The Power of Yet

I love to drop in on classes for five to fifteen minutes. Most often I leave having learned something about how a student learns or the way a teacher teaches. Occasionally, however, I learn something that makes me have the cliche, “Aha!” moment. That just happened. After leaving the fifth grade humanities class, I immediately sent the two teachers a thank you and sat down to write this.

As I walked in the room the students were watching a video of a dog trying, unsuccessfully, to carry a large stick across a narrow bridge. Cute, without a doubt. The students described what they saw as the dog persisted and, eventually, figured out how to carry the stick at an angle. Aileen and Ally then connected this video clip to the word “yet.” The dog did not give up thinking, “I can’t do it” – if dogs think such things.  Instead the adorable brown lab thought, “I can’t do it yet” and kept trying, eventually succeeding.

“Yet,” we learned (I was absolutely now a student), is the suffix of a growth mindset.  Someone with a growth mindset believes that intelligence is not a fixed trait and that effort can make someone smarter.  While the fixed mindset says, “I can’t do it,”  the growth mindset says, “I can’t do it, yet.” Our fifth grade humanities students went on to talk about how they can improve in humanities through effort, the fundamental tenet of the growth mindset.

The real gem of the class, though, was the insight shared by one of the students.  When asked what the person filming the dog was doing, one student said, “She is teaching the dog.”  Indeed, had that person put down the camera and carried the stick across the bridge, the dog would not have learned.  The dog might have forever thought, “I can’t do it.”  Instead, camera in hand, that person allowed the dog to learn, to realize the power of yet.

While I have read Carol Dweck’s Mindset and even taught her Brainology curriculum (Dweck is the originator of the growth mindset), I learned two new things about the growth mindset in just five minutes of 5th grade humanities:

  1. Simply adding the word “yet” can help shift us from fixed mindset to growth mindset.

  2. It is the job of a teacher to teach the growth mindset and, more importantly, allow a student the time to realize her or his own “yet.”

That was a good five minutes of class!

Two Truths About Children

“Mimi has a lot of rules.”  Harrison (just five years old) offered this gem about my mother – Mimi to him – from the back seat of the car as we headed off to an ocean-side playground when visiting my parents in Maine.  Before Robin or I could jump in to say, “We have noticed that too!” he followed up with, “I really like it and think we could have some more rules at our house.  Can we decide on some new rules?”  Robin and I smiled.

Harrison was reminding us that children love structure. Clear expectations and guidelines give children of all ages the comfort they need to relax and be their best.  While pre-K students will just come out and say it, even our eighth graders last year admitted to me that they love our uniform, one form of MTS structure, as much as they love to complain about it.  Responsive Classroom, the social emotional learning program that will focus on community and the internal lives of students in our lower school classrooms, is one particularly good way for us as a school to build and clarify structure.  At this summer’s Responsive Classroom training (thank you to all our Fund-A-Need donors!) all of our homeroom teachers received a copy of The First Six Weeks of School, a book that I know well from Robin’s own teaching practice.  This book teaches us that if we invest in teaching our students the structures and processes to be an effective, healthy learning community, we will get far more done than if we do not explicitly teach these skills.  Front-loading structure and skills for success ensures much richer learning in the long term.

The second truth that Harrison hit upon from the back seat was that we all like to be involved in making the rules that we have to follow.  As we drove to and from that playground, and for several more car rides, we discussed which of Mimi’s rules would make sense for our life in Mill Valley.  For instance, the boys decided that we should always wash our hands when we return home from being outside.  Amazingly enough, weeks later and back in our routine, many of these rules remain in effect without Robin and me needing to reinforce them.  We will be including our students in making agreements at school as well.  Our social vision – At MTS we endeavor to build with kindness – was developed with input from the student council.  Furthermore, in both Responsive Classroom and Developmental Designs, our homeroom and advisory curricula, have a student-based rule and norm-setting component.

This past week I read the New York Times article “6 Things Parents Should Know About Sending Kids Back to School” and was pleased to see that “Reassess Family Roles” was one of the six great tips shared.  What works at school, can work at home.  In the waning days of summer we have the opportunity to talk about what worked and didn’t work this past year and to create structures with input from our children.  For a lower school student this could mean agreeing on a bedtime or limits for Minecraft.  And for the middle schooler, summer is a particularly effective time to make plans about technology use as social media is a bit like the stock market, open in summer, but far less active and volatile.  With newly agreed upon rules and roles in focus for the first six weeks of school, we can better our chances for a well-functioning, happy household and school year.

Now I have to head home, wash my hands, and get ready for some more fun.  It is still summer after all!