Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Power of Yet

In February 2014 Dr. Carol Dweck gave a TEDxTalk titled "The Power of Yet." (The video is long and simply extends a lot of her growth mindset work. If you're not familiar with growth mindset, a short video that underscores her research can be found here, "The Effect of Praise on Mindsets.") The title "The Power of Yet" reminded me of a comment I heard from Dr. Kylene Beers as she realized how important it was to tell struggling students that they were working on a problem or project they couldn't complete yet.

With the Labor Day weekend behind, most of the rest of the schools in the country are starting up and those that started in August are regrouping after the holiday weekend, perhaps settling into their stride of pace and schedule. In the Sunday supplement of the Chicago Tribune was a piece on what teachers wish all parents would ask and it made me think of this power of yet as far too many parents as well as some teachers and administrators have unreasonable expectations for students.

One teacher noted she wished the parents of her students would believe more in their kids and their kids' capabilities. ". . .some parents fail to challenge or push their child academically in fear that, if their child is not successful. . . " It really doesn't matter what comes after that because the key here is what parents, teachers, and, therefore, children believe is "success." In Dr. Dweck's opening remarks she notes that a school gave students a grade of "not yet" when a student didn't pass a test.

Is success the final grade or success the actual, true, real effort the child put into learning? Is success the final grade that might be because of the work a parent did or the actual, true, real effort the child put into learning? Is success the child's understanding of what he can do well as well as the areas in which he struggles? Is success the child's development of skills and strategies to help compensate for her struggles? Is success encouraging a child to work around, behind, over, in spite of struggle because some day it might be that those struggles are no longer struggles? Or success a GPA or a grade?

Even though we seem to have plenty of business owners and hiring organizations that don't count a GPA as a mark of success, we also seem to have far too much emphasis on a grade. I'm not saying grades aren't important. For some students, they are a benchmark or evidence of their effort and their learning and legitimately so. For other students grades cloud the evidence of their effort and their learning which might be expressed in a different way.

Just as teachers need to believe in their students' abilities, so do parents and so do the students. Parents and students need to be realistic about their strengths and honest about their weaknesses, but academic weaknesses are not the end of the world. I think academic weaknesses might be a window to real possibilities because those weaknesses may close windows, even doors so that students can focus on their true strengths and capabilities which may lead to their true passions and futures.

Most parents want their kids to be successful, but they also want their kids to be happy. Part of learning is figuring out what success might look like and what happiness might feel like. While parents need to be aware of what their students are learning in school and should most definitely have conversations with teachers to find out concrete ways in which they might help their students at home, one of the most important ways that parents can help is to believe that their kids are capable of doing good work and that their time will come if they work hard and persevere, seeking to find their own path and their own way to success. And to help their kids believe in the power of yet.

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