Not Everyone Has a Growth Mindset – Yet!

It’s that time of the school year again – “hump” time (like Wednesday is most weeks). Many of us suffer from that rough patch where the fun exciting part of the new school year is very much over. The anticipated end of the year feels like it’s on another planet. And here we are – stuck right in the middle. In many parts of the country it’s hardly warm enough to play outside (like here in Wyoming). This is why it is so important to stay strong and get to that finish line with a positive attitude kids will carry with them through the rest of the year. You know what it is…

The Growth Mindset.

This “rut” time of year can weight hard on everyone. So a positive outlook to learn and grow from is key to a successful (and stress-free) finish. As a substitute teacher, I have the privilege of witnessing how different teachers teach. It has become brutally apparent to me that this is a challenging time for everyone at school. Most recently I was assisting in a classroom as the teacher taught. To my surprise and dismay, she took five desperately needed minutes away from the math lesson to let the class know that most of them failed the last test they took. She in detail, repeatedly, explained what it meant if you received a 9 or below, that it means you got an F and how most students received a below 9 score. She then passed back the papers. Then told the class how so many of them didn’t seem “there” or present during the test.

As I sat, listening in horror to her words, to this fourth grade class, I decided to do something positive. I ignored her. I went back to helping my student. He greatly appreciated it and begged me not to leave, but I had to get to my next group of students in another class.

Of course we know teachers are horrendously overworked and grossly underpaid and under appreciated, however I can’t help but be upset at this situation. Poor test scores – from 95% of the class – sounds more to me like a teaching issue than a comprehension issue. Combine that with the fact this teacher would rather berate her students than spend that time answering questions or correcting the tests together tells me there is not a growth mindset present.

What could she have done? How does a teacher turn poorly scoring fourth grade students that aren’t comprehending their math into successful kids ready to take-on fifth grade? By approaching EVERY topic as though it is merely a stepping stone to a better, fuller, understanding of the subject as a whole. A “wrong” answer is simply another way or opportunity to learn. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always learned best from my mistakes.

As the teacher passed back the tests, with the students already feeling downtrodden, I could almost feel the apathy build in the room. I could hear the aura of “why bother, I’ve already failed” grow and spread through the room like some infectious disease. It was painful to sit through silently.

Keeping my growth mindset in mind, I vow that when I have my own classroom I will NOT allow a feeling like what I’d just felt to exist in MY room.

Instead, I would have handed back the tests and made one visible on the projector for everyone to see. We would have looked at the most commonly missed questions and reworked them so the following lessons would be built on at least a little more clarity. Every moment can, and should, be a teaching moment. Not for berating. Not for finger-pointing. And certainly not for repeating unnecessary negativity.

It is certainly understandable that it’s rough this time of year, but regardless, a growth mindset is vital to the success of a classroom environment and the overall mental and emotional health of the students. Teachers, and administrators, need to attend workshops, seminars, conventions – whatever they need to – for the betterment of their class and the school as a whole. The growth mindset has proven to lower bullying, increase academic success, and create a positive impact on the school and neighborhood, not to mention the wonderful qualities it instills on the students personally.

Here are a few fantastic websites to help you foster the growth mindset in your classroom –
Schoolhouse Diva
Melissa Taylor @ImaginationSoup

When is it Plagiarism?

Summer is an important time for kids to recharge their emotional and mental batteries. As parents and educators, it is easy to forget that as students, they are under a lot of pressure and face stressful challenges everyday. One stresser that I’ve had come up many times with students is whether or not what they are writing is PLAGIARISM.  Here are two relieving ways to be 100% positive you are not plagiarizing:
We will use the example of writing a research paper on famous scientists.  Your teacher tells you that you have to submit your final paper to and get back a 100% green, plagiarism-free, paper.  Well, I can tell you right now that will be a challenge.
First of all, there are only so many ways to say things. Phrases like, “Copernicus was a Renaissance era mathematician and astronomer” are going to be flagged because that exact wording is in (according to Google) “About 257,000 results”.  Nevertheless, will highlight it and students will worry about not being allowed to submit their paper to their teacher.  Stressful. Students should not have to deal with unproductive distractions like this when they should be focusing on the quality of their work. The solution here, at least the only one I can think of and have recommended, is to remind students of this fact in advance. However, as a parent when your child is freaking out, tell them to remind their teacher of this fact. All you can do sometimes is stand your ground and defend yourself and your work. (Frankly this is a good skill that will be needed upon entering the business world, not to mention college.) If you know that what you wrote falls into this category, know you have NOT plagiarized anything.
Secondly, plagiarism is, as defined by “an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author“.  This simply means that if you use someone’s research as research YOU did that you’ve in fact stolen their intellectual property. That IS bad, and there is NO excuse for it.  However, If I am writing a paper on Copernicus and want to discuss his childhood I will read and learn about it. Then as I am writing, I might feel like what I’m writing sounds very similar to what the article said. This can feel like plagiarism, however it is not. There is a fine line here and it is easy to cross. Nevertheless, you know that you are simply writing about something you’ve learned.  You have to trust yourself and understand that plagiarism is an INTENTIONAL choice to make a bad decision.
So, simply put,
1) You have to trust yourself.
2) Have the confidence to stand by your work.
3) Above all, understand that changing your work to prove you haven’t plagiarized, at the expense of your work’s quality, should not be necessary.
Just do your best. Stay honest. And, when in doubt, cite it. You can never cite too much.

Practice is an Art

So many people ask me how I can think of stories to write or how I can teach students creative writing.  I really must say, the answer is the same as what you’d hear from any singer, or illustrator.  Practice makes perfect.

Math is certainly not one of my best skills, however if I applied myself, there’s no doubt in my mind I would learn it. My mind, however, works better with stories and dialogue. I look forward to my next adventure. Getting kids excited about creating an adventure is equally fun for me. It is therapeutic as well. Imagine controlling your own universe!

As with everything though, it takes time to master things. I am always reminding my own kids that I’m super old (32) and have had a million years of practice to get where I am today. When they are super old like me, they’ll be telling their kids the same thing. So make sure you allow yourself that time to learn. Enjoy it. Learn from your mistakes.

The best paintings started with a single drop of paint. The best you starts with a single act – trying. Where you go from there is up to you, so reach for the stars and don’t be afraid to look back at the amazing view once in a while.