Focusing on a Growth Mindset at Merrill-Malin Elementary Schools

New Merrill and Malin principal wants staff, students ‘to push themselves to new limits’

Merrill Elementary School sixth-grader Peyton Hickey smiles at her new principal, Margaret McCadden, before giving her a hug.

“You always smell so good,” she said. “It brings back good memories of kindergarten.” McCadden returned the hug to her former student before continuing her rounds, checking in with teachers and taking time to read one-on-one with students during lessons.

The new principal of Merrill and Malin elementary schools has deep roots in the area. Growing up on a farm south of Klamath Falls, McCadden attended community events in both the Henley and Lost River areas. She started her education career 13 years ago as a kindergarten teacher at Henley Elementary School and was vice-principal of Ferguson Elementary School for three years before taking the reins of Malin and Merrill this fall. The two schools, which are about 10 miles apart, each have 15 staff members and about 150 students in kindergarten through sixth- grades.

Merrill-Malin Principal Margaret McCadden displays one of the Growth Mindset T-shirts staff wear on Wednesdays. In
Merrill, the T-shirts are purple; in Malin, they are black.

McCadden’s goals for the school year include providing a safe, nurturing environment for all students and challenging staff and students to push themselves to new limits. To do that, she is focusing on a philosophy known as a growth mindset.

Staff at both schools have new T-shirts that share McCadden’s theme. The shirts, which are worn by staff members every Wednesday, remind both educators and students the tenants of a growth mindset – learn from mistakes, work hard to improve, never give up, stay determined, practice self-reflection, use effort to overcome challenges and train their brains to learn and succeed.

Merrill-Malin Principal Margaret McCadden talks with a student during a class lesson at Merrill Elementary School.

“I chose ‘growth mindset’ because lots of things are tough in our lives, whether academically or socially,” McCadden said. “One of my goals for the year is for staff and students to push themselves to new limits.”

The shirts with their message can provide an avenue for teachers to have that conversation with students, she said. “Yes, it’s hard. You have to keep trying. It is making a difference.” She also talks about the power of “yet.” Students may not understand a concept yet, but they will.

McCadden received her bachelor’s degree at Oregon Institute of Technology and then earned her Master of Arts in Teaching and administrative degrees from Southern Oregon University. McCadden attended Henley schools for 12 years, graduating from Henley High School in 1986. Her family, which has deep roots in the area, has its fifth generation of youth attending Henley schools. McCadden has been the leader of the Poe ValleyCommunity 4-H Club for 25 years.

She is spending the first month or so learning current routines and procedures. She spends time at each school and often drives between them on a daily basis. She keeps both Malin and Merrill school shirts in her car so she can change if needed on school spirit days. Merrill’s mascot is a husky; Malin’s is a mustang. McCadden takes the helm of the schools from Larita Ongman, who retired in June after working for the district for 39 years; the last 14 years as principal at Merrill and Malin.

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