What if we all stopped trying to be perfect and start learning from our errors?
Teachers naturally want to perform well and do an exemplary job in the classroom. We want our students and co-workers to see us as amazing! We put forth so much effort trying to achieve greatness that we may be missing great learning opportunities. The effort and mistakes we make could lead us to learning new lessons or deepening our understanding. Dwek’s idea of a growth mindset can have an impact on collaboration and teacher growth. If a teacher has a fixed mindset, they may view the success of others as a failure of their own. They see weakness in making mistakes or they may not try to implement new ideas because of the fear of failure of making a mistake. When someone achieves great things, that makes teachers with a fixed mindset feel discouraged or inadequate. Teachers with a growth mindset are more likely to share ideas and collaborate because the conversations could lead to both teachers learning. They are more likely to try, and sometimes fail, at new strategies or ideas because they believe the failure leads to learning. Teachers should be encouraged to see others’ success as a way to grow, collaborate, and share information to have an impact on all learners.
This translates directly to students. Students may want to impress their teachers and peers. The growth mindset can encourage learners to see their mistakes and the success of others as a way to grow and learn. These students will often embrace challenges and risk failure to grow. When teachers push their students to complete difficult tasks that they may not know how to solve, they can push them to try new strategies or require them to depend on peers for help and support. In addition, teachers can become more aware of areas to reteach and focus instruction when errors occur and identified by students.
Everyone has the desire to be successful, but success often comes after a long line of mistakes and errors.
Michael is an Instructional Coach at Alcoa Elementary School. He has been an educator for 11 years. He received the East Tennessee PreK-4 Teacher of the Year in 2014 and the Wal-Mart teacher of the year in 2004. Michael is currently working on the Tennessee Standards Mathematics Review Committee and as a Teacher Partner in his school collaborating with teachers to impact student achievement. He was a Common Core Mathematics Coach in 2013. He is a graduate of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a Bachelor’s of Science and a Masters Degree in Child and Family Studies. He holds an Education Specialist Degree in Instructional Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.
This is the first in a four-part series dedicated to the effects of the words and phrases teachers and education officials use and how they shape the culture of schools and student learning.
Part 1: The Language of Deflation and Motivation
There is an estimated 40 percent high school students who are chronically disengaged, according to a 2003 National Research Council report on motivation. Motivating students, particularly struggling learners, is often one of the most challenging jobs for a teacher. Once a student is hooked, a supreme accomplishment has taken place. The quest to maintain that motivation begins at this point. It can be very tempting for a teacher to want to encourage a student to attempt a problem by reassuring him or her that it can be accomplished.
“I know you can do it; just try, it’s an easy problem.”
The teacher who makes this statement is very often making every effort to hold on to the progress that has been achieved. The intentions can be positive, but the result is not. Two possible outcomes will occur from this exchange and both are negative. First, if the there was any desire to attempt the problem before, the student certainly is not going to waste his time with something you have determined to be simple. But what if that student was engaged and worked diligently to arrive at the right answer? What if the student applied those skills the teacher taught, was incredibly proud, and finally connected the dots between hard work and their achievement? The teacher walks by and follows with the comment from above. “See, it was easy.” It was not easy for the student. In fact, it was difficult, but the student solved the problem correctly. The teacher has just destroyed the progress the student has made academically as well as ruined the self-esteem that was built from solving a complex problem. Who cares that the student got it correct; it was easy.
Motivating our students becomes increasingly difficult each year, but so does determining which students are actually motivated and engaged. The very last thing any of us ever wants to do is deflate the efforts or progress that a hard working student is making. Using the word “easy” loosely in the classroom is one way that can happen quickly. Refer back to the previous scenario. A student is sitting in a desk and might or might not be disengaged from the day’s assignment. The teacher, looking to use level of difficulty as a bargaining tool to coax what appears to be an inactive learner, reassures the student in the hope of getting some work out of the student.
“Come on, this is an easy one. Just give it a try.”
The only problem is, it is not easy, and the student is not inactive, he is struggling. That phrase now permeates in the mind of the child as he continues to sit there, gazing pointlessly at a problem that may be too abstract or use vocabulary he does not recognize. Learning is difficult enough. Learning things that are supposed to be easy? That is deflating to any person, adult or child. The teacher, regardless of his or her best intentions, makes the student feel stupid.
Commit to your Kids
Students know every concept they learn is challenging, so there is value in every target that is achieved. I never have to address the topic of relevancy with my classes because the relevance lies in learning something of great difficulty. So reflect on the way you provide formative feedback to your students. Have you diminished any accomplishments lately? Changing the language by removing a small word makes such an impact in improving the daily learning climate of a classroom.
Marc Walls has taught science at Northeast High School for two years. He has served as a leader in STEM integration, facilitating in services during the summer and serving as a mentor to elementary and middle school teachers. Marc worked with a team of colleagues to rewrite the physical science curriculum used in his school system. He is a graduate of his district’s Leadership Development course and was accepted into the Aspiring Administrator’s Academy. Marc was selected for the Partners in Policymaking Leadership Institute as an advocate for Autism awareness and active volunteer in his community. He is a graduate of Austin Peay State University and hold’s a Master of School Administration from Bethel University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.
“One Tribe” is our school’s motto. Our team is a tribe. Merriam-Webster defines a tribe as:
1a : a social group comprising numerous families, clans, or generations…
2 : a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest
A tribe works together in an organized fashion, as a team, to achieve common interests or goals. Teamwork has a lot to do with successful students.
Academic success for any student requires a tribe of educationalists, community members, parents, and staff working towards a clearly defined vision with measurable goals and needs based, data-driven, interventions. District-wide guiding tenets and state standards serve as a foundation to help schools and communities build and modify collaborative processes to address demonstrated needs.
An important term is “demonstrated needs,” which vary from student to student. Every day schools are addressing needs from academic to socio-emotional. Every day it takes a tribe of people to recognize, address, and meet those needs so students can experience success. Success is not equal for all students. Every educator knows that some students have more barriers to overcome. It takes a tribe to remove these barriers or at least make them manageable for the students in the tribe.
Every single person in the school is part of the tribe, but the tribe extends beyond the school. The tribe extends into the community, into homes, and across the state. The legislature is passing the communal law for the tribe, so educators need to exercise their voices. Educators need to answer all of those surveys we get every year. The tribe has to have clear communication. It’s hard to design a well-orchestrated plan of success if the parts of the whole are not communicating. Communication has to be clear among legislators, schools, parents, and students.
All students can be successful when student success is addressed collaboratively. As Andrew Carnegie said, “Teamwork… is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Amazing things happen when everyone works towards a common, well designed vision to provide ALL students with a world-class and student-focused education. It’s great to be part of the tribe.
Amanda has taught English at Dobyns Bennett High School for the past five years. In that time, Amanda has served as the English 9 CoTaught Team Leader, English 10 CoTaught Team Leader, CoPresident of the Alpha Zeta Chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa International Honor Society for Women Educators and on the Tennessee Digital Learning Team. Throughout her career she has served as a school-wide Title I coordinator, school-level testing coordinator and 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant coordinator. She holds a Bachelors and Masters degree from East Tennessee State University. In 2010, she earned an Educational Specialist degree in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.