Great Student, Great Person: The Goals of Student Growth Vectors Campus Feature Series: BASIS Independent Fremont

“I failed too many times to count,” the 6th grader shared.

“That’s fantastic!” Mr. Harter replied. “That’s so much learning!”

More hands lifted in Mr. Harter’s Visual Arts class at BASIS Independent Fremont. He called on another student, who paused instead of answering.

“Name one mistake that you made, and we can go from there,” prompted Mr. Harter.

The student thought a moment, then decided: “Everything broke!”

Every day, Mr. Harter incorporates growth mindset into his lessons, reinforcing positive social-emotional behaviors in his students. He’s not alone. The teachers and administrators at BASIS Independent Fremont are committed to the development of the whole child, not just the academic side of things. In Mr. Harter’s classroom, bulletin boards full of growth mindset quotes remind our students that how you react to a challenge depends on how you frame that challenge. What may start as “I can’t do it” becomes “I can’t do it YET.” “Is this good?” becomes “How can I improve?” or “What do you think?”

In the 6th grade class, the students had just completed a project where they had designed their own interpretations of famous monuments, and constructed those versions out of clay. The discussion about failure was a standard reflection on what the students had learned. By discussing failure and mistakes as a class, the idea that those things are wholly negative is dispelled. Viewing failure as a learning opportunity instead of a source of shame becomes normalized.

“A passion is formed by being in the moment and understanding that all moments are moments for learning,” says Mr. Harter. “When mistakes are there without fear, a love and appreciation for what you’re learning is fostered. In art, mistakes breed creativity, because you have to look at your project in a different way. I’m trying to push my students to be above and beyond, and growth mindset allows them to face those expectations.”

Stinger Award winners
BASIS Independent Fremont’s core values are Safe, Trustworthy, Industrious, Noble, Gritty, Empathetic, and Respectful.

Stinger Award winners
Teachers have the option of giving students a STINGER award for non-academic positive contributions to the classroom community.

Mr. Harter is the current teacher mentor at BASIS Independent Fremont. When meeting with his peers to discuss their classes, he instills the value of the growth mindset strategy with them.

“It’s not just coming from me anymore,” he says. “The other day, one of my students said, ‘mistakes are the first stepping stone of learning,’ and I hadn’t said that! She got it from another teacher, or synthesized it herself from what we’ve been saying here.”

In Physical Education classes, students who are used to being successful academically are faced with new skills for which they might not have a firm foundation. Physical Education also challenges students to work together and deal with their interpersonal relationship conflicts in an empathetic way.

“Instead of telling them how to resolve a conflict, we get them to talk about it with each other about how they’re feeling and why,” says Mr. Miller, a teaching fellow at BASIS Independent Fremont, who teaches Physical Education. “We sometimes pull kids aside to talk about defeat, because some of them get frustrated if a new skill isn’t coming easily to them. We keep our lessons consistent and repeat the same drills while learning a new sport so they can build their abilities. They’ve been doing well with keeping at it and not giving up!”

Grittiness, that ability to move forward despite setbacks, is a crucial aspect of growth mindset, and a value that Coach Andy highlights in his Physical Education classes.

“At the start of the year, kids would choose to sit out immediately if they experienced a setback, but now, they understand they have the option to keep playing. I ask them, ‘what is more important at the end of the day?’ And they choose to keep going.”

Growth mindset, as part of a range of social-emotional learning tools, is important for reaching to higher levels of comprehension and creation, as Mr. Harter sees in his Visual Arts class all the time.

“It’s good for these students to have high expectations but recognize where they are in the process,” he says. “Comparing your work to the masters can be frustrating if you don’t recognize the journey they took to be there. You have to respect the journey.”

At BASIS Independent Fremont, students meet high standards of academic success, and a growth mindset gives them the room they need to recognize their success in the context of the challenges they faced in order to achieve. Growth mindset is a skillset of social-emotional learning, which also includes empathy, self-regulation, and goal setting, among other aspects. The affective development of a child is as important as their academic development, so they can learn to interact with their peers in a positive, respectful way that recognizes the needs and emotions of others. Being able to manage themselves and their relationships is a huge part of a child’s development.

Students in the classroom
“So many of these kids have an intense sense of justice, or unrealistic expectations when it comes to goal-setting,” says the school’s Director of Student Affairs. “It’s so important to set goals within your reach.”

“Mistakes happen in life, and you need to be able to accept them and learn from them,” Mr. Harter says. “We can change the way we view all these challenges and imperfections, and recognize that emotions of anger and frustration are normal but impermanent. That feeling will go away, and then you can step back and look at the project and see what to do next time.”

“This is not just something for students,” he says. “This is also as a teacher. As a teacher, you’re improvising a lot and occasionally you make mistakes—students look up to us and how we handle challenges, so by modeling this behavior for them we reinforce what we teach.”

Dr. Ashley Leyba, Head of School at BASIS Independent Fremont, once led a parent book club discussion about the value of failure. Prior to meeting, parents and teachers alike read “The Gift of Failure” by Jessica Lahey, a book that champions the positive effects of embracing the learning process, failure and all, and not expecting or demanding immediate perfection.

“Parents had expressed interest in discussing, as a community, how to best support their kids,” Dr. Leyba says. “This book was a great place to start. ‘Grittiness’ is our latest school value, the ‘G’ in our STINGER award program, and this tied into that value. It’s the difference between raising kids to grow into adults, and keeping kids kids forever. While you might feel sad when your child is sad as a result of something that happens on the playground or in a friendship, you need to step back and let them navigate that social relationship.”

In the BASIS Curriculum Schools network, classes become even more academically challenging as students move from primary school to middle school and high school, when they might have a full course load of Advanced Placement classes.

“You have to be okay with not getting one hundred percent on everything,” Dr. Leyba says. “Failure is learning, and learning is messy. We want our students and parents to internalize this lesson now so they are prepared for the older grades.”

“The goal of our social-emotional learning emphasis is simple: if your child comes out of this program smart, but a ‘bad person,’ we have failed,” she continues. “This year, we have been deliberate about introducing the skills that will serve our students in the long term. Kids are capable of owning their mistakes and learning from them, and we want to give them the space to do that. It’s wonderful that so many of our parents are eager to support us in this process.”

Every day, Dr. Derek Cavilla, our school’s Director of Student Affairs, reinforces the commitment to social-emotional learning and affective development at BASIS Independent Fremont. As a part of this role, he runs the school STINGER program, which encourages positive behavior in students. ‘STINGER’ is an acronym comprised of the school’s values:

  • Safe
  • Trustworthy
  • Industrious
  • Noble
  • Gritty
  • Empathetic
  • Respectful

If a student demonstrates one of these values in the classroom, their teacher has the option to give them a STINGER award, which they can exchange in Dr. Cavilla’s office for a prize from a prize box. Every month, a drawing is held of that month’s STINGER award winners to give students an opportunity to win a prize bag.

“We want these positive behavior systems in place so our emotional learning is proactive instead of just reactive,” says Dr. Cavilla. “And for next year, we are looking at redeveloping our positive behavior systems as we grow our middle school aged classes, with different values and prizes more appropriate for that age group.”

Think Like an Artist poster board
BINS Fremont’s HOS says “if your child comes out of this program smart, but a ‘bad person,’ we have failed.”

STINGER award winners are celebrated in the school. For the monthly drawing, the winners are announced to the entire campus, and students look forward to hearing their names over the intercom. Being recognized for upholding school values reinforces their desire to live those values every day, and gives our high performing and often competitive students a way to see that their behavior matters as much as their grades.

“We support the needs of all our students, including our high performers,” Dr. Cavilla says. “The more precocious the child, the more social-emotional support they need, since they have a tendency towards perfectionism. This is why we teach self-regulation and empathy: so many of these kids have an intense sense of justice, or unrealistic expectations when it comes to goal-setting. It’s so important to set goals within your reach.”

“Self-efficacy is the next step up from self-esteem,” he continues. “It basically means, how accurate are you able to assess your ability to complete a task? Studies have shown that the smarter you are, the more likely you are to under-estimate your own ability. So, if we have a student who is doing well but verbalizes that they think they are doing poorly, we ask them, “Why do you think you did so bad?” and have them examine that feeling. We encourage teachers to include a self-assessment portion on their grading rubrics so they can see how a student views their work versus how the teacher views their work.”

The social-emotional learning aspects that Dr. Cavilla and his team champion are part of each class at BASIS Independent Fremont, and are creating a schoolwide space for students where they can grow their confidence, self-awareness, and ability to organize themselves and own their learning process.

By emphasizing the STINGER values, encouraging growth mindset, and facilitating an atmosphere where students learn to solve their own interpersonal challenges, BASIS Independent Fremont is giving students the tools today that they need to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Kara Szamborski is the Communications Manager at BASIS Independent Fremont.

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