Silver Linings

Renee Smith
Renee Smith

Renee Smith is the Director of Education at PSS. She has been actively involved in education for over 30 years as a learner, educator, consultant, coach, and mom. By curating and creating bilingual content with the PSS team, she shares her passion for student success.



As we all face new challenges, we are reminded of the value, as well as the necessity of authentic SEL instruction.


Although most educators are familiar with the popular concept, the reality of teaching it is yet another challenge. Having a growth mindset is the foundation for all learning, and we can support students by modeling the positivity in our classrooms, schools, and homes. 



Now more than ever, our students, educators, and caregivers need support in order to become more resilient and see challenges as opportunities. In our collective new reality, we can be prepared to inform, instruct, and inspireHow? First of all, through sharing the research behind the mindset movement, we can begin to understand the malleable brain and the importance of encouraging young people to unlock their full potential through social-emotional development.


When we inform all stakeholders on how a growth mindset is aligned with academic achievement, then together we can embrace the reality that students can reach for their unlimited potential only when WE truly believe they can. Every successful (by his or her own definition) person I have encountered had a mentor, teacher, advocate, coach, or guide along the way who treasured the privilege of education and believed in the possibilities. I am honored to have the opportunity to share that vision and passion for lifelong learning based on the belief that intelligence, abilities, and skills can be developed through attention and effort. By understanding, promoting, and applying the neuroscience concepts of malleable intelligence, we can build a learning-based culture where student success is expected and celebrated. 


The next thing we can do is instruct in a way that is engaging through meaningful and effective learning experiences. With parents partnered, mentors involved, and educators supported, we can provide effective strategies that encourage all students. Along with a growth mindset foundation, we can give students consistent resources to enable them to make connections and develop confidence. One way to do this is through powerful visual learning tools in the classroom and at home. Tangible visuals provide interactive experiences and relevant lessons that include all students with equitable access. Students and teachers need consistent developmentally appropriate content that is aligned with state standards as well as assessments.




While a positive mindset is rewarded, mastery should be expected. Only then will students be prepared for the next steps on their educational journeys. Another way to instruct effectively is to create an environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn. As many of my former students will remember, my favorite response was always, “your best teacher is your last mistake.” The freedom to make mistakes is priceless. Unless students are secure and uninhibited in the learning process, we may never see their potential, and neither will they. 


With meaningful information and instruction, authentic inspiration follows. Students, educators, and families can be encouraged to grow an open mindset for learning both academically and socially. It won’t be easy, and we can support the productive struggle, especially in Math, SEL, and language acquisition. There is beauty in the struggle. There is value in the process. And there is a direct correlation to achievement and academic success which is the gateway to the future and opportunity.


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By empowering students with confidence along with empathy, they can use their voices to stretch our minds and hearts to listen, understand, and respect other’s views and differences. Together we can inspire each other to actively listen to understand and integrate empathy, not to listen to reply or defend. Let’s not lose the desire to learn or teach to 2020. Let’s use this obstacle as an opportunity to transform instruction and assessment practices so we see all students as learners instead of defining them by grades, scores, or any other predetermined metric. Can education be the great equalizer?


Only if we all embrace a true growth mindset, see beyond the present, and inspire students to believe in themselves and their unlimited potential, which would be another silver lining to this very memorable year. 

Topics: SEL, Growth Mindset