Growth Mindset Can Work – But Who Needs to Grow?

I was looking for some inspiration today for a post after listening to my wife debrief after another exasperating day working with a particularly rude and difficult child. It is very frustrating to hear about her bad days because she is a gifted teacher and does wonders with intermediate students. My natural inclination in these situations is to look for ways to mute destructive students like this so that their impact on their school surroundings is minimized.

I can no longer affect the outcome of these challenging situations, I am not longer a principal. So, I write.

I am reflecting on the unfairness of this situation. Why does one child have the ability to disrupt, frustrate and block efforts that are being made to help them get an education?

This is probably one of the most frustrating situations in education. Children who for a wide variety of reasons do their best to oppose those who are committed to helping.

Sometimes Twitter can help with a prompt to help reflect on these exasperating situations. Today I found something by Dr Stuart Shanker

As teachers, this is an imperative reframe:  “I wasn’t trained for this.” To:  “Where can I learn more?” I love hearing about real experiences with the “growth mindset” model – will you share yours?

The growth mindset here has to do with educators, not students. Many children are in no way prepared to change their mindset. Who knows what has caused the blockage that leads to disruptive and destructive behaviour? The change in mindset needs to come from the educator.

The challenges in the poster at the top of the post are instructive. What happens when we open our minds to vastly different ways of doing things to support a student who is really struggling?

Can we be flexible enough as a system to adapt to the needs of a struggling child?

I think in many cases if we are able to start this work early enough we can make a difference. We must be ready to throw out everything in order to do this. Rework the system to fit the child. Design a system that uses the talents and intelligence of committed educators to affect change.

I have seen this work. In my last school, we had a wonderful boy in grade 3 who really challenged the entire school. He started off with us one block a day and even that was a struggle for all of us.

We had to rework things to make things work for this child. He was held accountable, but he also became the focus of a group of very compassionate, talented educators. Gradually, over time, his day lengthened. There were still the outbursts, the anger and the foul words, but we persisted. We adapted. I would like to think that we grew. He flourished.

Unfortunately, we lost touch with the boy when he was moved to another city. I like to think that we had all turned a corner and that given more time he would survive and thrive.

I think at the worst moments, we have to think back to our stories of growth. Even in the most unlikely circumstances, good things can happen.

I am not fooled into believing that positive change happens all the time. It may only happen once in awhile and it may not be longterm. What is important is the belief that we can adapt our mindset to bring about success in some cases and this makes all the difference.

In the case of the student my wife is struggling with there is a long road ahead that will not be completed by the conclusion of this school year. Maybe in another place and time something will spark a difference.

In Ottawa, many of our high-needs schools work with an organization called Christie Lake Kids. Their mission is to transform children through recreation. They call it Transformative Recreation or T-REC.

Through participation in the T-Rec model, the children and youth we serve develop a greater capacity for self-regulation, self-efficacy, social skills, adult monitoring, and positive relationships.

T_REC Model Christie Lake Kids

I mention Christie Lake Kids here because I think that the mindset change we need to employ will involve others outside the education system.

Maybe the counter statement to ‘We don’t have enough resources’ should really be ‘But what resources, especially in the community are we not using to their full potential?’

We certainly can do a better job at thinking outside the box. We also need to take a moment and really applaud the teachers like my wife who go in every day to face the unending challenges of dealing with the students who challenge.

May we learn to support them better.

What I am thankful for

thanks

We are well into a new school year and this is a good time to reflect on what we are thankful for.  I think this is a good exercise for all educators in November.  Too often, it is easy to see the glass half empty.

So, this is my list – what is on yours?

I am most thankful for educators who deal with so many children who are already in crisis mode when they enter the school.  Dr. Stuart Shanker writes that many of our children enter the school under tremendous stress for a number of reasons – so much can happen to our children before they even enter our classrooms.  A good summary is included from a portion of an infographic that can be downloaded for free from the Mehrit Centre.

primary-domains-of-stress
portion of an Infographic: Understanding Stress Behaviour for Teachers The Mehrit Centre

Our staff excel at dealing with children in this heightened sense of stress.  Most are able to see that misbehaviour is actually stress behaviour. They then work to create a safe space in our school so that the child at least has six hours where the crisis mentality is reduced and students can begin to learn.

What does this look like?  I am thankful for all these actions.

Staff that create calm spaces in their classrooms to help students transition throughout the day.

Educational assistants who patiently accompany children throughout the day and by their very presence allow the student to be successful

The gentleness that staff show towards troubled children and the sense of safety this creates

The flexibility of all educators to deal with a hectic schedule and for knowing when some of their kids need a break

The professionalism of staff members who write thoughtful and incisive progress reports that are a true reflection of the strengths and needs of our children.

The openness and welcoming atmosphere created by office administrators and custodians to all visitors to our school – they support the open, welcoming atmosphere that helps students and parents feel safe.

The creativity and calmness shown by our early childhood educators that make the challenging transition of our newest students to school atmosphere as stress-free as possible.  This is truly an amazing feat as many of our children have not been exposed to large groups of children before – just think how stressful this can be!

The main element in all this is the creation of an oasis of Peace.  The more we learn about the social emotional needs of our children, the importance of a peaceful, nurturing environment becomes the most important factor that leads to success for our children.