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Deliberately Creating a Culture of Change

“This is about developing our own belief that we can grow as a district.” (Rebecca Midles)


Challenge: How to address mindset shift productively when making a district-wide instructional shift.

Context: Mesa Valley 51 (Mesa), a district in Colorado of approximately 50 schools near the border of Utah, embarked on a district-wide shift towards competency-based learning and increased personalization for all students. Mesa leaders believed that system-level transformation would require investment into a culture where people believed they (and their students) could grow and change.

Action Steps

Rebecca Midles, executive director of teaching and learning in Mesa, began this transition by building awareness and skills associated with Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset throughout the district. Midles believed that absent a mindset that embraced change, the district would not be able to make meaningful shifts in the way leaders, teachers, community members and student conceptualized teaching and learning. The process included:

  • Starting with district leadership so that they could model and support the work of everything else in the systems.
  • Engaging with teachers in different ways, including conducting on-site presentations and professional development at schools across the district.
  • Launching a five-part professional development series around growth mindset that explored:
    • The neuroscience behind growth mindset and how the brain learns, handles stress and opens (or closes) to new ideas.
    • The difference between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets.
    • Helping students recognize (and ultimately shape) their internal “self-talk.”
    • Giving and receiving feedback.
    • Setting personal development goals.

Through this work, teachers began to reassess the way they rewarded and praised students and helped them set individual goals that cultivated real growth. After two years of mindset work, Mesa is now moving to adopt more competency-based learning structures, the next stop along their road to personalization. “Before we made a move to competency-based learning,” Midles explained, “We had to believe that WE could do things differently. Focusing on growth mindset has allowed us to re-examine what we hold dear. It allows us to open the door and ask, ‘is this learner-centered or is this adult-centered?’”

Additional Example

Strategy Resources

Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51

CompetencyWorks blog post on Mesa’s transition to competency-based education. Learn More

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Teachers as Researchers: The Power of Mindset

Digital Promise blog post on growth mindset and teacher action research Learn More

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Problem of Practice: Fixed Strategy vs. Adapt with Experience

This guide unpacks the relative benefits of creating fixed versus adaptive scaling strategies and offers... Learn More

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