In the year before the COVID-19 pandemic, two of my grandparents died, both of whom were pillars in different branches of my family. On the fourth yahrzeit of my grandfather’s death a couple of months ago, my stepmom shared Maya Angelou’s poem, When Great Trees Fall, in his memory. I had never heard of the poem before but have returned to it many times in the weeks since as I reflect on the losses, silences, and birth in myself, in our educational systems, and in our society over the past few years.
When my grade 9 math students ask me when they are going to use the skills of graphing lines or solving systems of equations in their daily lives, my honest answer is that, depending on what they decide to do in life, they might not. But, I explain, I hope that I am teaching them other life skills that will benefit them no matter what they decide to do.
I first heard of growth mindset about three years ago when I had to do a mandatory professional development module at the end of the school year for my district. At a time when I am usually run-down and exhausted, this learning exhilarated me: I realized growth mindset could be a game-changer in the classroom. Carol Dweck says, “In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
I think about growth mindset all the time, almost daily. The first time it reveals itself to me is in the morning when my twelve-year-old daughter asks me to braid her hair before school. You see, I’m not good at it. Usually I am rushing through the process because of the stress of weekday mornings and the fact that I know I’m not very good at it.
Around the end of May of last year, when spring seemed it might actually be arriving, Kate found herself in the midst of a heated conference with one of our students, Jordan. The 7th graders were drafting their responses to personal essay questions commonly seen on independent school applications. The question they were working on that day was, “Considering all your classes, what has been the most difficult topic that you studied this year? Why was it difficult and what did you learn from the experience?”