Principal Musings Reposted from March WHSPFA Newsletter

Hello WHS,

This year, many of my monthly musings have included comments about a term called “growth mindset.”  This relatively new term according to Carol Dweck, its author,  is a “self-perception or ‘self-theory’ that people hold about themselves. Believing that you are either ‘intelligent’ or ‘unintelligent’ is a simple example of a mindset. People can be aware or unaware of their mindsets, according to Dweck, but they can have profound effect on learning achievement, skill acquisition, personal relationships, professional success, and many other dimensions of life.” ( I have really embraced the concept of a  growth mindset as I believe it means that we can all improve, learn and develop.  

In addition, this year as interim principal, I have been alarmed at the stress that I see in some of our young adults.  How can we be proactive in teaching our students how to combat and thrive within stressful situations  instead of reacting to stress each time we encounter it?  By embracing our stress and acknowledging it, they are better prepared to grow and develop. We need to work with our teens so that they can develop a growth mindset in dealing with stress which is real part of all of our lives.

In watching a recent TED talk by Kelly McGonical on stress (Kelly McGonigal:

How to make stress your friend -the-positive-side-of-stress-can-do-for-students/#e.622j3o.4h4mv0 via), I was interested in hearing about stress and its hormonal reactions on our body.  While our body releases adrenaline to take action in stressful situations, it also produces oxytocin  The oxytocin is a natural chemical that helps our bodies build resiliency.   McGonical states that there are three ways that help us safely work through stress.  Her suggestions are based on research that she and other theorists have done.  

Her first suggestion is that caring for others builds resiliency against stress.  One of the studies mentioned that high schoolers that participated in random acts of kindness had lower levels of toxic stress.  

The second way to help combat stress centers around having a life purpose.  McGonical stresses that teachers can help students to realize this purpose by asking the following questions:

  • What quality or strength do you value about yourself? (This is different than what a teacher or adult would value about you.)
  • What activity, role or relationship brings you meaning, satisfaction or joy?  McGonigal says students often point out things like sports, art or being a sibling. The point is to get at something bigger than self.
  • What mission, purpose or community do you serve? This question expands the sense of self and gets at what a student cares about.
  • Why are these important to you?’ (these are from a recent article found at:

The third suggestion to help combat stress is to focus on your stress level and look at ways that it can help you grow.  A positive strategy that will help students focus on developing resiliency is to have them share tough and painful stories.  They must also share on  how they were able to persevere through these stressful situations.  Sharing with the group can show that we all have stress and that it is part of life.  Stress, though a part of all of our lives, it is not always what anyone wants to deal with.  However, by using a growth mindset model and talking through our stress, we can all grow and develop in ways to learn to work through our stress.  I am hopeful that by talking about the real triggers of stress and how to cope with them, we can support our learners to use some of the suggestions mentioned in this valuable talk and article.


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