It All Begins With What We Believe

Aug 4, 2014 | by Janice Smith

girl with raised hands and broken chains

While we know you all are beginning to head back to school, and your to-do lists are full of plans, and classroom setup, and preparation for open houses, we know and believe that it all begins with the right mindset as we approach the year, our students, our families and our teams.  So we’ve decided to take this week to focus on mindset.  (That said, if you’re beginning to think about some of the others, feel free to check out the library for lots of beginning of the year clips!)

Perhaps some of the most important lessons we ever teach kids are through one-on-one conversations we have with them.  It is in these moments that we are able to truly differentiate for the student, and get at the core of their personal misconception.  And this is most definitely not limited to just academics; in fact, I believe the most valuable teaching and learning that happens in these interactions is about mindsets and character.

It was while teaching at KIPP that I was first introduced to the key messages we should always be sending children, through both our words and our actions.  At our particular school these were:

  • This is important.
  • You can and will master this.
  • I won’t give up on you.
  • I care about you.

(For those of you KIPP teachers out there, this fits nicely into KFET2.1. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the KIPP Framework for Excellent Teaching is worth taking a look at.)

During this interview with Keith Starr, Assistant Principal/Dean of Instruction at KIPP Pride High School in Gaston, North Carolina, he discusses one particular conversation with a student, and how he sent those messages within that conversation.  While this conversation was with a high schooler (Keith also teaches AP Physics), perhaps the most important takeaway is the mindset Keith has about students and growth that he then works to teach to this particular student.  That mindset is crucial whether you teach Kindergarten, 3rd grade, or high school, it just looks a bit different in how you communicate and teach that same mindset to your kids.

Take a look…

What We Love Most…

  • The extension of the terms ‘growth’ and ‘fixed’ mindset to ‘Life Liberating’ and ‘Life Limiting’ beliefs.  While students certainly understand the idea of a growth/fixed mindset when it’s explicitly taught to them, we love the idea of phrasing it in a way that immediately addresses the WHY, and the impact these two mindsets have on their lives and future.
  • The way that Keith addresses lazy as something that has no place in the conversation.  Lazy is viewed as something you are, and not something you can control, so he began instead to talk in terms of clear, concrete actions.  It is easy for most to view how you can control and change these in order to impact outcomes.
  • While Keith acknowledges that to impact the student outcomes ultimately he will have to address the skills and work habits, and ways for that student to get them.  But first and foremost is the conversation about mindset.  If we jump to skills and work habits without the mindset, we’re never going to graduate students who are able to ultimately find the skills in the future without teachers who are checking in with them daily & weekly.
  • This same idea applies to coaching teachers.  It all begins with our mindsets about ourselves, our skillets, and our students.  From there we can move to concrete skills that we can practice and implement.


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