"Mindset opened my eyes to the possibilities in education to be systematic in creating real change for human beings." -Emily Diehl

Emily Diehl

Tell us a bit about who you are, where you teach and what you do:
My business is change. I am an instructional coach working with teachers from K-12 in a high poverty region. Daily I have myriad duties, but the bottom line is change – get adults to change their practices, habits, and thinking. Tall order.

How did you become interested in the Growth Mindset?


Before I learned about the Mindset framework, I would try to communicate the best practices I learned in the classroom to teachers I was assigned to coach, but felt like I got nowhere. Unless the person was already actively looking for help and crying out for feedback, they almost never implemented things I coached or modeled. They would leave the room when I modeled a lesson. They would explain how other schools’ or teachers’ data was evidence that they cheated or just “taught to the test.” They told me I didn’t understand about “these kids.” Some of that might have had grains of truth to it, but what I also knew was that they didn’t have enough belief in the students, in themselves, or in their colleagues.

My school psychologist suggested reading Mindset and I quickly dove in. I had read some of Dweck’s articles and was already smitten. As I read Mindset, I saw that the Fixed Mindset appeared to be the explanation for why schools do not improve, why we have so much trouble reaching non-learning adolescents, and why teachers often refuse to collaborate with other teachers. What a sad situation when we feel threatened by other people’s success, we think that our failures define us, we think other’s failures define them, and we lose our interest in taking on a challenge. So Mindset changed my life because I learned that I can be mindful and systematic in the way I think, respond, and coach. Further, I could teach others to do the same so that our organization could grow.

Reading the book, I wanted answers for educators.

There were some, but my interest was totally peaked when I read about Brainology. I was lucky enough to get over 100 of my students to participate in the pilot that year (2008-09). We were committed to deep implementation of Growth Mindset and expandable intelligence. The school psychologist and I planned and executed over 20 lessons using Brainology, the ancillary materials, and some of our own inspiration to the ninth grade students and about 12 lessons to the 10th graders.. We could be seen walking across campus carrying 5 foot tall neurons the psychologist had built out of Pool Noodles, Styrofoam, and tinker toys. We turned heads – which is what we wanted! I knew it was working when kids started calling me the “brain lady.”


Our concept was – learn this, or we will come back. No grades or points, you are expected to learn everything we teach you. We committed to engaging strategies and material, and if they didn’t learn it, we came baaaack!
What have been the results so far? How did it impact your students?
It worked even better than we had dreamed it would. When we read what the students wrote on their final reflections, it made us cry. They said things like, “I am a nicer person now.” “I try to eat nuts and eggs every day. “ “I watch less TV.” “I go to bed earlier to get my 8-9 hours of sleep.” These are the lowest performing 9th and 10th graders at a school that was 80% Free and Reduced lunch (high poverty). Our test scores on the CST (California Standards Test) rose 32 points for that group of students. The school saw a 6 point improvement the same year (not including my students). The students we included in Brainology were part of an SLC housed at a Comprehensive High School. In past years, when the students in the program hit Senior year, there were 2-3 of them left who actually graduated from the High School. It was extremely discouraging to the teachers to begin with about 80 9th graders and have 3 graduate. This year, of the fifty 10th graders who first did Brainology we have 21 graduates from our High School.
I am excited that we have decreased our dropout rate such that the number of graduates who stay with us throughout high school has gone up from 3 students graduating each year to 20 students graduating each year, and I expect that to go higher next year! I can’t wait to see how many of the ninth graders graduate in 2012.

 Has the approach/mindset had any other ripple effects?

 When people saw our results, they wanted to learn more. We ended up running several groups of teachers through a book study of Mindset, at first on site, and eventually including our feeder Middle School. Our administrators got involved, asking what Growth-Minded discipline sounded like. Our homeroom teachers agreed to teach Growth Mindset test prep strategies before the CSTs. Our elementary schools began to ask for more information. We formed a Ning to generate more interest and connect like-minded educators who wanted to take Dweck’s work to a level that was systematic for schools. Finally, our district listened, and brought Mindset to their Trainer of Trainers series, presenting to leadership teams at about 35 of our district’s 62 schools.

We applied the Growth Mindset to everything the school took on. If we were to learn to collaborate as teams of teachers, we had to embrace Growth Mindset concepts. If we were to make better instructional design choices, we would have to understand that intelligence is malleable; and, if our administration was to believe in our school improvement efforts, they had to buy-in to the fact that THESE teachers could do the work. And it continues. I joke that it’s a train I can’t stop. And, I don’t want to.

What are your takeaways from Emily's experience? Any reflections or recommendations you'd like to share with her or others? Write a comment below.