Social Emotional Learning

Teacher and parent holding students hands

Five Smart Ways Educators Can Cultivate Positive Relationships with Parents and Caregivers

As we head into the new year, it’s important to revisit some of the main strategies educators can use to foster positive connections with their students’ parents and caregivers. It’s known that everyone — students, teachers, and parents — benefits when honest and trusting connections are established; but how do we continue them once the buzz of the new school year wears off and burnout lingers? Here are five great tips for cultivating positive relationships with parents and caregivers.

Teacher and parent holding students hands

  1. Set up listening conferences within first two weeks of the new school year, and then within first two weeks of January. Inspired by Responsive Classroom practices, listening conferences are vital to the foundation of trusting relationships between parents and teachers. These chats, which are no more than 20 minutes, give both caregivers and educators the space to speak openly about the student’s interests, goals, and hopes. Rather than a traditional conference, where specific assignments might be discussed, this is modeled as a broader chat to develop a positive partnership between both parties. Be sure to offer a number of different times and meeting options (in person and over video chat) to accommodate for all schedules.
  2. Make information accessible in a variety of formats. At the listening conference, confirm a preferred method of communication with caregivers — text, call, email, or paper — and ask about anything you can do to make reaching each other as seamless as possible. This paves the way for an effective and efficient dialogue, in addition to recognizing and respecting how each family in your classroom operates. Photographs of students also make it easy for caregivers to quickly get a snapshot of their child’s day!
  3. Think about ways to honor that each family is different. Without exhausting yourself of course, consider how to be flexible and tailor your communication to meet the needs of each family. After a few weeks into the year, you’ll be able to gauge who might appreciate receiving more or less news about their child. If a parent is worried about their child, don’t be afraid check in and share a win — it doesn’t take much time and goes a long way in showing that you’re actively thinking about their progress.
  4. Set transparent boundaries for yourself. Teacher burnout is real, and it is okay to have boundaries, as long as you make them clear and explicit from the get-go. If one of the ways you maintain work-life balance is not checking email over the weekend, set that expectation with parents in a polite but assertive way. You can set an out of office message such as “Thank you so much for your note! For personal reasons, I stay off email on the weekend, but I will be sure to contact you first thing Monday morning.”
  5. Remember the caregiver’s perspective. At the end of the day we’re all human, and trying to do our best for our kids! Miscommunications happen; so if tensions arise, look at the situation through the eyes of you and the caregiver in order to problem-solve and develop strategies for improvement. For instance, if a child is repeatedly late to school, instead of saying “Your child is late, and they need to arrive by 8am,” try, “I noticed that Jane has been getting to school around 8:30 every day. I’m checking in to see if there is any support I can provide or what you need from us in order for Jane to get the most out of her school day.” Rather than placing blame on the parent, get a better sense of their situation and from there, work together.

What are your favorite parent-teacher communication tips? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

Hundreds of books stacked on book shelves

10 Summer Reading Recommendations for Educators

It was just several weeks ago that the hustle and bustle of the school year had come to a close. We looked forward to the summer ahead, with plans to catch up on some long-neglected tasks and spend some time to recharge. For many of us, this also included spending some time reading. And while July is quickly coming to an end, there is still time to get our hands on some of the best books we can find to provide us the renewal, growth, or inspiration we’re looking for before we head back to school.

PSEC has reached out to a number of folks to share their favorite books and why, and over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing them here and on social media (You can follow us here and here!), along with links to other articles on the topics of reading, literacy, and home/classroom libraries.

Here are ten suggestions for educators, from educators.

It’s All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries That Inspire Readers

by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan is a powerful tool to add to any educator’s professional reading library. Tammy and Clare do an excellent job with providing suggestions for updating and optimizing classroom libraries, citing important research that student choice and engagement are key to producing lifelong readers. In addition, actual classroom scenarios and interactions between students and teachers are highlighted to help educators understand the importance of getting the right books into the hands of every student. Colorful photographs and online resources are also included, and readers will definitely go back to these helpful tools again and again as they use this text to transform their own collection of books. Classroom libraries are a vital component in promoting literacy, and this book helps to empower educators to build high-quality classroom libraries that are inviting and impactful for every student. — Laura Fornero, elementary reading specialist

The Orchid and the Dandelion

by W. Thomas Boyce is an incredible book for professional educators as well as parents and anyone working with children and youth. Boyce translates decades of research on sensitive children into lucid language and clear examples. He provides important new insights into child development and sheds much needed light on how to help “sensitive children” thrive. He uses the term “dandelion” to describe children often known as resilient, who are able to thrive under challenging circumstances. “Orchids” refer to children who are wired to be sensitive to their environment, which can render them vulnerable to adversity., and he explains how nurturing helps them develop inner strength that will enable them to truly thrive. Research shows that as many as one out of five children are born orchids, and this book provides important information for anyone working with and caring about children. — David Walsh, Ph.D., educator, psychologist, and author and co-founder of Spark & Stitch Institute

Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls

by Lisa Damour, Ph.D. is a must-read book. Anxiety and stress are currently the top reasons why educators, counselors and parents seek help and support from colleagues and professionals. There are many books, articles and current clinical recommendations on how to best understand and treat anxiety but what is often missing is how to live with and love young people experiencing it. How do family members and parents unconditionally love their children and simultaneously coach them in the direction of health and wellness? Teachers and school counselors are also in need of concrete ways to understand the appropriate limits for these students while maintaining a learning environment. Under Pressure is a clear, concise read, dense with actionable and fresh perspectives on stress and anxiety in our young girls. — Sara Burd, counselor, educator, and artist

The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom: Building Resilience with Compassionate Teaching

by Patricia Jennings shares research and experiential knowledge about practices that support students’ healing through creating compassionate classrooms. Trauma, violence, and chronic stress affect nearly half of students in U.S. schools today. Yet, most teachers know very little about how to help students develop strategies of resilience, regulation, and healing. This practical book is broken into three parts. In Part I, Jennings shares how trauma affects the body and mind, provides tools for how to identify trauma through child behavior. In Part II, trauma-sensitive practices are explained. These practices are especially useful for teachers who may feel isolated or unsupported in their larger school community, since many of the practices can be thoughtfully executed at a classroom level. In Part III, we learn more about how connectedness and mindfulness relate to trauma and the brain. This book offers a new and empowering outlook on what is often disregarded as “disruptive behaviors” in our classrooms. — Kerry Grove, first grade teacher

How to Raise an Adult

by Julie Lythcott-Haims to be enlightening for both parents and educators. Lythcott-Haims is a keen observer of current parenting trends. As the Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University, she observed undergraduates whose parents talked to their professors for them, called their employers, and found them their first apartments. She feels that parents are robbing their children of their independence and agency, and are therefore creating dependent and anxious adults. As a parent, I recognized my worst impulses, born out of good intentions, in the book and used it as a road map for change. As a teacher, I also see so many students crippled by anxiety which may be partially caused by “overparenting” that the author describes in the book. Lythgott-Haims writes in an engaging and humorous way and includes a lot of universally recognizable anecdotes. — Laura Warren, reading specialist

The Art of Screen Time

by Anya Kamenetz is the perfect mix of research, testimonials, and real life experiences to help parents navigate this new era of technology-rich living while working hard to raise healthy, productive children. Kamenetz is a well-respected NPR reporter and researcher who encourages a non-judgmental approach to including the power and joy of technology in your family as a way to interact with the world, in balance with many other physical and interactive activities. As an educator who works in the classroom, administrator, and consultant in the areas of digital learning, parenting, and citizenship, I recommend this book to parents, teachers, and technology administrators all the time. — Kerry Gallagher, assistant principal and educational technology coach

The Human Side of Changing Education

By Julie M. Wilson is a must-read for any educational leader looking to guide their stakeholders through different kinds of change. It includes questions for reflection and action, questionnaires, and stories from the field that will prove to be invaluable in the training and support of the entire team. It’s also a great book for teachers and educators to understand why there is a need for change and how we can best work together to prepare our students for the future that awaits. — Patrick Daly, assistant superintendent

Preparing Children For Success In School And Life

by Marcia L. Tate, an internationally-known educational consultant who has taught more than 500,000 teachers, parents, and administrators. This easy-to-read guide provides 20 ways to increase children’s brain power. Each chapter provides a strategy and gives meaningful examples of how to implement it. Chapters have segments including, “What Does That Mean?” and “How Can I Make It Happen?” to clarify the plan of action. — Warren Phillips, science teacher and inducted member of the national Teachers Hall of Fame

Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens

by Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine. Book or tablet? iPad or lap? Trying to understand how screens and technology shape core skills like literacy is difficult given the pace of technological change and the complexity of children’s learning. This book takes an approachable, thorough and nuanced look at reading and literacy in the digital age. Instead of wading into the “good vs. bad” debate, the authors skillfully translate the research and suggest concrete strategies for choosing technology that promotes, rather than undermines, literacy development. This is a great book for parents and educators alike, who want to help children make the most of the digital world by embedding new tools within caring relationships and interactions. For anyone who cares about literacy, equity, and young children, this book is a practical and illuminating read. — Erin Walsh, Spark & Stitch Institute

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World

by Hans Rosling is a particularly insightful resource. As a middle school math teacher, I utilized Han Rosling’s website Gapminder to demonstrate how numbers reveal unseen truths, challenge unconscious assumptions, and transform the ways we understand our worlds. As I read Factfulness, I imagined it as required reading for all middle and high school students. It provided me with a different perspective on mathematical history and introduced me to new hopes for our future. — Keith Grove, math teacher

You can find a PDF of our recommendations here.

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Kids in a circle with their hands in the middle engaged in social emotional learning

On Social Emotional Learning and Student Wellbeing

(And why “RUOK” might be the four most important letters in education)

On my first day of kindergarten, circa 1980, I stood in line at the East School in Natick, Massachusetts with my Star Wars lunchbox and new clothing, excited for what was to come. There was a girl who stood in front of me in line named Ann. She was a head taller than me and had long straight hair. There were two boys in front of Ann, and a girl in front of them at the head of the line. As we waited for the big green doors to open, one of the boys said to the girl at the front of the line, “Hey fatty.”

I held my breath and sucked my stomach in. Once I got home, I took my shirt off and stared at myself in my parent’s full length mirror. I wore my belt on the tightest loop possible and untucked my shirt at school for two weeks. My corduroys left marks on my skin. I was thin, but that didn’t matter. I didn’t want to be the girl at the front of the line.

Kindergarten. That’s how old our children are when they learn what “mean” really means. Some learn earlier. Every day, there are students, and perhaps even adults, in our schools who deal with the anxiety of not feeling as though they’re enough. Words change worlds. They start wars and end wars.

Kids in a circle with their hands in the middle engaged in social emotional learning

The idea that Social-Emotional well-being is important should not be a new revelation. The number of companies looking to capitalize on the SEL boom in education is actually quite encouraging. According to a study by J. L. Mahoney, J. A. Durlak, and R. P. Weissberg, “57% more students in schools with an SEL program improved their skills compared to students in schools without an SEL program, 27% more improved their academic performance, and 24% more improved their emotional well-being and social behavior.” The best educators and leaders understand that there is no substitute for fostering caring and authentic classrooms.

While the many benefits of SEL have long been proven, the act of implementing it into everyday classroom scenarios remains a question (and challenge!) for many educators. One exercise that I’ve found to be especially resonant is facilitated in conjunction with The Butterfly Circus, a 20-minute film that can be found on YouTube.

Sit between two students experiencing conflict and watch the film alongside them. Pause the film at the 3 minute, 57 second mark and ask the students to reflect upon which character they represent. Then ask them if they would like to return to class, or watch the remaining 16 minutes and 3 seconds of the film. They’ll stay. They may even cry. You’ll have little need to speak when the film is over. I call it quiet strength.

Who was your favorite educator? More importantly, why? To this day, I still think of Dr. Todd Crosset, a professor I had during my time at UMass Amherst. The best educators connect with students through passionate delivery and creative transfer of knowledge. If we conducted a survey of the masses to see what resonated most about their favorite educator, I would guess with a level of certainty that connection and love are at the root of most answers. The best educators help us find our value. They help us discover purpose. They teach us to love who we are in ways we can pay forward for eternity. They teach us to Maslow before we Bloom.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow surmised that a person cannot feel anything greater than anxiety until the four bottom tiers of a five-tier hierarchy of needs (eating, drinking, sleeping, safety, socialization) are met. It is only when these necessary pillars are satisfied that a person can excel to the top of the pyramid — growth. Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, on the other hand, is best recognized for creating a group of learning objectives (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) to aid educators in framing their lessons and curriculum. While both theories are widely respected and put into practice, it is often said that humans must understand Maslow’s framework first — to feel safe, held, and understood — before Bloom’s hierarchy of objectives can even be considered.

It’s time to raise the bar. Start with love and proceed through doubt. As we challenge one another to accomplish things we never thought possible, we discover our calling. Hone your gifts and share them passionately. Our work is never done. Nothing worthwhile is easy. Proudest moments are born from seeds of doubt and defined by moments of struggle.

Ask without judging. Check in — not just with students. Check in with the people who are important to you. Check in with the people who aren’t (In a profession that certainly has no shortage of acronyms, I consider “RUOK” to be the most important four letters for us as educators to remember.). Make time for that simple question. Sometimes the question opens the door to deeper understanding. Sometimes it saves a life. The little things make the biggest difference. Everyone does the big things.

That’s how we should be flipping the classroom and shifting ownership of the learning. Create curiosity and build capacity. Help them find their purpose. Make sure the learning is relevant and meaningful. If only I had known that, as a self-conscious six-year-old with his Star Wars lunchbox.

Aaron Polansky is the Superintendent-Director of Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School and author of Dolphins in Trees (2018, DBC Inc.) and Beyond Us (2019, DBC Inc.) scheduled for release in summer 2019. Aaron speaks nationwide and was once referred to as The Tony Robbins of Education. Aaron will serve as the closing Keynote Speaker of the B.O.L.T. Conference hosted by the Pegasus Springs Education Collective being held at Coronado Springs Resort in Walt Disney World from June 30-July 3, 2019. Learn more at

Find a PDF of this post here.

Teacher working with student on an art project at a table with markers and crayons

An Interview on Student Success & Wellbeing

The Pegasus Springs Education Collective has established five broad categories from which we will not only create our own monthly content, but also curate online posts and articles in order to bring the latest news and information to our community. Occasionally, we will provide information pertaining to one of the broad, overall categories, while in some months, we will narrow the focus to a more specific subtopic within one of the categories. Here are our five content categories, along with a sampling of the subtopics included within each:

  • Student Success & Wellbeing: Social emotional learning, behavioral and mental health, educational equity, cultural proficiency and responsiveness, safe and supportive learning environments, trauma-sensitive schools, multi-tiered system of supports.
  • Leadership & Culture: Teacher and student leadership, administrative practices, student extracurricular opportunities, school culture and climate, ongoing professional learning, teamwork and staff collaboration, collective efficacy.
  • Learning & Teaching: Student engagement, curriculum, instruction, assessment, academic subject areas, classroom management, interventions, school data, student achievement.
  • Parents & Community: Parenting and caregiving, community partnership, child development.
  • Education Issues & News: Legislation, special education regulations, civil rights, accountability.

Our focus for June is Student Success & Wellbeing. While this big topic is always a priority throughout the school year, it is also important to remember that as we transition to long school breaks, it can sometimes be an especially challenging time for some students—particularly for those who rely on the supportive environments their school is able to provide them on a consistent basis. As the school year comes to an end, we thought it might be a good time to reflect upon this critical topic. We talked to three educators for this month’s feature, and we’re pleased to share an excerpt of their insights below.

Erin Walsh (EW) is a speaker and consultant on topics related to brain development and raising resilient young people in the digital age. She is also an educator for the Higher Education Consortium of Urban Affairs where she teaches undergraduate students a program called “Making Media, Making Change.”

Marlene Lifshin (ML) is a social worker at the A.W. Coolidge Middle School in Reading, MA, and she is a faculty advisor for the school’s “A World of Difference” club, an ADL program that prepares middle and high school students to work with their peers to confront bias and create inclusive environments in their schools and communities.

Sara Burd (SB) is the Director of Social Emotional Learning and School Counseling for the Arlington Public Schools in Arlington, MA and an adjunct professor at Lesley University where she teaches for LIfTS—the Lesley Institute for Trauma Studies. She is a licensed School Guidance Counselor, School Adjustment Counselor/Social Worker, and Registered Drama Therapist.

PSEC: Student Success & Wellbeing is certainly a large topic, encompassing several important components that can all have a tremendous impact on students’ academic success—and of course even on their overall health and safety. Let’s look at a few different aspects of this big topic and discuss what they mean to you, or why you feel they are so important. First, there is a major focus now on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in education, but it is not really a new concept. What does this renewed focus mean to you, and why do you think it’s important to attend to SEL in schooling?

SB: The renewed focus in SEL is coming at us from a variety of entry points. We have business leaders in shock at the lack of resilience and persistence their entry level employees display in the workplace. We have higher-ed institutions noticing a lack of inter and intrapersonal skills in their students. We have an increase of mental health symptoms being experienced by students at all ages and across all ranges of abilities and economic status. We have a global society that is unlike anything we have encountered before and we have been submerged in a technological flood we don’t yet fully understand and are paying for our hyper “connectedness” in every way. I fully believe that fostering SEL skills and building safe and supportive schools and communities are the only ways our students will be able to learn not only academically but also personally. The data is irrefutable; SEL is necessary for all of us, not just our students.

PSEC: There is also an emphasis on creating trauma-sensitive schools and on providing safe and supportive learning environments for all students. What does this mean to you, and why do you think this is essential for students?

EW: Repair and healing happen in the context of networks of supportive relationships. Why must schools respond? We know that trauma can lead to a cascade of challenges for students inside and outside of the classroom and that traumatic events interfere with students’ ability to learn. There is no “outsourcing” dealing with trauma to others if schools want to be a place where every child can learn and thrive. Without understanding how trauma works, schools risk re-traumatizing students when educators misinterpret challenging behaviors. The shift in the field from “What is wrong with this child?!” to “What is going on inside this child?” is so profound and important if we are going to correctly identify what children need to learn and what tools will help us get there. It’s also worth noting that trauma sensitive schools aren’t just good for children who have experienced or are experiencing significant adversity, but are universal protective factors for all students. Everyone is set up for meaningful and engaged learning when a school understands the impact of stress on the brain, prioritizes warm and caring relationships, and builds in opportunities across the building to help students practice emotional regulation skills.

PSEC: How do issues of educational equity represent important challenges for schools and educators to address—and how do issues of equity potentially impact student success?

ML: To effectively address issues of equity, it’s important for each of us to first have a good understanding of our own experiences, biases, and identities. It’s also important for leaders to first acknowledge the difficulties that can be present with this process and the challenges that educators face in their classrooms. When leaders listen and gain perspective, they tend to model the norms necessary to open up dialogue and to create an environment safe and comfortable enough to discuss the challenges associated with equity. And such efforts are not limited to just staff. It’s also important of course to include students’ input in this process. Once the appropriate environment and norms have been established, exploring and addressing all the various factors that can impact educational equity can become an ongoing process that an entire school community engages in continuously.

PSEC: This topic also includes issues of cultural competence and responsiveness, in order to connect with all students and to create learning experiences that are bias-free and actively draw upon students’ diverse backgrounds, identities, strengths, and challenges. How do you feel these issues are important to student success?

ML: An effective school creates a learning community where all members can feel safe and heard, because it truly values diversity, accepts differences, and respects different perspectives. Attending to the development of cultural proficiency is a key part of this, as it ensures that everyone not only possesses an understanding of other cultures, experiences, or personal identities—but also an understanding and awareness of how our own identities and experiences tend to shape our current perspectives, biases, or practices. This can be important reflective work for a community to do in order to ensure success for everyone. Schools can also indicate that their commitment to these issues goes beyond mere lip service by fully embracing and valuing student organizations within the school that support diversity and help enhance cultural understanding. By integrating these organizations’ missions into the core values of the school and by consistently prioritizing their efforts, this commitment can permeate throughout the school and shape the overall culture and climate.

PSEC: What final thought or piece of advice would you want to share about SEL or this overall topic of Student Success & Wellbeing?

EW: While we can try to tackle these things alone, students will benefit when an entire building is dedicated to the work. Educators teach in systems and students learn in networks of relationships. It will take all of us to bring these themes to the center of our work. It is also a reminder that this work can be difficult and can’t be solved in one session or one program — it’s about sustained work over time.

SB: When I was growing up, I needed to go into our basement and access the Encyclopedia Britannica or use the card catalogue at the library to find an answer. Our students now ask their device and have a plethora of answers and sources. School has rapidly moved away from information gathering to application of information, and we have to keep pace with these shifting needs. Our charge is no longer to ensure our students can read or write a 20-page report with APA format. Our charge is to help students learn who they are in this world and how they want to be with themselves and with others. That is an impossible feat if we never teach the SEL skills of self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, healthy relationships and responsible decision making.

ML: SEL efforts best succeed when integrated universally within a school’s Tier One practices for all students. By utilizing their mental health staff to help achieve this approach, schools also not only succeed in establishing some effective proactive and preventative measures, but also can “normalize” efforts associated with a student’s wellbeing and eliminate any stigma sometimes associated with addressing issues that can seriously impact the emotional or behavioral health of kids. I believe it’s important to remember that SEL cannot be done in isolation in order to be effective. It can’t be seen as simply another separate initiative—for example, done solely during counseling or in student advisory sessions. SEL really needs to be woven throughout the entire fabric of the school and curriculum. For students to make real progress, they need to be able to practice and internalize the skills in all settings and across all curriculum.

Thank you so much, Erin, Sara, and Marlene! You can find their full interviews here. How do you incorporate SEL initiatives into the frameworks of your own school? We’d love to hear in the comments below.

Bored Kid

Your Kids are Bored? Good.

My mother had a consistent and clear response to me and my two siblings when we complained of being bored: “If you’re bored, I’ll give you something better to do.” We quickly figured out we were better off finding something to do ourselves than ending up with chores.

I didn’t necessarily repeat this strategy verbatim when I became a parent many years later. I came to understand that sometimes the wail of “I’m bored!” was code for another need including loneliness or sadness – feelings that beg a different response than the job jar.

But the lesson that my mother modeled for me – don’t rush to entertain your children in the face of boredom – was a powerful one.

It turns out that in our haste to find boredom busters for our children, we actually rob the brain of essential downtime and opportunities for creative thinking associated with the wandering mind. While we connect boredom with inactivity, the brain is often far from quiet.

Bored Kid

Instead of being afraid of boredom, embrace its many brain benefits, such as…


Being constantly barraged with external stimulation is exhausting for the brain. Downtime allows our children to recover from this “cognitive overload” and to recharge executive functioning skills. This isn’t to say that our children should sit on the couch and stare at the wall all day, but 10 minutes of daydreaming and doing nothing is sometimes just what they need to be ready for what comes next. Heck, your brain could benefit from a little boredom too. Next time you are tempted to scroll through your social media feed in line at the grocery store, give yourself permission to just stare at the wall and let your mind wander.

Imagination and creativity.

The latest research shows that our brain doesn’t go into low gear when we aren’t actively engaged. Instead, the activity shifts to the imagination and creativity parts of the brain. Have you ever come up with a great idea in the shower? Thank your brain for wandering towards a creative solution.

Goal setting.

It might seem counterintuitive that while your mind is wandering, your brain is busily considering future directions and goals. It turns out though that mind wandering is generally quite future focused and can actually help children with choices about what to do next.


Some researchers believe that when we are bored, we work to seek out meaning elsewhere. A group in Ireland found that people were more likely to seek out prosocial behaviors to help regain a sense of meaning in their lives. So, an occasional dose of boredom might be just what your child needs.

Of course, organized activities like sports, theater, arts, and music provide great benefits to kids, and chronic boredom can lead to a host of other challenges. But every once in a while, consider letting your child sit with nothing to do – it may be just what their brain needs to be more inspired by what comes next.

How To Respond to Calls of ‘I’m bored!’

  • Avoid rushing in with a prepackaged solution, organized activity, or app.
  • Ask questions to get to the bottom of the feeling. Try “What do you mean when you say that?” Parenting coach Christine Carter reminds us that sometimes children use “bored” as code for lonely or sad. This is all the more reason not to rush in with a solution. Instead, you might pivot to a conversation about those feelings or simply invite your child to work alongside you for a bit.
  • Create space and time for children to come up with their own ideas for what to do next. This may mean having some materials around to prime the creative pump (for little kids this could be as simple as paint and cardboard). What they do next is up to them.
  • Prompt a dialogue if your child seems truly stuck in coming up with their own ideas after a while. For example, “Who is your favorite Pokemon again? What is their power?”
  • And remember, nurturing free play throughout the year will help your child learn how to make their own fun.


About the Authors

Erin Walsh, M.A., is a dynamic, knowledgeable speaker who has addressed a wide range of audiences on topics related to brain development and raising resilient young people in the digital age. Erin was instrumental to the development of the MediaWise movement and enjoyed working with her father, Dr. David Walsh, for 10 years at the National Institute on Media and the Family before creating Mind Positive Parenting together in 2010 and then Spark & Stitch Institute in 2019.

David Walsh, Ph.D., is an award winning psychologist, best-selling author, and international speaker. In 1995, he founded the internationally renowned National Institute on Media and the Family, which he led until 2010. In 2011 he founded Mind Positive Parenting to translate cutting edge brain science to everyday practice for parents, teachers and other professionals.

Water color painting with the words Be Brave! Keep Going. written in pen.

A Valentine for Daughters: Say Goodbye to ‘Perfect’

I can remember very clearly the need to please that I had as a little girl. As an adult, I’ve read reports that explain how “good girls” come to develop this motivation and desire for approval, and how that childhood mindset impacts them as adults.

That’s why the message of a new book—Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder—resonates with me. The author is Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani, and she’s  speaking directly to teenage girls—and women—about the importance of shaking the mindset that it’s bad to make mistakes, to not be perfect.

pastel painting with the words Be Brave! written in black pen

Particularly with the high-pressure lens of social media, girls today can have a hard time ignoring what can seem a requirement to live up to an ideal of perfection. Not always encouraged to take risks, sometimes even trying a new subject or sport in school is avoided.

I was enrolled by my dad in both basketball and softball programs as a young girl, but still vividly recall being gripped by fear at the thought of messing up and letting people down. I was too paralyzed to be comfortable even trying, so Dad gave in and I very contentedly gave up.

Saujani and many others agree that while unintentional, girls are taught to avoid failure and risk—to play it safe and get straight As. They are often steered by parents and teachers towards subjects and activities where their success is most likely.

“Boys, on the other hand, absorb a very different message,” Saujani writes in her book. “They are taught to explore, play rough, swing high, climb to the top of the monkey bars—and fall down trying. They are encouraged to try new things, tinker with gadgets and tools, and get right back in the game if they take a hit.”

This disparity plays into one debate taking place this Valentine’s Day, as one school cancelled the annual Father Daughter dance that has taken place for decades.

Teaching girls that being brave—being willing to accept mistakes or failures and learn from them rather than be embarrassed by them—seems such an obvious thing. Yet, we may be behind the curve in our collective message to girls and young women when it comes to resilience.

Saujani appeared on Good Morning America to promote the book, and she offered teen girls in the audience some suggestions on how to begin the process of being brave and moving beyond a self-limiting mindset. Her call to action is to “practice imperfection”.

It sounds odd but just may be on point for learning early in life to be brave.


About the Author

Tammy is Director of Communications for the Pegasus Springs organizations and a communications and public relations consultant. She’s an award winning journalist and blogger, a contributor to the book ‘Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories’ and mom to two young adults and two fur-babies. 

Kids running into school with their backpacks on

Brains Can Grow: Tips for Your ‘Growth Mindset’ Toolkit

We all bring something to school that doesn’t fit neatly inside backpacks or briefcases but is very important for academic success: A set of beliefs about students’ ability to learn and grow. These beliefs are a more powerful predictor of student success than test scores but aren’t always obvious.1They show up when we listen closely to how students talk about school. For example, “I don’t want to take that class; I am bad at math,” is quite different from, “I really struggled on that last math exam; I need to figure out some new study strategies.”

Statements like these illuminate a student’s mindset—either “growth” or “fixed.”

The degree to which a student possesses a growth or fixed mindset shapes their resilience in the face of obstacles, their enjoyment of learning, and their willingness to take on new challenges.2 According to renowned researcher Carol Dweck, Ph.D., people with fixed mindsets believe their intelligence and abilities are hardwired traits and that talent is what leads to success, not effort. In contrast, people with growth mindsets believe that abilities can be developed through persistence and hard work.

Kids running into school with their backpacks on

But it’s not all about the students.

Educators’ beliefs are inextricably linked to those of their students. A fixed mindset might show up in educator self-talk like, “The students might doubt that I am a good teacher if I show that I don’t know something” or in quick assessments about a student’s potential, “That student seems beyond my help.”

The good news is that both student and educator mindsets themselves are not fixed. For example, evidence shows that even small interventions can shift a student’s beliefs and boost achievement. Dr. Dweck’s now famous experiments on the influence of praise demonstrate the powerful relationship between feedback and mindset.

Many have hoped to boost young people’s confidence by praising innate qualities like intelligence or talent. While this kind of praise can feel good in the moment, it ultimately undermines confidence and reinforces a fixed mindset. In contrast, process praise, or praising students for their effort and perseverance, reinforces a growth mindset and increases motivation.3

Still, simply rewarding effort is not a silver-bullet solution. Without other strategies, it risks yielding a “growth mindset lite” mentality and can frustrate educators and parents.

One parent summed it up like this, “My daughter is working hard, and I am proud of her perseverance, but at the end of the day her performance isn’t necessarily improving. Do I just keep praising her for her work? This doesn’t seem to be working.”

Mindset is not about effort alone

Dr. Dweck has been actively reminding educators that mindset is not about effort alone. She emphasizes that “students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches, not just sheer effort, to learn and improve.”4

We need a variety of tools and strategies to develop a growth mindset, and we need more than praise in our toolkit. Here are a few strategies that parents, educators, and youth serving professionals can start using today:

Look at your own mindset.

Perhaps the most influential way to teach growth mindset is to model it and to acknowledge when we get “stuck” in fixed mindset thinking ourselves. Dr. Dweck reminds us that we are all a mix of both growth and fixed mindsets, so pay attention to your own fixed mindset impulses.8

Teach young people about their brains.

Don’t keep the latest science a secret.  Remind them that their brains can grow. Evidence shows that students who understand how their brains grow and develop are more likely to adopt a growth mindset.5

Set learning goals, not just performance goals.

Learning goals focus on acquiring new skills or knowledge, while performance goals focus on achieving measures of performance (like scores or grades). Students who embrace learning goals are more likely to have a growth mindset.6

Growth mindset isn’t just about working hard; it’s about thinking hard, too.

This means reflecting on which learning strategies work and which ones don’t — and being willing to switch strategies and try new things to improve performance. Try asking, “What else can you try?” instead of simply praising hard work that doesn’t seem to be paying off. Check out this feedback tool from Mindset Works for specific ideas.

Critical feedback isn’t off limits. 

Growth mindset doesn’t mean that you only offer positive praise, but be careful how you deliver tough feedback. Criticizing a young person’s character reinforces a fixed mindset (and undermines your relationship). Offering feedback about the process reinforces the idea that a different set of choices could lead to a different outcome.7

Plan your response to, “I can’t do this!” 

Children say this for all kinds of reasons. This resource from Edutopia has some great ideas for how to respond.

Normalize mistakes and struggle.

Sspecially those that result from pushing themselves to try challenging things. Check out this video to view this in action in the classroom.

Differentiate between stretch mistakes and sloppy mistakes.

Celebrating mistakes that result from being too tired, too distracted, or too lazy can backfire. Instead, encourage young people to glean lessons from sloppy mistakes. For example you might suggest that it is time to get more sleep or reduce multitasking during homework.

Don’t forget about the system.

Keep in mind that it isn’t appropriate to rely on a young person’s mindset alone to overcome persistent institutional barriers that get in the way of their success, or worse yet, blame a young person’s mindset for institutional failure. Growth mindset is no substitute for tackling issues like institutional racism, gender stereotyping, and special education reform in our schools.


About the Authors:

David Walsh, Ph.D., is an award winning psychologist, best-selling author, and international speaker. In 1995, he founded the internationally renowned National Institute on Media and the Family, which he led until 2010. In 2011 he founded Mind Positive Parenting to translate cutting edge brain science to everyday practice for parents, teachers and other professionals.

Erin Walsh, M.A., is a dynamic, knowledgeable speaker who has addressed a wide range of audiences on topics related to brain development and raising resilient young people in the digital age. Erin was instrumental to the development of the MediaWise movement and enjoyed working with her father, Dr. David Walsh, for 10 years at the National Institute on Media and the Family before creating Mind Positive Parenting together in 2010.

Articles cited:

  1. Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Penguin House.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Dweck, C. (2007). The perils and promise of praise. Educational Leadership, 65(2), 34-39. Access at:
  4. Dweck, C. (2017). Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset.’ Education Week. Access at:
  5. Blackwell, L., Dweck C., & Trzesniewski, K. (2007). Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246-263.
  6. Dweck, C., Walton, G., & Cohen, G. (2011). Academic tenacity: Mindsets and skills that promote long-term learning. Paper prepared for the Gates Foundation. Access at:
  7. Kamins, M. & Dweck, C. (1999). Person Versus Process Praise and Criticism: Implications for Contingent Self-Worth and Coping. Developmental Psychology, 35(3), 835-847.
  8. Op Cit. Dweck,C. (2017)
Students gathered in an auditorium for Challenge Day

We Really Can ‘Be the Change’ for Youth

Not too long ago, I had the honor of participating in a Challenge Day—a full day with hundreds of middle school students exploring ways to be fully seen, respected and understood.

The Challenge Day Be the Change Movement was founded by Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John, who have spent their careers working with young people. They have created an experience for students that is truly a gift and that has the potential to be life-changing.

In their work to help schools and communities build supportive and inclusive environments, Rich and Yvonne are guided by this reminder: “If we settle for tolerance, we have failed. Our goal is love.”

Students gathered in an auditorium for Challenge Day

Social-emotional skills are as critical for our next generation as the skills taught in STEM classes. Ensuring everyone can be their authentic selves and be accepted by others is central to meeting the challenges of our future.

Experiences like the Challenge Day I was fortunate to take part in will indeed “change the world,” words Oprah used to describe what this important program can do if we all get on board with its message.

There’s a video on the Challenge Day website that explains more about the program and its mission. It isn’t difficult to see the power and impact the experience has on students. Everyone should see it. You can also learn more about Challenge Day activities on their Facebook page and help share the Be the Change message among your social network.

And in the spirit of the movement, all of us—teachers, parents and youth providers and advocates of all kinds—should strive to be a catalyst for supporting the young people in our  worlds to be fully seen, respected, and understood. It’s what the future needs.


About the Author:

Lorraine is co-founder of the Pegasus Springs organizations and President of the Pegasus Springs Foundation. She has provided leadership and mentoring to teams around the world, and she is a recipient of STEM Connector’s “Top 100 Corporate Women in STEM.” As a global executive in the aerospace and security industry, she has been a role model for women in STEM and a champion of diversity and inclusion.