Sunday, September 24, 2017

How I Keep A Growth Mindset As An Educator

It's the final week of September, which means we're wrapping up Growth Mindset Month here on Crayons to Confidence. We've already covered what Growth Mindset is, why it's important, and how I teach it to young children and young women.

Unfortunately, I haven't had enough experience teaching it to young men to write a post about it (thankfully, all the men in my life have an even better growth mindset than I do), but I can think of a particular group of people I haven't touched on, yet. One I have a lot of experience with. One that spends all day talking about the importance of growth mindset while rarely ever using it themselves. Perhaps, you could say, it is a group of people who need it most.


I will never forget the night I came home crying while student teaching. I felt like so much of a failure that, for the first time ever, I was questioning if teaching was really what God had made me to do. And Dylan comforted me to the best of his ability via FaceTime (we were long distance back then, and yes, it totally sucked) until he finally asked, "Bethany... Picture yourself 20 years from now. In a time where you've been teaching so long it's second nature. And if you could go back and talk to yourself in this moment, what do you think you would tell yourself?"

I considered this for a moment. "I'd probably tell myself that it was okay to be a beginner."

Even he sounded surprised that he didn't have to prompt me any more to get me to that conclusion. "I think that's very good advice."

And it was. ...for a moment. Until I realized that teachers don't get that luxury. Musicians and artists can be beginners. They will excel with practice and rehearsal. Fashion designers and book publishers can be beginners. They will gain success as they climb in their company. Salesmen and beauty consultants can be beginners. They will make more money as their product begins to sell. But teachers, social workers, and healthcare professionals don't get to be beginners. Why?

Because our product is people. Someone's daughter. Someone's brother. Someone's niece, or nephew, or twin, or wife, or father. We do not get the chance to screw up and try again next time, because we won't just mess up a sale. Our mistakes have the potential to mess up another life.

The Art Is Never Truly Mastered 
It took me a long time to realize this, so let's just get this out of the way. Standardized exams are not effective, and education is not equal. Why? Because people are not standardized. And people are not equal. And if our product is people, and people are not standardized or equal, then standard and equal education does not work.

People change. People grow. People live in new worlds with every generation that comes to pass. So education is ever changing. Teachers never really get it down. Sometimes we make big improvements. Sometimes, we try things and they don't work. Sometimes, we try things and they do. Sometimes, we even try things we know won't work just to prove to someone in the district that we were right.

So when times are tough and I'm feeling blue, or I feel overwhelmed and completely ineffective at what I do, I have to remind myself... Your job changes every second, of every day, of every week, of every day. Yes, the teachers celebrating their 25th work anniversary have a lot of skill on a first year teacher. But if you are a brand new teacher, you have brand new ideas and an updated education for an updated generation. Your fire has not burnt out yet. You are passionate, and you are young. You are closer to the generation you are teaching. You relate better to them. So while you may not feel as good or effective as the old woman across the hall who's in her 50th year teaching kindergarten (true story... I know one of those), you have an advantage that they do not. you get this generation of kid. And that gift alone can make you just as effective.

And remember: people are not standardized, which means that teachers are not either. There is no one successful model. You each have a different teaching style and philosophy and daily routine, and they're all exactly what some kid needs. So you do you, and keep on keepin' on, because you have one of the most important jobs in the world, and if you get discouraged, the job won't get done.

You Can Be A Teacher And A Student
In fact, the best teachers still are students. The best teachers are the ones who are constantly seeking help. They're always attending collaborative meetings, searching Pinterest for the hottest new phonics games, and are working overtime so they can remain as a top performer in their craft. They might be required by the district to attend professional development trainings, but the best teachers are voluntarily offering more to their job.

So when it's 8:30 p.m. and you're still at school even though you were supposed to be home to join your boyfriend for dinner at 6:30 (it's like I'm speaking from experience or something...), remind yourself that it's because you are dedicated to what you do. If you keep learning new ways to become a great teacher, you will become a great teacher. In fact, that already makes you a great teacher. So looking for extra resources and asking for help is never a bad thing. It just means you are still learning. And by personal opinion, if you're doing this teaching thing right... you are always still learning.

Broken Crayons Still Color
"Miss Harper!" the distraught wail came from the back table, "She broke my crayon!!!"

Oh lord, the mutter escaped my mouth. It was Friday. Come on, people. Get through it with me... We're almost there. But no. Instead, we're going to break other people's crayons and fight about it.

And then, like an angel, the quiet voice from a sweet little kinder boy said, "Don't worry, Miss Harper, I've got it."

The boy proceeded to stand up, retrieve the tape dispenser from the class supply area, and carry it over to the girl with the severed crayon. He took it from her hands, lined it up carefully, and taped it back together. It was as if he'd been a crayon doctor all his life. He was so prepared in that moment, you'd think that's what God had made him for: to fix that poor girl's crayon.

He handed it back to her gently. "I know it's not as pretty anymore," he told her, "but that's okay. Broken crayons still color."

I was sure I'd felt my jaw hit the floor. Tears were in my eyes instantly. How many times have we felt like that? "I'm ugly, I'm broken, I'm useless." But that couldn't be further from the truth.

The reality is, we're all crayons, and we've all been broken. We've had our wrappers ripped off, our ends dented up, and some of us have literally been snapped in half. But it doesn't really matter whether you're all worn down or fresh out of the box...

All that matters is that you still color.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How I Teach Growth Mindset to Young Women

September is Growth Mindset Month here on Crayons to Confidence. And we have already established what growth mindset is, and how I teach it to young children. So now it's time to tackle another aspect for our readers more directly: how to teach it to young women.

Before I began teaching kindergarten, I worked as a high school colorguard coach in small town Missouri. By day two of our camp together, I easily recognized it as the most difficult job I'd ever had. They were unmotivated. They were rude. They talked back to me all the time, huffed at my instruction, and acted as though the very sport they auditioned for was the absolute biggest pain in their butt.

But I refused to quit. Not because I'm an insanely dedicated or thought I had exactly what these girls needed, but because I soon viewed it as a challenge to conquer, showing those girls they had no reason to be that way. That's basically the kind of the person I am.

By day four I was so frustrated that I sat them down in a circle before we began. "Do you want to be good?" I asked them.

They all just stared at me.

"I'll ask again," I said after several moments of silence, "Do you all want to be good?"

"Well, yeah..." they said.

"Great! That's wonderful to hear!" I told them. A few of them broke a smile. "But you could've fooled me."

Their faces fell.

And I shrugged. "You could've fooled me. Every time I give you anything to get better, you talk back to me, you huff at me, and you tell me you can't do it. You give up before you even try, and you get mad at me for believing in you. Why should I keep trying for you if you aren't even trying for yourself?"

One girl wasn't quite impacted enough by my tough love. "Because this is your job," she told me indifferently.

I couldn't help but laugh. "Please. I don't get paid enough to stay up past midnight writing choreography, driving two hours to get to and from your school for practices, and have you treat me like I don't know what I'm doing."

"Then why are you here?" the girl with too much nerve dared to ask.

"Because you're better than what you're giving me. But. I know it's easier to not practice and not try, so if you don't care and you're ready to give up, it'll be easier on me to not come anymore. If that's what you want."

No one said anything, so I just kept talking.

"I don't know what else to do. I don't know what else to try. So if you want to be good, and there's something you need that I'm not giving you, you just need to tell me. And I'll get it for you, I promise."

"It's harder than we thought," came a soft, sweet voice from the back, "It looked easy when you did it. But it's not."

It actually made me sick that I hadn't seen it before. "Well do you want to learn? How to make it easy?"

"Well, yeah," became the general consensus.

"Well it took me ten years to get to where I am with guard. You can get there, too. But not in four days. And not with that attitude."

Growth mindset. They needed it. Bad. But unfortunately, it's much harder to teach growth mindset to young women, because they are no longer young children. They aren't as moldable. They aren't as much of a sponge. They already have thoughts and ideas and opinions on how the world works, and they already have thoughts and ideas and opinions on how much they're worth. And about 99% of the time, they don't have it right.

It starts with a love of self. 
Can you teach this? Some say yes, some say no. And personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. There's certainly no set lesson plan. There's no formula or method. But I've found that believing in them is a good place to start. Most of the time, even if they believe in themselves, they're looking for someone who believes in them more. Who pushes them further because you know they can handle it, but who encourages and compliments them on what they already do well. Let them know they have your support, your encouragement, and your leadership. That's all a young woman really wants; from her educators, her parents, her man, her friends, etc. And the more she has that behind her, the more she will fuel and encourage and believe in herself.

Eliminate "I Can't" from their vocabulary.
You might have previously read how I don't allow my kindergarteners to use "I can't." I don't allow high schoolers to use it around me either. I don't believe in the phrase, quite frankly. Hepburn said it best... "Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I'm Possible." The more you speak those words, the more your brain believes them by default. But if you start reminding yourself that you can, with time, or effort, or practice, or whatever... your brain believes those by default also.

Place them where they can flourish. 
Too many times people believe that growth mindset functions best when a person is placed in a situation where they are heavily challenged. And that is true, sometimes. But in the beginning, it's completely natural for people to need to learn what it's like to succeed before they learn what it's like to grow. Success pushes anyone to want more success. That personal joy is contagious, and addicting. If a person has learned what it's like to shine, they will be more motivated to feel that way again. By placing them in situations they like so they can achieve success they truly enjoy, you are teaching them to work without them feeling as though they are working.

Push them, ever so slightly. 
Lots of things are too easy. Lots of things are too hard. Very few things are "just right." Finding that sweet spot is quite an art, but it's very important that you do. Find where they are comfortable and happy and just take one half step further. This teaches them to set goals but work slowly towards the success. Showing them how to trust the process forces them to find sweet successes when they reach the goal, and while they're still along the way.

Celebrate successes with them. 
This goes for any age. Any gender. Any person, really. It's just a wonderful thing to do! Successes are sweeter when shared with someone else. If you have been a complimenter, a supporter, and an encourager through the entire process, they will be so thankful when you are a celebrator as well.

Growth mindset is just as crucial in life as it is in the classroom. It's just as useful when you're an adult as it is when you're in a kindergarten classroom. It's pretty common for early childhood teachers to work toward it and teach it. But it tends to get lost somewhere along the way for young women. Once they start to question their beauty, their confidence, and their power (and they all do at some point), their growth mindset is shot to the wind. It takes constant reinforcement to ensure it stays a part of them, and it is no longer something they can learn and maintain on their own. They need the help of their educators, their parents, and one another. It's a trickier battle than it is with young students, but it's still a very important one.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

How I Teach Growth Mindset To Young Children

If you're new around here, September is when we celebrate Growth Mindset Month here on Crayons to Confidence! And since I'm such a firm believer in the concept, I dedicate a whole week to it in my classroom at the beginning of the year. All of our books, lessons, and centers focus on learning about and developing a growth mindset, and I'm here to share it all with you!

My school implements what we call the "First Fifteen," where the first fifteen school days are curriculum free. You can teach some of that if you want, but you don't have to. You have the freedom to focus on routines, procedures, class norms, and relationship building, so I toss in a full five days of growth mindset in there, too. In my humble opinion, the more a child can develop a growth mindset early on, the more they will love learning because they will not fear failure.

The Power of "YET." 
I always begin with the power of yet. I introduce several fixed-mindset phrases, and then add the word, "yet."

"I can't do this!" ...yet.

"I don't get it." ...yet.

"This doesn't work." ...yet.

"I don't know." ...yet.

"It doesn't make sense." ...yet.

"I'm not good at this." ...yet.

For kindergarteners, five minutes is forever. So if a lesson or a task makes them feel stupid, they feel as though they will never be able to get it. They feel as if their stupidity will last forever, when the truth is, no one learns anything wholly the first time around. It takes time, and effort, and then some more time. Reminding them to put "yet" at the end of their fixed-minded sentences helps them refocus their brain and stop telling themselves "I'm not good enough." You even see them begin telling themselves "In time, I'll be even better."

The Books I Read 

The Lessons I Use 
Little Engine 
Shared Reading :: We talk about things the students have done that they didn't think they'd ever be able to do.
Writing :: Students draw / write things they worked hard at and accomplished.
Math :: I show them a problem they will be able to do at the end of kindergarten. We set goals for our year, and talk about how we need to learn a bunch of little things before we can know one big thing.

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes
Shared Reading :: I introduce my students to "Miss Take" with an anchor chart. She's a good friend of mine...and she messes up ALL THE TIME! We talk about some of the crazy things she does, and students think of what she can learn from her mistakes.
Writing :: Students draw / write "letters" to Miss Take showing what she can learn from one of her mistakes.
Math :: We count Miss Take's mistakes, and we count how many things she learned from her mistakes. (**Teacher hint...she ALWAYS learns a lot more than the number of mistakes she made!)

The Dot
Shared Reading :: We read The Dot, and each make a "boring," little dot on anchor chart paper with paint on our fingertips! We use our little fingerprint dots to make one, big, beautiful, multi-colored class dot. And just like the book, we all sign it.
Writing :: Students begin by drawing a dot! Then, elaborate your drawing. Use pictures and words to make your own story. Be ready to share with a buddy!
Math :: Each student gets a set of popsicle sticks with numbers 1-10, and a small container of "dot" beads. They line up the number of beads on the correlating popsicle stick.

What Do You Do With A Problem 
Shared Reading :: I introduce turn and talk on this day. During the story, students share problems they've had, and ways they solved that problem. They also brainstorm what the little boy might do with his problem in the story! We take this time to really dive in to some mental health education. We talk about worrying, anxiety, conflict resolution, and problem solving.
Writing :: Students use words and pictures to share a problem they had, and how they fixed it / how they could have fixed it. They love sharing how much of an "anxiety warrior" they were when they fixed their problem!
Math :: We play a math version of Headbands! I have a set of cards; half contains a number (i.e. 4) and half contains a visual representation drawing (i.e. 4 hearts). Each child gets one card taped to their head! They have to walk around to solve their problem and find their other half before the timer runs out! (Prompt them to use counting, number lines, hundreds charts, etc. for strategies.)

What Do You Do With An Idea
Shared Reading :: I begin by telling them about an idea I have. I really like oatmeal. But I never seem to have time to fix oatmeal for breakfast! So I was thinking... What if I made little crunchy oat circles that I can eat with milk really fast so I still get to eat oatmeal each morning? They all laugh and say ewwww! because crunchy oatmeal sounds disgusting! But then we eat some Cheerios together, and they say I love Cheerios! and I say Me too! Guess what Cheerios are? Yep. Crunchy little oat circles. Sometimes ideas seem a silly, but they really turn in to something big!
Writing :: Yamada concludes the story with the realization of what you do with an change the world! Students use pictures and words to share an idea they have / had that can help them change the world.
Math :: I have 20-piece puzzles of different ideas that people had and brought to life. Stop lights, pencils, cell name it! On the back of these puzzle-pieces I have numbered them, in order, 1-20. Students put the puzzles together in order of the number, and flip the puzzle to see what idea they made!

Eliminating "I Can't" From Their Vocabulary
As a kindergarten teacher, I can deal with a lot of things. Bathroom accidents, glue spills, tear-induced melt-downs...but there are two things I do not tolerate. I do not let my students treat others disrespectfully, and I do not let them tell me they can't do something.

I start by showing my students several scenarios of when they would use "I can't." They usually agree that it's not a very good growth mindset to use "I can't," in this moment, so I make them sign a contract! Then, as the year goes on and they begin to get frustrated or lose confidence in their work, "I can't," starts popping up again. If they say it and break their contract, they get five tickets to keep at their desk. They have five days (one ticket per day) to prove themselves show themselves that they can in fact do what they said they couldn't do. When they prove themselves wrong, they get to put their tickets into our class cup, and the class is one step closer to their reward party!

If you're a teacher, feel free to email me with any questions you have, and let me know how I can help you bring growth mindset to your classroom! If you're a parent, babysitter, or someone else involved heavily with children, stick around in the next few weeks for how you can help your child establish a growth mindset, even out of the classroom.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Happy Growth Mindset Month!

It's officially September, and you know what that means! Boots, sweatshirts, and coffee for sure...but also, it's Growth Mindset Month here on Taxis, Tots and Polka Dots! And now that I have a classroom all to myself, I intend on taking full advantage of it.

See, I'm a firm believer in the concept, and I use it in just about every aspect of my job (and I try to use it in just about every aspect of my life). Unfortunately, though, very few other people reciprocate the same stress and importance on the concept in their own life. Not because they don't want to or don't see the value in it, but often because they haven't the slightest idea what it even is.

So what is growth mindset anyway?

Growth mindset is exactly what it sounds like: it's a shift in thinking (or a change in literal mindset) that affects the way your brain interprets negative stimuli. And negative stimuli comes from everywhere. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. The trick begins with focusing more on the process (of learning and discovering) rather than the product (of looking smart and showing off).

You probably know a few people who already embody this mentality. They're the friends who are looking at the bright side when you just want to vent. They're the ones encouraging you when you'd rather have someone to complain to. They're a refreshing batch to be around if you also have a growth mindset. They're an annoying batch to be around if you don't.

They're the ones always believing that their intelligence and talent can be taken to the next level. It's more than just motivation and positivity; they genuinely believe that hard work, constructive criticism, and careful strategies can empower them into innovation. And because of this, they are ultimately more successful.

The opposite of this forward-thinking group is the clan of fixed-minded individuals. They are focused on what they can do and what they can't do, but never on what could change what they can't do or what would make what they can do even better. This leads them to become deceptive cheaters in school and in the workplace because they are more focused on having the advantage and title than they are on improving themselves. They'd rather be seen as the most successful than the most improved, when the truth is that the most improved are the most successful.

No one possesses a growth mindset by nature, nor do they acquire it without actively working towards it individually and surrounding themselves with growth-minded people. It's not a character trait like flexibility or open mindedness or positivity. If you have a growth mindset now, you have not always had one, and it is wrong to assume you always will have one if you don't make an active effort to keep it.

And for my teachers out there, it's actually not all about behavior. It's hardly about behavior at all. Possessing a growth mindset does not mean someone is a kiss-up or a teacher's pet. In fact, it's quite the opposite. If you have a growth mindset, you are not working for the approval and validation of other people. Instead, you are working for the improvement and fulfillment from within yourself.

Growth mindset doesn't make you perfect. It doesn't make you smarter, or more talented, or more successful. But what it does do is give you a solid foundation of intrinsic motivation and confidence in yourself, and those two things (paired with hard work and persistence) make you smarter, and more talented, and more successful.

It seems impossible to fully attain. And to be fair, it is. A purely perfect growth mindset doesn't exist. We are all some combination of growth and fixed mindset (because we are only human), though most of us lean more of one way than the other. And most educators who harp on growth mindset in their classrooms (like me) are dedicated to ensuring that the majority of our next generation grows up leaning more towards the growth mindset.

So stay tuned during September because we'll be touching on a new aspect of this important month each week. Introducing your students / young children to growth mindset may be the absolute best thing you can do for them, because if you can make them love the learning and improvement process, it's hard to stand in their way when they do much of anything else. And if we can equip a stronger, more confident, more dedicated next generation, then we have done our job.