Saturday, September 21, 2013

Is there anything a growth mindset can't do??

Tonight I listened to Heidi Grant Halvorson interview Carol Dweck (9/20/13 at 5:20 pm  It was mainly geared toward her incredible, anchor book, Mindset, but included an amazing amount of thought-provoking, intense, new information.  This work never disappoints!

One of the pillars of Dr. Dweck's work reveals how praising success and intelligence for our students, and our children, is always done with the best intentions. Those with the fixed mindset thought this instilled confidence. But instead, this causes the receiver to worry about making mistakes. So they are less willing to try anything they aren't "smart" at.  This curtails achievement and learning. There is no reason to take any risks.  Failure is not an option.  It even creates fixed mindsets, therefore perpetuating the negative mindset.

Do praise the process. The strategies. The effort. The practice. The focus. The improvement.  Errors are a part of learning. They make them (us) persist in the face of adversity.  It is the second full week of school and I can hear that I have made a change in my own dialogue.  I know this because I hear my young students already saying, "You can do it, try!"  And, "Dare greatly!"  And, "You will grow your brain no matter what!"  It's simply contagious.  It is not only contagious with the students, but it is contagious to other professionals around you as well.

Thursday night, I went to my son's Back to School Night.  I always think the teachers must be like - ugh, two teacher parents.  But truly, we love the process, all of it.  So the best story was when one of his teachers told us the following:
The student sitting next to our son was tired and just done with academics.  It was a hot day and it was after lunch.  We will call the other student Bobby.  Bobby threw up his hands, put his head on his desk, and said, "This is too hard.  I can't do it!"  My son turned to him and said, "Yes you can, Bobby.  You can do it!  You can!  Right, guys?  You can do it!"  Wherein all the other students started chanting his name in unison, "Bobby, Bobby, Bobby!".  Bobby was so excited to have all of his classmates paying attention to him and giving him encouragement that he finished the rest of the day with effort and joy. 
Stories like that are by far more important to us as parents than any grade, report card, standardized test, college choice, etc.  Our son knows empathy, effort, caring, and how to bounce back.  Let's just shortly say he was born as a micropreemie at one pound seven ounces.  So having these imperative qualities at eight, is beyond words.  But that is a whole other story in itself.

"The Trouble With Bright Girls," is a piece written by the interviewer, who has worked under, with, and next to Dr. Dweck, published in The Huffington Post (  When studying "bright" girls and boys at the beginning of learning new or big concepts, bright girls were overwhelmingly afraid of not being perfect.  The higher the IQ, the more likely the bright girls were to give up.  "If that becomes your paradigm for life you are finished," asserted Dr. Dweck.  Bright boys, on the other hand, saw this same instance as a challenge and energizing.  Similarly, when studying Theories of Intelligence within a culture of genius, this continued. If it required raw intelligence, natural ability with no effort, then there were fewer women in the field.

As a society we think genius equals born this way. It's just not true.

People often ask then, how can so many people with fixed mindsets be so successful?  Answer; it only takes you so far. It creates worry and the need to always be top dog superstar. Better to ask that person what has it kept them from? What have they shied away from? What haven't they tried?  What did they see someone else try that was "crazy" but secretly wished they had tried it?  What do they wish they had tried?  To be good they think they have to be better than someone else.  It keeps them paralyzed. 

The Khan Academy studied a quarter of a million participants about how math students were praised ( The main difference was in what educators would say to students as feedback.  When they said things like, "When you put effort into a math problem you grow your math brain," and when they signified that effort equals further and future successes, there was a significant raise in immediate success and subsequent success.

We are all a combination of both mindsets. We constantly have to monitor ourselves.  Just being aware of this, changes our mindset toward growth.  For me, this was an "aha!" moment when I started studying Carol Dweck's work.

When you are ready to begin to change a part of your fixed mindset into a growth mindset, Dr. Dweck has some pointers for how to begin.  First, start talking back to that voice in your head that discourages you.  She said phrases that Brene Brown would call practicing gratitude when you forebode joy.  Or that shame and fear make you worry either of two things; (1)"who do you think you are?" or (2)"you can't possibly ____."  This talking back is the beginning of changing those brain chemicals.  It truly is the science component of this area of social psychology.

Next, add the word "yet."  "Yet" turns the fixed mindset into the growth mindset. Try it with any of your fixed mindsets.  Mine would be, "I am soo not forgiving... yet."  Setbacks will sting. It's about what you do next! In the long run it pays.

Whether it be parent, teacher, or CEO, you are always learning.

Dr. Dweck and her colleague James Gross studied Israelis, Palestinians, and extreme sides of each group ( Obviously, there was intense intergroup conflict. It was clear both in the first survey and the repeat survey that the more they held a fixed mindset, the more they hated the other side, and the more resistant they were to change. The researchers taught the growth mindset to these groups  and they were overwhelmingly more willing to entertain more compromises and even talk with each other. This held true just as much for the radicals as the moderates. Now, they are developing long-term, constant interventions for hope toward the future.

It's a shift in perception that things can change.

Is there anything a growth mindset can't do?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Life of a salesman... that includes You!

Tonight I listened to an interview of Dan Pink about his book, To Sell Is Human (  Of course, some major gems from him.  I thoroughly enjoyed and still often revisit his book, Drive.  So this different view on things was quite thought provoking and so many connections are still forming.

The crux of his theory to me seems that we are all salespeople.  Now, salespeople having a pejorative effect on most, is the old way of viewing this.  The current view is we all want to move people.  That's sales.  It is the change from problem-solving to problem-finding that is the greatest shift in the paradigm. This is fascinating!  His example was that there is a lightbulb out in his office.  He needs someone to fix it or he can find the kind of bulb information and fix it himself.  He does not need someone to find out what the problem is.  He already knows that.  And he can gather information readily  to replace it himself.  So then there are the problem-finders.  They think, "What could we do in here to make the lightbulbs work better.  Or maybe they can become obsolete." "How can I illuminate this room without lightbulbs at all?"  The interviewer smartly added, "Half of the innovation is finding the question."

This is such a different mindset.  What an interesting way to view things.  This paradigm shift now reminds me of those students who struggle so in school but see things in a different way.  They are generally the "tinker-ers" - for lack of a better term.  They like to try things out and reconfigure over and over again until it works.  Maybe this is their regular paradigm.  If I try to see things from their problem-finding mindset, they may come up with new learnings for us all.  That seems to be what occurs each time I "grow" an old fixed mindset of mine.

Dan Pink used the term buoyancy.   It seems to me to relate to resilience.  Being able to remain buoyant, one must bounce back from failure and adversity over and over again.  This leads to a person having more resilience and therefore, according to current research, leads to a more fulfilled, inspired life.  Brene Brown calls is Wholeheartedness.  Carol Dweck may refer to this as using a growth mindset.  I think the key to resilience is learning from the experience, whether it be successful or not.  The response to failure, fear, or shame cannot be, "I'm not going there again." It's tempting.  But then the experience merely fixed our mindset and proved we were right.  We say why bother?  But we were wrong!  Bounce back!

Finally, Dan Pink refers to giving people an "off ramp."  He tells the interviewer this means that I say to myself, "What can I do to make it easy for someone to act?"  What context can I create to make this more easily available so that more people "buy in" to my "sales pitch?"  How can I move them.  Move people by giving them an off ramp.  This way we are not using the traditional methods of trying to convert the individual.  Rather, we are changing the situation or the context instead.  

In my teaching career, maybe an example of an off ramp for my students is when I ask a student to do me a favor which really is an assignment or enrichment or even social skills/character education lesson.  Then whatever it is, most are happy to volunteer, being elementary students.  Then, all of a sudden, others want to do it, too.  I have created a situation where students willingly volunteer for work/tasks with zeal.  As this concept still confuses yet fascinates me, I will continue to research the meaning of this further. 

As educators, as Dan Pink concurs, we are constantly selling ourselves, our knowledge, and our wares all day, every day. We sell not only to our students, but to our colleagues, our administrators, our families, and friends, too.  Just think of how many opportunities we have to "move" people?  Wow, what a gift!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Short and sweet tonight...

"Much of the beauty of light owes its existence to the dark," Brene Brown, Daring Greatly. Kind of like I say a lot - that if it weren't for school, there wouldn't be the thrill of the summer!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Common Core’s fundamental trouble

This detailed article yet again reminds us as educators, those on the front lines, actually in the classroom, that the Common Core State Standards are not the "how" you teach.  In many K-3 cases, it's not even the "what" you should teach.  Developmental age versus numerical age is grossly broad in every single elementary public school classroom universally.  This is the cornerstone of child development and has been studied and restudied throughout the decades.

So, how do we distinguish between politics and real education?  As an educator for over 20 years, sadly I feel I have very little to share on this.  I want so badly to ignore the politics.  I want to just do what I know is right and works for kids, which, by the way, is different each year as new classes are different each year.

But, we can't bury our heads.  Then it is an affirmation that what is happening is okay.  We say, "You are right," by saying nothing.  The authors assert:
... by very publicly measuring the test results against benchmarks no real schools have ever met, NCLB did succeed in creating a narrative of failure that shaped a decade of attempts to “fix” schools while blaming those who work in them. By the time the first decade of NCLB was over, more than half the schools in the nation were on the lists of “failing schools” and the rest were poised to follow.
In reality, NCLB’s test scores reflected the inequality that exists all around our schools. The disaggregated scores put the spotlight on longstanding gaps in outcomes and opportunity among student subgroups. But NCLB used these gaps to label schools as failures without providing the resources or support needed to eliminate them.
The tests showed that millions of students were not meeting existing standards. Yet the conclusion drawn by sponsors of the Common Core was that the solution was “more challenging” ones. This conclusion is simply wrong.
Analytic data reviewed by educators and action plans put in place?  I think not.  Politics.  Plain and simple.  Let's not forget the business part as well.  The two major companies and the special interests that are funding and publishing "guides" and "workbooks", you guessed it, not educators either.
Unfortunately there’s been too little honest conversation and too little democracy in the development of the Common Core. We see consultants and corporate entrepreneurs where there should be parents and teachers, and more high-stakes testing where there should be none. Until that changes, it will be hard to distinguish the “next big thing” from the last one.
As usual, as professionals, we will continue to do the right thing for our students while trying to appease the "new" recycled ideas of our very shrewd politicians and businessmen.  Who, by the way, must have had some excellent teachers.

The Common Core's fundamental trouble

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Reflections of yesterday and anticipations for tomorrow...

I have such mixed emotions today.  I'm sad the summer is done.  I'm exhilarated that summer was so healthy and wonderful.  It was filled with memories of play and family and friends and adventure.  Yet, I'm looking forward to "routine" and my son getting back to one!  I'm glad I won't hear, "What is the PLAN today mommy?" every 5 minutes.  But at the same time I will crave to hear it again tomorrow. 

I am excited to meet my new class.  I'm reminding myself they are just second graders still and I should not scare them too much -- I can be loud and a bit on the sarcastic side!  I feel super prepared and completely unprepared at the same time.  I wasn't sure that could even be so.  It can.  I can't wait to see the new clay I get to help mold and model.  Connection.  That's the only thing they really need from me tomorrow.  To connect.  Without that connection, all the "core" we give them goes nowhere.

Tonight I remember one of my favorite expressions; You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.  BUT you can salt his oats and run him hard!  We continue to salt their oats and run them hard.  Somehow in between, we give them love, safety, laughter, joy, gratitude, confidence, and on and on.  But the one most important things we give them, in my opinion, is the safety to try new things, fail at them, learn from them, and then try again.

The following quote from Carol Dweck's, Mindset may be the pinnacle of what I strive for my son and from my students every day.  It's a lofty challenge.  It's the most worthwhile and satisfying challenge ever:

"If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.  That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise.  They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence. This may be especially important for children with learning disabilities.  Often for them it is not sheer effort that works but finding the right strategy (176-8)."