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Does what you think about your ability really matter? If you had asked me that question a few years ago, my response would have been, “No, not really.” But over the past two years, I've changed from the negative, stressed-out, perfectionist teenage girl I was my freshman year to the joyful person I am today. Now, my response is much different.
My co- teacher, Courtney Zaleski and I teach an inclusion 7th grade class. In order to set the stage for the year, we teach them that mistakes are not only OK, they are necessary:
Ask an adolescent how they feel about making mistakes and they will be very honest (sometimes brutally so). This year, on the first day of school, we asked our students to write down their thoughts on a post it note and compiled their responses on chart paper titled “making mistakes.” The students are then asked to stay and read their classmates’ comments. Words like “dumb,” “foolish,” “angry,” and “bad” were common responses.
No wonder so many kids don’t take academic risks. Who wants to feel like that?
As the students returned to their seats, we handed them each a personalized envelope. Inside, they found a pink eraser, a pencil with “Think Different” inscribed on it (“Think Different” is our class name), and a Maichin Welcome Back Letter. We asked them to open the envelope and read the letter silently.
Arriving with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in 40+ U.S. states is tremendous pressure for schools to get results and to be masters of the Core as quickly as possible. Invoking the Growth Mindset as we accept the challenge of the Core standards will help our schools maintain the momentum and stamina we need to develop expertise.
How can schools set themselves up to cultivate Common Core experts? None of us is currently an expert in the CCSS. Expertise will emerge with classroom practice and experience implementing these standards with real students. It will emerge with the willingness to take responsible risks and to participate in collective reflection. It will emerge with strong collaboration and compassionate patience. These qualities are only gained in a risk-tolerant system through strategic, purposeful effort which includes timely, formative feedback.
3.3 million teachers will be asked to change their practices, routines, and lessons this year to align with the Common Core State Standards. That is a staggering number when you think about that many Americans essentially experiencing a major job change at the same time!
It is inevitable that with all this change, some of us will fail. We will mess it up. We will get it wrong and forget some essential component (of a standard, a lesson, a concept). Our central offices will mess up too. Trainings will go awry, resources arrive late, and support will be well-intentioned, but spotty. Are we prepared to tolerate this process and allow ourselves to take the necessary responsible risks to LEARN and grow?
I hope so.
"In a growth mindset, you don't always welcome the setback, you were hoping to move forward, but you understand that it's information on how to move forward better next time. It is a challenge that you are determined to surmount. In a fixed mindset, a setback calls your ability into question." -Carol Dweck, 2013 interview
Just Tell Me What To Do
One of the most frustrating classroom experiences occurs when students disengage from learning because they're scared to be wrong. As a teacher, I met many students who wanted someone to just give them the answer and now with my own children, I see it again. In many schools, students will sit and wait for the answer, whether that answer comes from another student or from the teacher. And if that answer doesn't come, many are unwilling to look for one themselves. Students often feel that the quest is only for the "right" answer, and they are more willing to wait and copy it down than to risk the possibility of putting in the work only to find out that it was wrong. Unfortunately, this perspective oftentimes generates surface learning, not deep learning. It can interfere with a student's entire notion of what learning is, causing them to think that school is a place to complete work, rather than grow one's mind.