Shirting Mindsets by Marla Sullivan, Copperas Cove ISD

ATPE News Magazine

Winter 2019 | Volume 40 | Issue 2


Shifting Mindsets

Over the past few years, a growing concern about mental health in public schools has found its way to the headlines and been featured in many professional publications. Public schools continue to face criticism based on high-stakes testing, which occurs on isolated days, and accountability measures that are, at best, ever-changing and unrealistic. Additionally, public schools are rated on college, career, and workplace readiness and harshly critiqued about any lack in these areas. However, neither legislators nor media seem to recognize the emotional state of crisis that many children experience. It is imperative that public schools embrace the need for a social and emotional learning curriculum and shift their focus from test preparation to educating the whole child.

Why SEL?

As a 30-year veteran in public education, I have seen a significant change in children since I began my career in 1990. Family structures have also changed dramatically. In Copperas Cove, our district serves over 8,000 students, many of whom are closely connected to our neighboring military base, Fort Hood. Copperas Cove is a growing yet highly mobile area that is supportive of its school system. Our local businesses and community members provide countless hours of volunteer support to our students and take pride in the district’s many academic and athletic achievements. Copperas Cove ISD has historically taken pride in educating the whole child and is beginning to address the need for social and emotional learning (SEL) as part of Vision 2021, our newest strategic plan.

During the 2017-18 school year, the staff at Williams/Ledger Elementary recognized a growing trend of students coming to school in states of social and emotional crisis. As the campus leader, I realized we lacked the necessary tools to meet this growing need. I began to research and saw that nationwide, schools were identifying mental health needs in students as young as prekindergarten. I made the decision to compare the available SEL curricula and find one that would best fit Williams/Ledger. Research shows that when students’ social and emotional learning needs are met, academic achievement increases. SEL curriculum also equips students with the “soft skills” needed to enter the workforce and become successful adults with strong interpersonal relationships.

Finding the Right Curriculum

One of our school counselors, Andrea Boen, attended a conference sponsored by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) and learned about the 7 Mindsets curriculum. The book The 7 Mindsets to Live Your Ultimate Life closely aligns to the language used within our Positive Behavior Initiative and Supports (PBIS) program and fits our campus culture perfectly. Boen and fellow counselor Patricia Klepinger now facilitate the guidance lessons in classrooms, and all professional staff participate in a book study and adopt the language of the 7 Mindsets:

  • Everything is possible.
  • Passion first.
  • We are connected.
  • 100% accountable.
  • Attitude of gratitude.
  • Live to give.
  • The time is now.

Each mindset has four underlying lessons. The interactive lessons feature relevant videos and art applications, as well as vocabulary and writing assignments that easily fit the ELAR TEKS. Additionally, the curriculum offers a professional development strand for teachers and parent education complete with activities for home use.

I am excited about implementation in year one; visuals throughout the school illustrate the connection between our students and their new skill set. Next year, we’ll implement a level two curriculum for grades one to five so students’ level of understanding and application grows deeper. (Kindergarten is always at level one because they are hearing the lessons for the first time.) Our eS2S (Elementary Student to Student) club also uses the 7 Mindsets; students painted rocks to illustrate the 7 Mindsets and placed them around our school and community to share the positive lessons and feelings with the citizens of Copperas Cove.

“Utilizing the 7 Mindsets has significantly changed the trajectory of SEL at Williams/Ledger Elementary,” shares Boen, who is also an eS2S sponsor. “The depth of understanding demonstrated by our students and staff and the ability to internalize SEL growth by way of sound scope and sequence lessons has been incredible. We are able to provide guided and independent practice for all students and then connect SEL mindsets to behaviors and academics.

“Every mindset connects every student, no matter their story. Every mindset connects with every adult as well. Every decision, from instructional delivery to discipline, is purposefully based on the idea that when we intentionally teach, practice, and repeatedly expose our campus family to SEL mindsets, a positive holistic life brings out the best in everyone while focusing directly on our students. Our thinking, more than ever, is always starting with the end in mind and making the connections to the best practices of our SEL model. Students are learning how to make their own connections to their behavior choices and academic choices.”

What Do Parents, Students, and Teachers Say?

One of my third graders, Kathleen, says, “What I like most about the 7 Mindsets are the illustrations and projects we do for each mindset. With the mindset, ‘Everything is possible,’ I’ve learned that when obstacles are in our way, we can go around them or through them.”

Third grader Christopher says, “With the mindset, ‘Dream big,’ I’ve learned that if you try harder, you can achieve anything you want to. Positive self-talk can help you get to where you want to be. You’ll never fail if you practice positive self-talk and believe in yourself.”

As many of our students come from poverty, these are especially powerful concepts for them to understand. Truly believing that positive self-talk and belief in oneself leads to success can alter their futures, setting them on pathways to greater success than anyone in their family history.

Third grade teacher Bethany Stubbs, who also has a kindergarten daughter at the school, shared: “As a teacher and a parent of an Outstanding Williams/Ledger (OWL) student, I am able to reinforce the 7 Mindsets concepts and vocabulary in my classroom and at home. When my child tells me that she has lost something, I am able to discuss how we should be 100% accountable for our materials and supplies.”

Parent Heather Peacock said her third grade son, Dylan, told her his favorite mindset was “We are connected.” He says, “It is important to be nice to everyone because everyone needs a friend.”

For him, this mindset also means we should always help each other, too. He helps his classmates with their work and helps new students learn class routines. Peacock says that at home, she’s seen her son more willing to help her or his siblings. This curriculum has enabled Dylan and other students to see there is more to the world than just themselves.

First grade teacher Lauryn Hinton, who is also a parent of second and fourth grade OWL students, shared the following thoughts: “This year, Alyssa (second grader) started receiving services for dyslexia, and explaining to her what it is and how reading is different for her was a difficult conversation. We had many discussions around the mindset of ‘passion first’ and how there are so many strengths that come with being dyslexic. After learning about ‘passion first,’ I have noticed that both of my girls are eager to try new things and are in pursuit of their individual passions and talents. Aubrey (fourth grader) came home last week and asked me, ‘Mom, what am I passionate about?’ Since then, we have had several conversations about ways to find and understand what her passions are and how it will be an ongoing, evolving process.”

Hinton went on to say, “This program helps to create a classroom culture where children are empowered to live to their greatest potential and make a positive impact on each other and the world. I have noticed a shift in the ways in which my students react to negative situations, encourage one another, take risks, and try new things.”

Other Benefits

During year one of the implementation of 7 Mindsets, I observed a greater level of personal accountability from both my staff and my students. Additionally, there are fewer students whose behavior is indicative of living in crisis. We are better equipped to meet their social and emotional needs, and, as a result, they feel safer and like they have a place where they belong. Because they are more focused and successful in class, I fully anticipate a positive impact on achievement.

At the time of this writing, we had just concluded mid-year testing; many students showed significant growth over their beginning-of-year testing. Based on this data, I predict the positive growth trend will continue and our academic gains will become more and more significant as we continue to implement this SEL curriculum and focus on growing the whole child.

To learn more about the 7 Mindsets, visit To learn more about eS2S, visit

Marla Sullivan is in her eighth year as principal at Williams/Ledger Elementary School and 30th year in public education. She holds a bachelor of music education from Baylor University, a master of education from University of Texas at Austin, and a mid-management certification from Tarleton State University. You can find her on Twitter @mcs_mss or at Listen to her guest appearance on the CHARGE podcast, discussing positive culture within the school environment, at

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