Inspired Minds of the Future

Inspired Minds of the Future

Guest blog by: Michelle Howell, Librarian/Media Specialist for Union Elementary STEAM and Demonstration School in Gallatin, TN

As a librarian, I encounter every learner in my school on a weekly basis. I keep my lessons fun and the atmosphere in the library is positive. I encourage the learners at my school to read – obviously – and I also encourage them to make things, experiment with coding and robotics, and explore different activities to find things in which they are interested. There is a lot that happens every day, and I want to help ensure that my learners not only get academic support from me, but also the social and emotional support that they need to grow and develop as successful learners.

As I talk with the learners in my building, I try to get to know them as fellow human beings. With a bit over 500, however, that can be challenging. I have been looking for a way to uplift the young people I work with when I see they are having a tough day, to celebrate the successes that they have, and just to generally encourage them to keep trying their best at all times, no matter what that looks like for them.

Enter my friend, Kristina Holzweiss, a librarian I connected with while she was writing the book “Hacking School Libraries.” I saw her post about Inspired Minds and how she uses their products at her school, and I knew this is how I wanted to encourage my learners!

My plan is relatively simple. I will use the Inspired Minds hand-off cards within my building as encouragement, praise, and confidence boosters, simply signing the back with You Matter. Just a quiet note letting learners know that they are seen and they are loved. The second part of the plan is to get the booster sets, and to choose learners from each grade each week, take their pictures, and share them with our school family via our Facebook page and also on Twitter, and Instagram. As a bonus, each picture will be printed and framed and sent home to their families. 

I am truly excited to use these fabulous SEL tools with the learners at my school! I believe they will be a wonderful addition to our school! 

Narratives of Hope in Your SEL Toolbox

Narratives of Hope in Your SEL Toolbox

We all know the language of teachers possesses the power to inspire or injure, to heal or humiliate. Language sets the academic and emotional climate of the room. The greater awareness of the relationship between the language of the teacher and positive learning outcomes,  the greater chance we have of getting the climate just right.

So, we have to ask ourselves: “Does my language optimize learning, achievement, relationships and emotional intelligence?” 

Among all the ways teachers communicate their intentions to students, let me focus on one specific type of language that I believe activates a student’s sense of worth and boosts confidence. That is the language of hope. 

A Personal Story

Let me illustrate what I mean by the language of hope with a personal example.

Five years ago, when my youngest daughter was in ninth grade, she was a pretty typical high school student – she found great interest in some areas, less so in others, accelerated when necessary, and coasted when possible, doing all that were asked of her, and happily said little to her parents about the daily goings-on in her high school life.

One day, however, during an otherwise ordinary dinner conversation, she announced: “My science teacher thinks I should be a scientist.” Interested and probing for more context around the conversation, I followed with, “Why do you think she said that to you?” She shrugged and said, “I don’t know. She just thinks I’d be a good scientist.” End of conversation. 

Future-Oriented Narratives SEL Strategy

But it was not the end for me, especially as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the district in which this exchange took place. That seemingly simple statement occupied my thinking for a long time.

Whatever career my daughter chooses does not really matter in this story. What matters is the power of a teacher’s optimism to envision a future for a student that she could not yet see for herself. Regardless of what students will be or do, knowing their teachers believe in them and can see a future world in which they matter and will be influential matters as much, if not more so, than the curriculum we teach.  

An important SEL skill is the capacity to envision one’s best self. Narratives of hope are a complementary strategy to help students build their self-awareness, confidence, and sense of agency. Its power rests in its simplicity and authenticity – narratives of hope are not faint praise or platitudes. Quite the opposite. Skilled teachers use this language intentionally and at the right moment, after knowing the student well and seeing something in them that the student cannot yet see for themselves.

Beyond the “I think you would make a great _____” statement itself, teachers can engage parents/guardians or connect the student with a mentor in the school or help the student explore more about the field or pursuit, and they can continue to nurture that future identity for students.

The seemingly simple statement “I think you should be a scientist” crystalized for me the power of future-oriented narratives in schools and classrooms. Watching my daughter flourish in high school and embrace her academic identity in college, I can draw a straight line to that one transformational observation. The concept is generalizable to all grade levels. As educators stock their SEL toolbox with new strategies, this is one with the power to improve the emotional climate of the classroom while helping students envision a future that they cannot yet see for themselves.      

About the Author

Peter W. Tragos is the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction at New Trier High School in Northfield, IL. Follow him on Twitter at @pwtragos!

Tips, Tools, and Texts to Encourage a Growth Mindset

Tips, Tools, and Texts to Encourage a Growth Mindset

As parents and teachers, we try to encourage kids to take creative risks and understand that mistakes are a good thing! I even came up with a name for our mistakes in my classroom. We called them “growth spurts,” because we grow from them. I announce to my students on the first day of school that I hope they make many, glorious mistakes.

We discuss the word, “fail,” too. Think of fail as what it really is:

F – First

A – Attempt

I – In

L – Learning

Of course, all of this is setting them up to learn about having a growth mindset. This means you believe that you can continue to learn and grow as you make mistakes. We are all on a continuum of learning and can improve with practice, time, and effort. (This is opposed to having a fixed mindset, which is the belief that we cannot improve our intelligence or abilities.)

There are many activities you can do to set students on the path to developing a growth mindset:

“Success is on the same road as failure; success is just a little further down the road.”

Jack Hyles

As teachers, your students see you more often than they may see their own parents during the waking hours of the school week. Whether you are a first year teacher, or a veteran teacher, your students will watch and learn from all that you do. That includes your lessons that deserve a gold star and the ones that make you cringe. Students watch the way you handle a break-through and the way you handle stressful situations.

The good news is that kids need to see those cringe-worthy moments and how you handle them. They will have plenty of times that their best ideas won’t work or a plan for a project flops. They need to know that it’s ok and that trials are part of the process to learning and growing. Here are a few ideas for being a mistake-making mentor for your students:

  1. Growth Mindset Flip Chart – Create a flip chart from an inverted three-ring binder. Fill it with 26 pages. The first page says, “Plan A.” The second page flips to “Plan B.” Keep going until you get to the last page, “Plan Z.” Whenever you make a mistake in class, calmly walk over and flip the chart to the next page and say something like, “Well, I guess that way didn’t work, let’s try Plan B.” This lets students know that there is never an expectation to get something done perfectly the first time they try it. There are always more chances.
  2. Guest Experts – Have parents and community members come in once or twice a month as guest experts. They can tell about their jobs and what they like about them. But, the more important part is having them talk about the challenges and how they work through them. Having kids see that their parents and mentors from their community all struggle at times helps them to normalize the fact that something worth learning and doing isn’t always going to be without hiccups.
  3. Goal Setting – Teaching students to set goals is empowering. Have a goal board in your room to record goals for both inside and outside the classroom. Be sure to post some of your own school and personal goals too. Share your progress with the kids as they share theirs with you. They will see that working toward goals is a pathway with ups and downs, but adjustments can be made when needed.
  4. Showcase Mistakes – There are many videos you can show kids about famous failures that people you now know to be successful stumbled through. There are also great books like, Mistakes that Worked and The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle, that show all kinds of ways amazing inventions came to be because of mistakes. We need kids to not only see the successes people enjoy, but also their  sometimes rocky road to that success.
  5. Way to Grow! Journals – At the end of each day, give kids some time to reflect and write about one of their biggest successes that day as well as one of their biggest “failures.” (Often the failure leads to a success they eventually write about!) You should participate in this and share yours with the kids too. Allow volunteers to share what they wrote and how a success or a failure helped them grow in some way.

When you role model mistakes as an important part of the process of learning, kids will see it that way too. When students recognize that learning happens through both the successes and trials, they understand that learning is always happening. And, that’s what we want!

About the Author

Shannon Anderson taught for 25 years from first grade through college level. A career highlight was being named one of the 10 teachers who “awed and inspired” the Today Show in 2019. Shannon is also an award-winning children’s book author and LOVES to come to schools to talk to kids about the power of reading, writing, and growth mindset. You can learn more about her at:

How to Use SEL Principles in Phy-Ed Classes

How to Use SEL Principles in Phy-Ed Classes

Girl holding sign "I Get Better and Better"Physical education is much more than developing students to be physically fit and healthy, across multiple domains. Our job is to teach students to have confidence in a wide variety of skill sets. But gaining confidence in a physical skill doesn’t come easily to every student.  Not only do you need tons of practice, but being positive in your own self-talk (as well as positive encouragement from others) goes a long way.

Positive affirmations are phrases you repeat to influence yourself into believing what you want to be and what you want to be able to do. These phrases help you overcome sabotaging negative thoughts, and even poor performances in what you are trying to do. The more you repeat your positive affirmations, the more of a positive change you will make. You may think it is unrealistic, but once you start to feed the “positive dog”, magical things tend to happen!

Being a PE teacher, I see that many students are exposed to different skillsets in which they don’t have a natural ability. This is where I tend to teach my students how welcoming positive affirmations are. My goal is to build students’ self-esteem through regulating their emotions and having self-awareness. My students understand that they are super heroes and they can do anything they believe in. Every Phy-Ed class, we have a quote or phrase that we embrace for the lesson. These phrases are our positive affirmations!

“I will thrive”, “We get to”, and “I can do this”, are some of the phrases you will hear my students say as they are learning the skills for the day.  My students not only believe in themselves, but they believe in each other and support one another through the challenges of the lessons. 

There is nothing more pleasant than seeing students struggle, but not give up because they keep feeding the “positive dog” with their affirmations. I love having students work together because they influence one another to reach the outcome and objective. When you are teaching your lesson and hear someone say “you thrived” and/or “you did it”, this makes me feel great, as the teacher, for having a warm class culture of supporting one another – and even more importantily, it makes the individual students feel great. The person supporting someone and acknowledging their classmate, as well as the studentwho completed the task, both now have a self-esteem boost from those few words of encouragement. 

Positive affirmations have made a huge impact not only for my students, but for myself in my personal life. I came across Inspired Minds and knew this would be a perfect addition to my phrases that we already use in my PE class. Positive minds has 30 different phrases that promote social-emotional learning, inclusion and growth mindset. I am very thankful for what the company does to keep my students’ spirits and belief in themselves high!  

I highly recommend embedding positive affirmations into all your lessons. These warm, positive phrases boost your mental wellbeing and will lead you to visualizing success, which ultimately will be fulfilled. The next time you are struggling with something, just smile and feed that “positive dog.”

About the Author

Gustave KaragrozisMy name is Gustave Karagrozis. I grew up on Long Island in New York. I studied Physical Education at SUNY Cortland and then pursued my Masters in HPER at Emporia University. I teach for NYC DOE. It is my 6th year divided between two different schools. I spent three years at PS123 in Harlem, NY and currently at PS133 in Bellerose, NY. I have taught K-8, but am currently focused on teaching K-2.  I am super passionate about Green Screening to enhance my students engagement and creating GIFs to help teach skills. Some of my hobbies are Pickleball, Volleyball, Cornhole and swinging Kettlebells. 

Follow Gustave on Twitter!


Why Does SEL Matter?

Why Does SEL Matter?

By Guest Blogger: Renee G. Carr, EdD

Students need to learn how to have effective and positive relationships, perseverance, and well-being for their own success. Students need motivation, effective decision-making, and self-management to achieve high results. Previously teachers were not expected to cover such non-academic topics, but now it is more important than ever for student success. Once referred to as “non-academic” skills, these social-emotional traits are the skills that allow individual students to achieve high results both in the classroom and in life.

The Collaboration on Academic and Social-Emotional Learning (CASEL)’s SEL competencies include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. SEL stems from emotional intelligence theory or the understanding of one’s own emotions and others and how to best regulate emotions.

Use of SEL in the Classroom

For SEL to be effective in the classroom, it is important to set norms at beginning of the year to instill success all year long. This classroom norming can occur through a class contract or agreed-upon class rules at the beginning of the year. In classes, a discussion of ways in which students and the teacher can support each other from the beginning in case these issues come up during the year. Teachers can post an example of rules and ask students to use positive language.

Another example of effective classroom norming is to ask students to write an essay in English or in target language in advanced classes. Teachers ask students what they want their teachers to know about them, what they want to learn, and their expectations for the course. Educators can have them reread the essays at the end of the year to see if expectations are met.

For a positive environment to fully take hold, the teacher focuses on inclusion to foster relationships amongst peers and between the teacher and students. Group work and partner work foster those relationships in class. If someone does not have a partner, teachers can assign them one or a group, so no one is left out. Sometimes teachers participate in the activity as a student to model behavior and learning.

Review is a powerful tool in any classroom. Review allows students to transfer new knowledge and skills from short-term to long-term memory, and then keep it there. The more valuable or complex the information is, the more effort we need to put in. Giving plenty of time to review helps build student confidence. Review activities include jotting down what vocabulary words they can remember per each category we have studied. Teachers also have students do station reviews where they move around to various stations in groups focusing on topics we have recently studied.

Seek Feedback

At the mid-point of the year, after Winter Break, students can complete a goal-setting worksheet for the new year, and teachers can ask them for some feedback. Below are the sample questions to ask classes. Teachers can incorporate the feedback into their lessons and lesson planning.

  • Do you feel that the goals for learning are clearly communicated to you?
  • Do you know the purpose of our lessons?
  • Are procedures and instruction easily understood?
  • Is new instruction connected to prior lessons?

When teachers use the survey data to reach students, it shows that teachers are listening and that they take student voice into account. It is an essential part of effectively engaging with students. Engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills, and promotes meaningful learning experiences. Students need a variety of activities to keep engaged. It helps to change them every 15 minutes to do about five activities per hour and a half class.

Provide multiple explanations in a variety of ways to reach the most students possible. Students enjoy interactive games like charades, Pictionary, card games, Monopoly in the target language, hangman, and bingo in person. In virtual and hybrid settings, they enjoy Quizziz, Quizlet Live, Kahoot, Blooket, Edpuzzle, Pear Deck, Nearpod, and more.

Cultural Context

Cultural Context is a vital component of any classroom. Culture is central to how we think, live, and see the world. Understanding students’ cultural socializations is critical to understanding how identity can contribute to a sense of belonging. A culturally responsive approach is important to bridging the gap. It is beneficial for teachers to understand the perspectives and expectations of their students so that they can tailor their lesson planning and activities in culturally aware ways. Teachers can ask students from various cultural backgrounds for support when explaining new concepts.

Renee G. Carr, EdD

Professional Development Specialist

Web: Dr. Renee Carr





Renee G. Carr, EdD has been working in education and related programmatic work since 2007. She is multilingual: she speaks Modern Greek, French, and Spanish. Dr. Carr has worked at a university, a government contractor, non-profits, associations, and two school districts in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Carr’s areas of expertise include social-emotional learning, international exchange, and world languages. She has a background in educational research including qualitative coding, case studies, literature reviews, and project management. She has presented at conferences and shared research findings with peers in her field. She recently wrote a book for the publisher Rowman & Littlefield called Accountability in the Classroom: Using Social-Emotional Learning to Guide School Improvement. The premise of this book came from her dissertation topic, social-emotional learning, and school accountability systems. She added her own experiences as an educator both from the perspectives of World Language education and the COVID-19 crisis. Dr. Carr received her EdD from the George Washington University in 2019 and her MA in Political Science in 2009 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She obtained her BA in French and International Studies in 2007 from the University of Washington.


Dr. Carr’s book:

Is Your Glass Half-Filled or Refillable?

Is Your Glass Half-Filled or Refillable?

By Guest Blogger: Ilene Winokur, Ed.D.

We often hear about people who either believe the glass is half empty or half full. Have you ever heard that the glass can be refilled? How does changing our perception from a deficit mindset (glass half-empty) to an asset-based mindset (glass can be refilled) improve how we perceive our students and how they perceive themselves? 

A Deficit-Based Mindset

A few years ago, I was presenting at a private school in Kuwait. The language medium was English and the majority of students were Kuwaiti nationals whose first language is Arabic. I have often encountered a deficit mindset about language learners, so after introducing myself, I started the session with this query: “Raise your hand if you know the stages of second language acquisition.” Of the 100 or so teachers in the room, only three raised their hands. Although I wasn’t surprised, it disappointed me because teachers who don’t have an understanding of how long it takes to learn a new language often become impatient with the slow process of learning. They don’t realize that most students are taking the time they need to express themselves in the target language. This leads to a deficit-based mindset which impacts how students think of themselves as learners.

Cultivating Growth Mindset Skills

Lowering our expectations of students influences how they think of themselves. I received poor grades in art class throughout my school experience. This led me to believe I was not a creative person. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized creativity isn’t just knowing how to draw. Currently, one of the most important skills requested by employers and necessary for career success is creativity (Forbes, 2019). These skills can be cultivated in our children by helping them understand the design thinking process which can be learned through projects, for example. 

So how can teachers and parents ensure children have a growth mindset? Here are five ways teachers and parents can help children grow their self-belonging (self-worth, -efficacy, -esteem, -confidence) with positive self-talk to help children become more confident learners.

5 Ways to Help Grow Self-Belonging

    1. Don’t water down the content or lower expectations. Scaffold lessons, plan carefully, and help children learn the skills needed to overcome the gaps in their learning.
    2. Spend time on finding out, then focusing on each child’s strengths (I call them superpowers). When opportunities arise to use their superpowers, notice them and celebrate how they used them to overcome challenges.
    3. Build resilience and perseverance in children by using literature or real-life examples from their own lives or others.
    4. Create a safe environment so children feel comfortable sharing their stories, thoughts, and dreams. They will feel validated and valued.
    5. Children who have an opportunity to use their voices and make choices become empowered learners. Voice and choice should be built into their daily lives in school and at home.

Although it’s important to know when students have gaps in their learning, emphasizing the “lack of” instead of focusing on their superpowers can have a long-lasting negative impact on their self-image and their self-perception.


Ilene Winokur, Ed.D.

Professional Development Specialist




Dr. Ilene Winokur has lived in Kuwait since 1984 and is a professional development specialist supporting teachers globally including refugee teachers. Prior to retiring in 2019, she was a teacher and administrator for 25 years. Her blog, podcast, and upcoming book focus on the importance of feeling a sense of belonging. You can connect with Ilene on Twitter and find links to her podcast and blog on her website.


Additional Resource from Ilene: