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: