Are We Reaching Them? A Story about Growth Mindset

Often times I sit in my office after students and teachers have gone for the day and wonder;

“Are we doing the right thing for students?”
“Are we making a difference?”
“Are we reaching them?”

Yes, I admit, often times it is hard to see the forest through the trees, but as the leader of a campus, those are the questions I ask myself to help hold me accountable. Do I doubt myself? Sometimes. Can I answer the questions honestly? I better. If I cannot answer them honestly, I am cheating our students out of the best experiences and opportunities I can provide them.

Lately, I have been enamored with what students say. Working with students between the ages of 5-11 I am reminded daily of just how much our students absorb even when we do not think they are. As the saying goes…kids say the darnedest things.

Growth mindset is one of the many things we share with students as we strive to empower our students to persevere and overcome obstacles they may encounter in school and in life. As the school year began, we welcomed many students who were not with us last year, and with that, considered it an opportunity to begin discussing growth mindset with a group of students that may not have been exposed to it yet.

As the weeks went on, it was obvious I had a student in a lower grade level (KN-2nd) who would benefit from spending some time with a student in an older grade (3rd-5th) as we continue to set some expectations and continue to discuss growth mindset. You see, this young many we will refer to as Franklin did not have a growth mindset. I knew that. He had no idea. More importantly, he did not want to know…yet. Franklin did not have anyone to look up to in life (according to him) and as I got to know him better, I quickly realized he would benefit from a mentor. (Even though, he did not want one) While I worked to secure an adult mentor, I knew just the student in 5th grade who could serve as a role model for this young man.

The following is the exchange that occurred between Franklin and the 5th grade student as I introduced them for the first time.

Me: “Franklin, this is Joe (for the sake of this story). Joe is a 5th grader who is a great role model.”
Franklin: “I know him. He goes to the Boys & Girls Club. I do not need a role model.”
Me: “Fair enough. He is not a role model then, just a 5th grade student who can help in letting you know what is expected of students at Sigler.”
Franklin: “I know what is expected.”
Joe: “What do you like about school?”
Franklin: “I do not like school.”
Joe: “Why don’t you like school.”
Franklin: “I do not like to read. I am not good at it.”
Joe: “That is a fixed mindset. You need to have a growth mindset. With a growth mindset you could have said, I am not good at it yet.”

They continued to talk back and forth after that, but to be honest, I do not remember what was said.

We were doing something right. This 5th grade student…we reached him. He got it. He was modeling a growth mindset right before my tear filled eyes.

The moral of the story…often times we do not realize as educators just how much our students are absorbing. We do not realize we are reaching them because we do not give them the opportunity to demonstrate and model what they know.

My intentions were pure when I sought out this opportunity and I was not thinking, not even for a moment this 5th grade student would make me as proud as he did.

While I was seeking an opportunity for one student to positively impact another, I received a gift that reminded me, “we are reaching them” we just need to be reminded of it from time to time.

4 thoughts on “Are We Reaching Them? A Story about Growth Mindset”

  1. This is a great reflection Matt because you are hitting at the core questions… are we making the difference… are we doing the right thing for students… are we reaching them. The mere fact that the leader of the campus is asking those questions means that you and your campus are working for kids. Just as you reminded yourself, you are making that difference. Good on you for taking the time to reflect, question and share. That is part of what makes you the leader you are.

    Keep reflecting and sharing.

  2. Having a growth mindset is a critical life skill. As a campus leader, I've noticed that people (staff, students, everyone) who has a growth mindset has an easier time learning new things, growing and overcoming obstacles. In general people with a growth mindset have a positive attitude.

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