In any given classroom right now, you’ve got kids who have already learned at home everything they will learn in school this year. You’ve got other kids who do not have the basic foundation in place to understand the material that will be presented to them. And still you’ve got other kids somewhere in between. Yet they will all go through this year together learning as best they can. God bless those we’ve tasked with teaching a classroom of kids.
In education, and in life generally, there are a couple of competing schools of thought. There are those who feel like with enough hard work anything is possible. If someone isn’t achieving, they are not trying hard enough. And there are those who recognize the inherent differences in children, who appreciate the adage that, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it’s stupid.” Experience tells us there is truth and value in both of these points of view. While not everyone is a genius, there are those who are naturally setup to do better at certain things than others, be it academics, sports, conversation, art, or any other pursuit. And while not everything is possible with hard work, we are all capable of so much more in any undertaking than how we start out. With hard work and determination, we can get significantly better at anything.
Psychology has identified people with either a fixed or growth mindset. A fixed mindset says people and situations are just the way they are and not subject to change: I can’t do math, I’m not smart, I just have a short temper, I am stuck in a dead-end career. A growth mindset says that, with effort, things can always change: I can get better at math, with time I can figure things out, I can work on anger management, I can seek out other career opportunities. People with a growth mindset have proven time and again the ability to achieve more because they see more potential in themselves and are willing to put in the work to achieve it.
Developing a growth mindset can be a lifelong task, but it is a worthy pursuit for any teacher or parent to instill in a child. Our kids are all different and learn differently and will achieve differently. But they can all learn to believe in themselves and to believe that they can get better with hard work no matter where they start. Whatever else we are teaching them, I hope we are teaching them grit with grace. I hope they are hearing, “You are beloved just as you are, and if you're willing to put in the work, you can accomplish things you never thought were possible.”
Nathan Dickson is an attorney with Jinks, Crow & Dickson, P.C.