By Jeff Waller, VP of Educational Services and co-author of the 7 Mindsets

If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that we really have no idea what the future holds. Yet, we find ourselves teaching our children how to thrive in the world we live in, or as it once was, rather than preparing them for a world we don’t understand.

The other day I asked my son how to spell the word “entrepreneur.” He immediately opened an app on his phone and gave me the correct spelling within seconds. This led me to think, should we really focus so much time on spelling? Or, do we need to educate our students on the power of words and how they are used to tell stories that inspire?

In college, I took six grueling semesters of Calculus. Recently, I was introduced to a website called I entered a very difficult double integral Calculus question. Within seconds, the site presented me with the exact answer. Understanding how to solve a problem is incredibly valuable. However, do I need to know how to solve an advanced math question like this? Or is it more important to understand how math helps us make sense of the world and universe around us?

Spelling and advanced math are important skillsets. However, our children are growing up in a rapidly evolving world. Some of the top jobs that exist today did not exist 10 or even 5 years ago. It is possible that many of the skills they are learning will be unnecessary, ineffective, or even obsolete when they enter adulthood. For example, the lessons we taught students to deal with bullying just 10 years ago, do not account for bullying taking place on social media today.

If I were to be honest with myself as a parent, I really have no idea what the critical skills are that will most support my children’s happiness, meaning, and contribution. They will need to figure that out on their own. In reality, what will matter most is not what they know, but how they think. It will be their mindsets that ultimately dictate their capacity to find joy and have impact.

What is Mindsets-Based SEL

Mindsets-Based SEL focuses on our default perspectives and attitudes towards the situations and circumstances in our lives. It is the lenses that largely drives our feelings, actions, and decisions. This understanding has created a movement towards Mindsets-Based instructional strategy. There are key attributes that define an effective Mindsets-Based Social and Emotional solution.

  1. Based on neuroplasticity and the capacity we have to grow the structure and functioning of our brain towards higher levels of performance and meaningful life experience. Modern research and the work of Carol Dweck and the Growth Mindset helps us understand that the brain is a dynamic organ that is continually changing and evolving throughout our life. We have the capacity to intentionally grow our brains in ways that promote greater happiness, achievement, and impact in life. While we have the capacity to change our brain throughout life, our brain is its most plastic-like during our childhood and adolescent years.
  2. Rooted in Positive Psychology equipping students with the perspectives to effectively deal with all emotions constructively. While the vast majority of psychology and counseling services focus on interventions after trauma has occurred, Mindsets-Based SEL is designed as a preventative maintenance measure to prevent severe mental trauma from occurring and thus the need for crisis intervention.
  3. Emotionally based creating the more intensified experiences required to nurture positive perspectives, promote sustainable prosocial behavior, and improve individual and collective outcomes. Building on the science of brain plasticity is further research that shows the rate of brain transformation is proportional to the emotions or intensity of the feelings that are applied. Think about your own experiences in life. It is the most intense and memorable experiences that left the strongest impression on you and ultimately had the greatest impact on who you are. In other words, our brain is the more malleable in times of great emotion. Anything that can be done to make the SEL experience emotional, reflective, and experiential creates a greater capacity for personal growth and development.
  4. Anchored at the root of human behavior, are the perspectives and attitudes we have towards ourselves, others, our environment, and our future. As the examples above demonstrate, it is hard for us to know the skillsets that will allow our students to survive and thrive in the future. This leads effective Mindsets Based solutions to focus not on what we know or skillsets, but rather how we think and the lenses we perceive the world with. This provides foundational perspectives that will drive effective emotional responses and decisions in the very dynamic and ever-changing world our children are growing up in.

We taught entrepreneurship to inner city youth for many years. There was great success with many young people altering the trajectory of their lives. Ultimately, it was not the skillset of entrepreneurship that mattered. What mattered was the idea of entrepreneurship that altered their perspective on their life. It helped them change the way they viewed themselves, their environment, and their future. The shift in their mindsets, changed the decisions they made and the actions they took. It promoted the prosocial behavior required to succeed in school and ultimately in life. What made the difference was the positive mindsets it helped develop.

It has been said that the greatest gift you can give a child is the ability to live without you. It may have once been the case that you could teach skillsets and trades and set someone up for long term success. That is no longer enough. Technology, globalization, social media, and a myriad of influences are changing the way we interact with each other and the world. Our children will face circumstances we cannot fathom. There is no set of skills or a prescription for them to effectively traverse a world we cannot comprehend.

What we can do is help them relate to the world in a healthy and productive way. We do this by helping them develop lenses in how they view themselves, their circumstance, their environment, and their future. This gives them the capacity to make healthy, positive, and productive decisions in a new world. It will be their mindsets that impact their lives.


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