that others have yet to even attempt anything related to deeper learning. It’s this constant tug-o-war that often leaves us hopeful and inspired, while also exhausted and cynical.

Therefore, I think I have yet another way to reflect on this journey for anyone who is an educational reformer. I believe that many of us are eternally part of a long admired literary model – The Hero’s Journey. This is the classic story structure created by academic Joseph Campbell in 1949 as a means to explain how stories unfold. This journey refers to a majority of all tales in which a character ventures out to get what they need, faces conflict and then ultimately triumphs over adversity.

First there is the Status Quo. That’s our traditional education system that is still the dominant paradigm. This is also often called the Ordinary World. But then there is the Call To Action or Call To Adventure. This call is about lifting the Hero (us in this case) out of their comfort zones. Here, we are generally confronted with a challenge we can’t ignore. This catalyst can take many forms. For educators, this can be witnessing the lack of success so often present in school, seeing frustrated students, working in outdated systems or attending a conference with new ideas. We may initially Refuse The Call as we think that it’s too large of a challenge or that the system is impenetrable. We then Meet the Mentor. This can be that other educator, the right leader, a speaker at a conference or even the right book.

We then Cross the First Threshold. This is when we first enter another world – The Special World. This is that initial journey into that new project, new technology, new instructional approach, new paradigm or new classroom environment. We are becoming committed to something new. We no longer see things the same way. We have accepted the ‘call.’ There is no returning to the Ordinary World. Next, we begin to experience Tests/Allies/Enemies. We meet resistance, stumbling blocks or barriers. These can be our local system or larger ones. Think required textbooks, overly emphasized standardized assessments, homework policies, school schedules, tech limitations or outdated tech restrictions. We begin to lean on our Allies. These are our colleagues that have also entered the Special World. We sometimes work with them, but often we meet them outside our local systems. This occurs at professional learning gatherings, on Twitter or maybe even in another professional outside of education. Or we are fortunate to work with those special, courageous leaders. We meet students, parents and others who embrace the new. Simultaneously, we encounter our Enemies. These can be individuals, groups or entities. These are colleagues who don’t want change or leave the Ordinary World. These can be policies or system expectations that don’t align with the change we seek.

But then there is the Call To Action or Call To Adventure. This call is about lifting the Hero (us in this case) out of their comfort zones.

Michael Niehoff

We then Approach to the Inmost Cave where we have our ultimate metaphorical encounter with the forces against us. We realize how difficult real educational reform is. It’s these moments where one might feel like surrendering or even leaving the profession altogether. We then reach the Ordeal. We are now at the apex. Campbell says this is the ‘belly of the whale.’ We are confronting all of our professional fears in education. We must dig deep down to see if we can continue towards our individual or collective goals of change. This is where we may experience our most extreme objections, challenges, barriers or detractors. The system has survived much unchanged for many years.

Then, we finally begin to experience Reward. We experience success. Our project gets great community feedback. Students are more engaged than ever. Parents say their students have never been this enthused about education. Students tell you that this is the best learning experience they have had. We then experience The Road Back where we realize despite some success, we have a long way to go. We get to Resurrection – possibly our final test. If we can push through these toughest times, we will prevail. This is where we see that new program, school, approach, major change on the brink of becoming a reality larger than ourselves. Finally, we Return With The Elixir. This is the triumph. Our definition of teaching and learning seems to be more accepted. We have others telling us that this is the right direction. We see our pedagogy getting support and more true believers. We may even see ourselves or colleagues get recognition, awards, speaking engagements, book deals or other adulation. We celebrate the change, the success and the apparent moving away from the Ordinary World.

Although this story arc seems very prevalent in a majority of our stories, books and movies, the Hero’s Journey may be stuck in a repeat cycle for education. We seem to make the cliched one education step forward, then two giant education steps back. This last section of the journey – Reward, Road Back, Resurrection, Elixir – represents the part where many of us often get stuck. We may or may not experience the Reward and beyond. We are no longer in the Ordinary World, but are eternally stuck trying to get all of the Special World. This conflict is what makes all lifelong learners and change agents eternally frustrated. I hope those stuck in the Ordinary World finally get the Call to Action. Those of us fighting it out in the Special World need everybody.

Embedding Growth Mindset Practices: The Toolkit Version

Building a growth mindset culture does not stop at awareness. In order to create a learning culture that embraces a growth mindset, one must create a safe learning environment that honors all learners, experiences, and cultures; teach learners the basics of learning science so they better understand conditions, context, and thriving; and practice giving feedback in thoughtful ways. It is critical that teachers don’t under-expect what students can do, and to address the harm caused by systemic racial inequities in education. Educators need to believe that their historically underrepresented students can successfully engage with the same rigorous content as their dominant-culture peers.

Implementing the following strategies and tools for learners helps them feel empowered in both their learning and their ability to impact their growth. For more details on each step and the origin, read our first article on the steps, Five Steps to Build Growth Mindset Culture.  

Build Relationships and Trust

Strategies and Considerations to Grow Practice:

  • Select or create mechanisms to capture student voices on a daily basis and foster collaboration.
  • While designing learning, consider how students will know that they’re being heard.
  • Practice validating and affirming learners for the contributions, they are more likely to feel seen and ready to learn.
  • Design learning opportunities that put student ideas at the center of instruction, signal respect and value of students’ thinking.
  • To make space for trust to be earned and praise to be received, use the “Four Elements of Trust” (consistency, compassion, competence, and communication).
  • Consider how you will learn and gather insights into how students feel about themselves and how they learned or didn’t learn on a particular day.

The Brain and How Learning Works

Strategies and Considerations to Grow Practice:

  • This can include a phased approach to teaching the science, but the most important part is explicitly teaching that the brain is not fixed at birth and that it changes and grows.
  • Share and review videos on how the brain works. An example is a series of videos on neuroplasticity.
  • Supplement curriculum across teams through supports such as the MindUP Curriculum. This resource provides K-8 resources for How Your Brain Works. (Example video for grades 3-5).
  • For parent support in teaching about the brain, MindsetWorks refers to this work as Brainology and Growing Early Mindsets (GEM), and more can be found on their website.
Bostonia student

Mindsets and Difference Between Growth and Fixed

Strategies and Considerations to Grow Practice:

  • The Mindset Continuum chart identifies mixed mindsets and begins to show the progression and provides identifiers for growth.
  • There are a number of common misconceptions about learning cultures, and it is worth getting familiar with a few of the many recent articles addressing them.
  • MindsetWorks provides many resources for teaching about mindsets.

Feedback and the Power of Praise

Strategies and Considerations to Grow Practice:

  • The most important step to provide feedback is to first establish trust through relationship building. Liberatory Design Implementation Cards reflect the design mindsets commonly used at the Stanford and feature activities like “Building Relational Trust.”
  • Consider tone and quality of feedback in a coaching approach. More about strategies in this article from Edutopia. For general feedback protocols, School Reform Initiative (SRI) shares a protocol chart for identifying warm, cool, and hard perspectives.
  • Explore suggested sentence stems like the ones provided by Mindset Works and review them to help grow a feedback toolkit of phrases. Make a copy of these sentence frames and circle ones that you already do (give or take a word/style) and practice adding one or two to your feedback toolkit.
  • The popular athletic training website TrainUgly shares helpful videos on the power of praise and highlights that we have three ways to give feedback: Person, Process, and Outcome and shows how PROCESS can be the most effective.
  • NEA and All For Equity shared a recorded webinar titled “Building Trust in Indigenous Communities” and MDRC and The Education Trust have a helpful brief on “The Importance of Strong Relationships.”.

Self Talk and Using Your Inner Voice


  • One place to start is through intentionally cultivating mindful observations of your learners that are more like running records than quick assumptions. Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz Hausman expand on this further in their book A Mindset for Learning, with a chart of observable behaviors of learners and the examples of self-talk that may be occurring.
  • You could also generate a class list by collecting examples of nonproductive self-talk and brainstorming alternatives. Classmates can then practice this with a trusted partner, or as trust and the culture grows this list can be posted for peers to support one another.
  • The best way to teach self-talk or awareness of self-talk is to model it. Modeling as a teacher and as a learner. Let learners know what you are thinking when you receive feedback (even better when it is from them after a unit of study!) or make a change in your planning of learning. Practicing ‘think alouds’ is an easy add and provides great modeling.
  • Digital Promise also provides some positive self-talk resources and strategies on their Literacy 7-12 site.

Looking for support designing your next campaign? Wondering what’s next in education and how to support transformation at your district? We’d love to help! Learn more about the services we offer here or contact Jessica.

Rebel With a Cause: Help Teens Resist the Pull of Social Media

By: Brian Galla

How do you convince a teenager to kick their Instagram habit?

You might point out that cutting back on social media may help them sleep. Or that what they post in private might become public later.

But as a rule, teenagers don’t enjoy adults telling them what to do or think—so this approach can backfire.

Here’s an idea that new research shows can be effective: harnessing a teenager’s need for independence.

Recently, my colleagues and I showed teenagers the many tricks social media companies use to make their platforms irresistible and how this scheme drives their advertising revenue. For example, the pull-to-refresh design mimics slot machines, and the thrill of someone liking a post keeps people coming back for more.

We also shared national data showing that half of American teenagers report feeling addicted to their phones. Armed with this information, the teens could see controlling their own social media use as a way to reclaim independence from these companies—and to demand less-addictive technology.

…half of American teenagers report feeling addicted to their phones.

Brian Galla

Compared with teenagers in a control group who were encouraged to avoid social media because it would be better for them in the long run, those who got the inside scoop on social media trickery reported greater motivation to cut back. They also said they’d be more willing to use apps that monitor their time on social media and to join a social movement dedicated to humane technology. Three months later, they were still more aware of these addictive designs.

Of course, social media has benefits. It allows for creative expression, for example, and enables social connections. Beyond cutting back, then, we want to help teenagers maximize “time well spent” on social media in a way that nourishes their values and leaves them feeling fulfilled, not addicted.

Don’t lecture teens about the consequences of too much social media use. They likely already know, and it doesn’t change their behavior.

Do help kids understand how social media platforms hook you. Consider watching the documentary The Social Dilemma together on family movie night. Let kids see how changing their social media behavior is an act of autonomy that can contribute to a more just world.

With mindfulness and gratitude,


Brian Galla is an associate professor of applied developmental psychology in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Benefits of Play-Based Learning For All Ages

Play-based learning is getting more attention all the time – and maybe rightly so. Research has long demonstrated the importance of play and its connections to learning, brain development, skill acquisition, and social-emotional learning. Indeed, play has really become vital in the individual development of not only children but adults as well. According to play-based learning researchers, this is really a matter of health and wellness.

With the current pandemic and alongside a host of other global challenges, play-based learning is key in addressing feelings of loneliness, vulnerability, social deprivation, isolation, and trauma, according to Dr. Angie Nastovska of The Playmakers Institute. “Focusing on just playing and embracing play is a sure and fun way to fuel our imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and emotional well-being,” said Nastovska. “As a comparison, the okay for adults can mean relaxing, setting work and commitments aside, and just enjoying socialization in an unstructured, creative way.”

The concept that this is not just for young learners is vital, according to Nastovska. She said we are born with an innate desire and need for play. “Play is a way of knowing and a way of being. It’s an essential means for exploration, inquiry, learning, socialization and ultimately understanding our societal and cultural norms and patterns,” said Nastovaksa. “It is important for everyone because with playing, we nurture and foster personal expression, exploration and creativity. The benefits of play, said Nastovska, are that it can add joy to life, help relieve stress, supercharge our learning and also connect all of us to others and the world around us (See this Help Guide for more information).

Play is also an important part of our professional lives as well, said Nastovska. “Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable,” she said. Since play is so vital to emotional and physical well-being, researchers are now studying how it influences our career success and literacy. The world of work is experiencing deep fears and trauma related to workers being displaced by automation, artificial intelligence, and pure skill misalignment. Solutions are often focused on re-training and educational efforts, as well as newer concepts such as Universal Basic Income.

Play nurtures and fosters all things related to this ability to connect and relate to one another.

Dr. Angie Nastovska

But one group of corporate CEOs is looking deeper and offering research-based connections to career success and the concepts around play. “Helping kids play more will equip them to be relevant to the workplace and to society,” said John Goodwin, CEO of the Lego Foundation and the former CFO for The Lego Group. According to the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies, collaboration and teamwork are the most important workplace skills of the 21st century. Our ability to connect and relate to one another – across all backgrounds, education levels and personalities – is the means for future success, said Nastovska.

“Play nurtures and fosters all things related to this ability to connect and relate to one another,” she said. “So, if you want your child to get a good job, let them play more.” So, ultimately, this is a literacy that becomes part of the literacy lexicon of educators and our schools. Nastovska advocates that we have to adopt a systems thinking approach to this challenge of play literacy.

She sees this as both a literacy and priority challenge for educators and parents alike. Nastovska said that we have to get all adults in our kids’ lives to realize that play is not just fun and games, but rather as a vital aspect of our overall health, well-being and lifelong success. “Play might be one of the most important concepts and activities that we can impart on our children in order to prepare them for success both personally and professionally,” she said.

Nastovaks is challenging all parents to become more aware of the importance of play and to consult resources designed for parents and families as well. As one example, she cites the joint work of Playworks and the Alliance For A Healthier Generation who have compiled a list of helpful tips for planning and prioritizing play for parents and families who are interested in integrating more play into the routine at home. They are:

1. Create a Game Plan

Just like schoolwork and mealtime, we can plan ahead for play. As a family, discuss your goals for play time and establish a basic framework for how, when, and where play occurs (e.g., in the family room after dinner).

Short on time? Consider ways you can add movement and play to your regular routines like trying these Go for a Walk Games.

2. Engage the Whole Family

One of the best ways to encourage play and physical activity in children is to model those choices as an adult. Caretakers and older siblings can inspire younger children simply by engaging in play or movement themselves. Some of our favorite games to build connections are I Love My Neighbor and Charades Relay. Find more games that the whole family can enjoy in the Playworks Game Library.

3. Use Your Whole Space

Whether indoors or outdoors, make the most of your play space. Get started by mapping your space to establish boundaries and identify any potential safety hazards. To do so, draw out all of your space with your child on a piece of paper. Identify which zones are off-limits for safety (ex. kitchen or bathroom) or because other people need to be safely moving through the space. Your kids might be able to help you identify new small or large safe spaces to play, and establish what types of games they’d like to play where.

When playing games with tossable objects, it’s safest to find a space without much furniture, unless you get creative with a game like Popcorn. Outdoor space near the house might be better for games that use equipment, such as balls, frisbees, or hula-hoops. Be sure to always have kids point to the boundaries of the space before they start playing to establish and re-iterate expectations.

Get creative and modify game rules to fit your space. If you are playing a tag game, for example, include touching some of the walls or furniture inside of a room as an added step.

4. Reflect

Play can stir up a lot of emotion. When we pause to reflect after an active game, we offer ourselves and others an opportunity to process these emotions and communicate our needs. At the end of playtime, pause as a group to debrief or identify feelings so that everyone can leave the play space feeling heard and happy.

Here are a few of our favorite Playworks Debrief Questions:

  • What was challenging about playing these games
  • What would you like to do differently next time?
  • How did you practice (insert skill, ex. Physical Self-Awareness) while playing this game?
  • How did you communicate with others during the game?
  • What is a creative way you’d like to change the game next time?

Become part of the PlayMaker Play Initiative, which is a quarterly series around different topics of play. This quarter, the focus is on Play-Based Learning For All Ages. 

No Two Alike: The Surprising Variability of Brothers and Sisters

By: Kathryn Paige Harden 

I know a family where neither parent could read music or play an instrument. But that didn’t stop them from buying a piano. “With eight kids, at least one person was going to be musical,” the mother predicted. She was right: The sixth child became an avid pianist.

Most of us don’t have eight children, so we might not be confronted quite as starkly with the incredible range of traits and talents that can pop up in a single family. Shrinking families have shrunk our imaginations about the sheer magnitude of genetic diversity that is lurking within our bodies.

But consider this: Every time a pair of parents conceives a child, there are 70 trillion different combinations of DNA that they could pass on to that child. That’s more than the number of stars in the galaxy. Although you may know your partner intimately, you can’t predict what’s going to happen when your DNA recombines with theirs. The possible outcomes of the genetic lottery are too myriad to be fully knowable.

As a behavioral geneticist, I study the effects of that genetic lottery on how children grow and develop. And it turns out, genetic differences between siblings influence nearly every aspect of how they think, feel, learn, and behave. We see evidence even for things like how well children do in school, their tendency to spend or save money, and how happy they are with their lives.  

Every time a pair of parents conceives a child, there are 70 trillion different combinations of DNA that they could pass on to that child. That’s more than the number of stars in the galaxy.

Kathryn Paige Harden

Of course, genes don’t determine these life outcomes. The environment—ranging from access to clean drinking water to having a close relationship with a teacher—has a profound influence on a child’s life, regardless of their genetic makeup.

Nonetheless, as a mother, recognizing the power of genes can be unnerving: My children’s genetic uniqueness is one vitally important aspect of their lives that I couldn’t predict or plan for. At the same time, I get to be curious about the people I gave birth to. Who are these people, and what singular gift and talents might they have that no one else in the family shares? Being a geneticist reminds me that my children are not mini-mes; they are fully their own people.  

Don’t assume that your children will be just like you, their other parent, or each other—especially in their personalities. In fact, scientific evidence shows that siblings are as alike in personality as two people randomly picked out of the population—which is to say, not at all!

Do think of parenting as going on a treasure hunt. If you stay curious and open-minded, you may discover your child’s unique talents—and then you can provide an environment to help them flourish.

With curiosity and gratitude,


Kathryn Paige Harden is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, where she directs the Developmental Behavior Genetics lab and codirects the Texas Twin Project. She is the author of The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality.