Sunday, February 14, 2016

From the Teacher's Desk- Growth Mindsets

I've got a few minutes this morning, so I want to continue my "Teacher's Desk" thoughts. But first, an apology. In my first post titled "From the Teacher's Desk," I had a parents vs. teachers mentality. I'm sorry about that. I recently read another blog post that was written from a parent perspective that made the teachers out to be the "bad guys." I recognized the tendency to do the opposite in my writing from time to time. Parents, I'm sorry. We're in this together. Parents and educators need to work together for children to develop the ability to thrive in this ever-changing, challenging world. I'm sorry for promoting and "us" (teachers) vs. "them" (parents) mindset in my last post. That's wrong, and I'm sorry. Let's be on the same team from now on. :)

So this morning I want to write about growth mindsets. The article that catalyzed this series of posts was called "Maintaining a Growth Mindset." A growth mindset means that one's view of oneself (and others) is not fixed. The article focused mostly on intelligence, so, in that context, a person sees their intelligence as something that grows throughout life. Rather than identifying themselves as "smart" or "not smart" sometime in school, a student sees their intellect as something that is capable of growing.

This resonated with me because it matches my personal experience. When I was young, I thought that I was "smart," but in high school I struggled with math. By the time I was a sophomore, I had labeled myself as a "humanities" kid. Math and science were NOT my thing. Senior year, I struggled so much in calculus that I lost my place in the National Honor Society and in my "exit" interview, the faculty advisor of NHS had a candid conversation with me that made a big impact. When she asked me what I wanted to do when I was finished with high school, I told her about my plan to go to N.C. State for vet school. She told me that I would probably not make it through my "weed out" science courses and  advised that I consider studying something that was closer to my natural ability- like writing. ;)

When I tell people that story, they're often surprised. Teachers rarely say things like that anymore. It was a tough conversation, to be sure, and it influenced where I went to college. I doubted my ability to be successful studying science, so I went to a liberal arts school. I think that if I had a conversation with a student under similar circumstances, I might word things a little differently than she did, but I see the good in what she was trying to do. She was trying to be honest with me. She was telling me what we both knew was true- I wasn't good at math. The thing was, we both had fixed mindsets. She and I both believed, at that time, that my native intelligence in the area of math and science was a fixed entity. It turned out that we were both wrong. By the grace of God, I ended up with a Biology professor and a group of friends at Wake Forest my freshman year who did not see things the same way. As I moved my way through Dr. Lord's comparative physiology class as a freshman at Wake Forest, things began to change. I understood the processes of biology better than I had in high school. My interest led me to Dr. Lord's office hours. I sat there on a regular basis, waiting to ask her questions. My curiosity and interest impacted the way that I studied, and the way that I viewed my aptitude in Biology. I went from C's to B's to A's. The same thing was happening to me in calculus. A combination of cognitive growth and hard work was changing the way that I approached math and science, the way that I learned, and my willingness to challenge myself in this area of study.

Transitioning from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset made a major impact on the course of my life. Here I am- a science teacher- and that would never have happened if I had remained in a fixed mindset. But research shows that the impact of fixed mindsets goes way beyond academic performance and career options.

Research shows that students who adopt a growth mindset are more willing to challenge themselves and end up learning more over the course of time. Fixed mindset students do not. The benefits of growth mindsets include broader and deeper knowledge, better performance and less anxiety. I'd wager the impact is even greater and affects self-esteem, relationships, character and value systems.

When I began to read the article, I first thought of fixed mindset students as those students who, like me, have struggled in some area.  But, actually, as I read on, I realized that fixed mindsets are more prevalent in some of my top students. Here's an example. If I give my students a challenge- let's say the challenge is to research something and then give an oral report before their peers- students will respond differently based on their mindsets. Students with a fixed mindset are anxious about this type of assignment. For the student who has a "not smart" fixed mindset, they might see the challenge as beyond their innate ability. They see themselves as incapable of discovering things for themselves, and will often struggle just to get started. Students with a "smart" fixed mindset will approach the assignment with a different type of anxiety. Because they see themselves as "smart" to begin with, it's almost mildly offensive to them to suggest that they need to research something. I realize that might sound odd, but in world run by Google, kids have access to a tremendous amount of information and you'd be amazed what "smart" kids think they already know, or ought to know.  This type of student will feel the pressure to perform perfectly to prove to you and their peers that they are "smart." They value the performance more than the process, and anxiously anticipate the grade that you will give them. It's the grade that matters to them most because the grade validates what they already know to be true- they are smarter than everyone else. Students with a growth mindset are free to go about this with a completely different perspective. They don't expect to perform perfectly because they recognize that they're in a process of growth. Their goal is to come out of the project knowing more than they did going into it, so they are not paralyzed by self-doubt or false-confidence. When the goal is to learn, the challenge is its own reward.

When you expand the idea of fixed mindset beyond the walls of a classroom, it's alarming. When students see themselves and everyone around them with a fixed mindset, then there is nowhere to go. Today is all that matters. How they look or perform, whether they are accepted or rejected, is everything. So when things do not go well, as they inevitably will from time to time, students are left in despair, questioning their worth and baffled by other students who are performing better at that moment in time.  And with social media, everyone is aware of one another's successes. Whether its a sports victory, a relationship status or even something as trivial as a new lipstick shade- everyone, everywhere sees it and compares themselves to it.

 Growth mindsets offer much more freedom. If something is academically challenging early on in school, the years ahead are an opportunity to improve.  If they go through a period of time when it's difficult to make friends, they can look forward to other phases of life when lasting relationships might be found. If they struggle with body image, particularly during the awkward years of adolescent, there's the rest of your life to develop into a lovely person, both inside and out. Growth mindsets don't count on every life event turning into an Instagramable moment. The rest of your life is out there, waiting for you to grow into it.

So, what can we do? As parents, grandparents, educators? Here are some practical suggestions:

1) Practice "process praise." This concept comes from the article I read. Process praise is when you praise children for actual effort you see them putting forth as they work toward a goal. Praise them for the hours of piano practice, not just the wonderful recital. Praise them for asking good questions as they work on a project, instead of just giving them an A and a sticker. Praise them for coming home from practice dripping sweat, instead of just telling them "good game."

2) Stop pretending. You know that car commercial with the participation trophy? Where the dad writes in "champions." That commercial nails this idea. When adults pretend like everything is a victory, then nothing is a victory. When you act like a kid did something amazing, when they really haven't done anything at all, you're sending them a message that says they're not actually capable of doing anything. This society has decided it doesn't want "winners" because that means that someone is a "loser", but only people with fixed mindsets are afraid of losing. Growth mindsets aren't fearful of losing, because a loss is an opportunity for growth, not static feedback on who you are as a human being. A recent example of this can be seen in the Carolina Panthers. When asked about their Super Bowl loss to the Broncos, Coach Ron Rivera said he hoped his team would learn from the Broncos. Two years ago, the Broncos suffered an embarrassing loss to the Seahawks, but they came back and won Super Bowl 50. He wanted his team to respond the same way. Growth mindset and great coaching. But NFL MVP Cam Newton? He couldn't even sit through a post-game interview. His fixed mindset about being a super-star cost him the opportunity to be a team leader and positive role model to young athletes. He can't see the loss as an opportunity to grow. He just pouted. He saw himself as unstoppable. They made commercials about it. Now, the loss is insufferable because his fixed mindset gave him nowhere to go. He had to keep performing as a super-star. To not be able to do that in the Super Bowl left him disillusioned and disappointed. It's really sad, and, honestly, I feel sorry for Cam. He's part of a generation of young athletes who believe the same way. Glad he has a good coach who can help him overcome that type of thinking.

3) Let kids fail. We all have to stop freaking out when kids mess up. When parents and teacher always rush in to "undo" a failure for kids, we're telling them that they can't get anything out of the negative experience. We're saying that the reality of disappointment is not livable, so we're going to make it go away. Seriously, guys, we have GOT to stop doing this. We all know that it's just not true. God is so clear that He allows his people to go through times of suffering and hardship and that He does that because he wants us to grow and learn to rely on Him. James writes, that testing produces perseverance..."let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." Our kids are going to lack perspective, tenacity, humility, grit, determination and endurance if we swoop in an make it all go away.

Well, my time is up for now, but I hope this shed a little light on growth mindset. Let me know what you think!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Eight Months with Story Lamm

Taking a chance to mommy-blog this weekend before sharing more thoughts from the teacher's desk. I have given up on writing a Story update each month. Life is just too exhausting for that. It's not that I don't have "time," I just don't have energy. Working and keeping things going takes up nearly every ounce of energy, so writing gets pushed to the back burner, sadly. But this weekend, Andy has drill and I'm not feeling super great. Story and I are taking the day to just stay home, so here's a bit of an update on the past few months.

Before Thanksgiving, Andy and I took Story to one of my favorite Austin events- the Junior League Christmas Affair, or, as Andy likes to call it, the "drunk debutante fair." For my Fayetteville friends, this is basically the Austin version of the Holly Day Fair. I love kicking off the holidays with a good shopping trip, and Andy likes to people watch, so it's fun for the whole family. ;) 

My parents and brother came to visit for Thanksgiving. Grant, Andy and I ran the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. We decorated for Christmas, watched lots of football and started our Christmas puzzle. It was perfect.
Sweet little smocked dress from Grandmomma. I have more Thanksgiving pics, but I don't think I'll have time to share them on this post.  
The weeks leading up to Christmas were fun and went by so fast. I had fun dressing Story up in pretty Christmas clothes, and we kept our family tradition of Advent Sunday suppers. But I didn't really cook anything fancy this year. Kind of hard to spend any extra time in the kitchen. But, even when daddy was at drill, Story and I still had a sit-down supper and lit our Advent wreath. 

We got excited for our 21 hour road trip to Grandmommy's! 

We thought we would leave at night and let Story sleep through. Haha, rookie mistake... we soon found out that Story sleeping through the night in the crib is NOT the same as Story sleeping through the night in the car. But, we hopefully kept our tradition and took pictures in front of our Christmas tree,just before getting into the car for our long drive. 

Andy worked on the car to get it ready for the trip, but (we later found out) that he had been sold a bad part, and so we had car trouble the first night, which forced us to stop in Louisiana. Story also got sick with a really bad cold, and had trouble sleeping, so it was a good thing we stopped. We drove all day the next day, but had to stop again in Georgia. The next morning we woke up to a flat tire. Finally, on the third day, we made it to my Uncle Richard's house in Columbia, SC, where we met up with Grandmommy. We were revived by a delicious lunch, put out by my Aunt Kaye, who had kept the fried chicken away from my Uncle Richard until our arrival- a more difficult task than you might think. 

When we got to Grandmommy's, we all got sick. That was disappointing, but we were thankful that if all three of us were going to be sick, that we were at Granmomma's where there was plenty of help! 

Story tried food for the first time on Christmas Eve. I think we gave her some rice cereal and fruit. It was pretty anti-climactic. She's come a long way since then. 

Here are some pictures from Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day. It was unseasonably warm (thanks, El Nino) but I'm still thankful that my baby girl got to spend her first Christmas on Water Oaks Farm. 

Story and I got a little bit of time to visit with some of our Fayetteville friends- here we are at the park with Annabelle, JP and Simmie and Minnie. I think all three mommas are wishing for more of these moments in the future! 

Some of the best moments about holidays are the unscripted ones. We had some great holiday gatherings, but I think my favorite thing about Christmas is the lounging around, eating, drinking cup after cup of coffee or tea and watching endless bowl games. 

For New Year's Eve, Andy and I actually had big plans. We had tickets for the Avett Brothers concert in Greensboro. Andy found us a great B&B in High Point, and we left baby girl with Grandmomma and Granddaddy. I think everyone was pretty stoked about that arrangement. I enjoyed some champagne, NC peanuts and a bubble bath before the concert. The Avett Brothers put on a spectacular show, and I'm pretty sure the grandparents weren't too sad about being the first faces baby girl saw in 2016. 

Coming home after New Years gave us no time to settle back in before our routine started back up. It was a tough transition. The routine can be tough. We're all still in BSF on Monday nights. Andy has started working out at 5:30AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays (good job, baby!) and we both put in our forty hours. My favorite things during the week are feeding Story breakfast in the mornings and taking afternoon walks with the jogging stroller.

Playing at BSF while momma listens to lecture in the cry room. 

Walks after school are momma's favorite. Serial is back... Sarah Koenig is my hero. 

She woke up like this. 

Bundled up in the beautiful blue sweater her Marmie gave her. 

Waiting for hymn time at BSF

Go Pack bib at breakfast. 

One of Story's first real food "likes"- Grits!!! 

An afternoon walk to the park. 
Weekends are so precious. I love letting Story sleep until she wants to get up on her own. It's no fun waking a baby up at 6:45 every morning. I don't even really know what we do on weekends. Catch up on chores? Church? Try to get out to the city? Watch some Broncos? I think so. It all seems like a blur.

Heading to church one chilly morning. I'm all about smocked dresses to church. 

Gats is laying on me!! 

Daddy's work gave us this LuminexBaby onesie

Owl hat is a gift from Annabelle. It also serves as a sleep mask. 

Sometimes you just need to go to Cracker Barrel in your owl hat. 

Another beautiful dress from Grandmommy. 

Baby Bronco! 

We had a treat last week. My parents were in town because my dad had a conference here in Austin. It was a relief to have them here for a few days. Story looks relieved to be back with her Granddaddy.

Grandmomma made chicken and pastry one night, which has definitely been Story's favorite thing she's eaten. I've never seen a baby go so crazy about a meal. We also got to take her out for ice cream, which was Granddaddy's dream come true. I somehow managed to not take any pics of that event, but I know Granddaddy took a few. ;) Andy and I got to go out on a date, for which we could barely stay away, but, hey, we tried. And we got these sweet pictures of Story with her grandparents before she and I headed to church and the grandparents made their way to the airport.

This sweet little bubble is from Lacy's Nana. 

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Story has three teeth now. She eats pretty well and her favorites are chicken and pastry, grits and fresh banana. She can sit up pretty confidently, but still takes a tumble every now and then, so we have to be careful. She's starting to get up on hands and knees, but not crawling quite yet. She loves to be held, LOVES her doggies, especially Gatsby and no one can make her squeal with pure joy like her daddy. One of my favorite things is picking a place for us to meet in our dreams at night. I tell Story all about places I've been and ask her to meet me there in a dream. Some of our favorites are: London, the Pamlico River, the Carolina seashore, the Blue Ridge parkway, camping inYosemite, skiing in Colorado and NC strawberry picking with Grandmomma.

Story is such a sweet little spirit. She's my sweet pea and I adore her. What a beautiful girl. Truly a gift every single day.

Sorry that this blog is not more visually appealing. I would love to get all these pictures looking really nice, but I just do not have time. If I waited for it to look perfect, I would never get it done. So I choose good enough and will continue to share.