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RICHLAND ONE EMPLOYEE PROFILE: District Teacher of the Year Caroline Carson Focuses on ‘Growth Mindset’ for Her Students

Teacher of the Year Caroline Carson holds completed art project and book inspired by it.

For Caroline Carson, putting together an art project is more than just getting the job done. It’s about looking for ways to improve. She calls this teaching approach “growth mindset.”

“Growth mindset is when you believe you are capable of learning more,” said Carson, who is the art teacher at Rosewood Elementary School and Richland One’s 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year. “I work really hard with the kids to ask them to look at their artwork and say, ‘What can I do better?’”

When Carson was in elementary school, she and her classmates were separated into groups based on their learning abilities. As a teacher, Carson believes every student has the ability to grow and wants her students to know that.  

“My hope is by the time (the students) leave Rosewood, they believe in themselves as an artist in whatever format takes place,” she said.

Carson moved to Columbia in 1992. She started teaching at Rosewood in 1996. She taught fourth grade for nine years. After spending a year teaching second grade, Carson asked the principal to take over as the art teacher after the school’s former art teacher retired.

During her first year teaching art, she wanted to come up with a project to which everyone could relate. She chose self-portraits, but some of her students were not confident with drawing themselves.

“My older kids were breaking down into tears,” said Carson. “It’s because they didn’t have that growth mindset.”

Carson pulled out some of Picasso’s artwork to encourage the kids to be creative. She now does self-portrait projects every year for every grade.

“The kids see themselves grow over time,” she said. “The parents look forward to having six self-portraits by the end of their kid’s time at Rosewood.”

Carson encourages her students to think critically and learn how to solve problems. She says she loves watching her kids struggle with their projects and overcome their challenges.

In one of her first grade classes, students are working on creating their own Anansi spider. One of her students made a mistake. Carson asked him what to do.

“He took a minute to think about it,” she said. “I asked him if he wanted another piece of paper. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘You can’t have another piece of paper. How can you fix that?’ They see mistakes as more than a mistake. It’s a huge part of their learning.”

At the end of the class, Carson asked her students what they liked about making the project and who thought it was hard. One student talked about how fast they had to work on it.

“Usually Miss Carson is going ‘Art is not a race. Slow down,’ Carson told her students. “But here it’s like ‘Roll it. Roll it. Roll it.’ … so it was a little different.”

Carson says, like baseball, there’s no crying in art.

“If you’re crying, we’ve got to talk about it because that’s not what we’re all about,” she said “We’re about encouraging students to meet a challenge but also be able to say I really messed up.”

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