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Fostering Understanding Among Students

This is an excerpt from Building Character, Community, and a Growth Mindset in Physical Education eBook With Web Resource by Leigh Ann Anderson & Donald R. Glover.

The first step in helping students develop a growth mindset—and generally strengthen their emotional intelligence—is to deliberately teach the traits of emotional intelligence. Resources for building character are provided by many great character-education programs, but the best way to develop these valuable life skills is through an integrated approach. For example, toddlers learn to speak their native language through the integrated approach of constantly hearing words used in context. In other words, they don’t learn the word ball because it is the "word of the week" that their parents teach them; they learn it by making connections every time they hear the word and see a ball. Making such connections strengthens learning.


Teachers and coaches need to take advantage of the many learning opportunities integrated into physical education and sport that connect naturally to emotional intelligence and a growth mindset. One way to do this is to continually praise students for demonstrating specific desirable skills, actions, and behaviors. Perspectives vary regarding the power of praise, as well as when and how to use it appropriately. In an article titled "The Perils and Promises of Praise," Carol Dweck states "The wrong kind of praise creates self-defeating behavior. The right kind motivates students to learn" (2007, pp. 34-39).


Rather than praising on the basis of ability or final outcome, it is much more effective to praise specific behaviors that contribute to emotional intelligence and a growth mindset, such as effort, risk taking, compassion, and inclusiveness. Focus on the behaviors that contribute to the process of learning and growing. In addition, recognize and praise specific positive character traits. In doing so,you reinforce thedesired actions and attitudes. Here are some examples:

  • "Harun, I noticed that you encouraged your teammates after your first loss. Way to go!"
  • "Samariah, you looked a little frustrated after your team lost, and I’m impressed with how you handled it. You didn’t get angry with anyone or quit. You went right back out there and worked even harder. What a great example of perseverance!"
  • "This class does such a nice job of including others. Whenever anyone is left out, you invite him or her to join your group. What a great example of compassion and inclusiveness."


In order to be effective, praise must be genuine and honest; indeed, false praise can reduce trust. It’s always nice to hear a heartfelt "good job," but specific praise about behavior, effort,and attitude isa much more effective teaching tool than generic praise.


Another way to integrate emotional intelligence into every lesson or practice plan is through the practice of reflection. Inviting students to make connections and think about how their actions affect their performance, and the performance of others, is an excellent way to learn. To help students engage in this kind of higher-level thinking, which reinforces and deepens their learning, ask them questions such as the following: "What did you learn today as a result of a mistake that you made? What do you need to do in order to improve?"


Depending on the current theme or focus, you can also ask inviting questions at the end of each class, such as, "What specific acts of integrity did you notice in class today?" This question allows students to connect the meaning of the word integrity to specific acts of integrity performed by their peers. Similarly, during cool-downs, pair students up and give them a reflective question to discuss, such as, "While you’re cooling down, work with your partner to generate three examples of how encouragement was demonstrated in class today."


Unfortunately, many students do not know how to reflect, because they are rarely, if ever, given the opportunity to do so. Instead, they are told what they need to do in order to improve, which in many cases goes in one ear and out the other because the teacher or coach is doing the thinking. The best learning comes when students do their own thinking, reflecting, and connecting. In addition, reflective learners are much more likely to learn from their mistakes and avoid making them again.

Learn more about Building Character, Community, and a Growth Mindset in Physical Education.