Last night, I saw a blog post that Sue Dunlop shared about the deficit mindset. In this post, Tony Sinanis speaks about his own experiences with this mindset by sharing a very personal story about a discussion that he had with his son. This post really resonated with me because a couple of years ago, I was determined to tackle this “deficit mindset.”
After nine years teaching at one school in our Board, I decided to apply to and move to a different school. This was a really big change. I came from teaching in a very high socioeconomic area to going to teach in a very low socioeconomic area. I really believe though that income is not the sole measure of a student’s success. I knew that I was going to a school with an amazing staff that support and challenge each other and the students. I figured that with high expectations and an inquiry approach, the students would amaze me with what they could do. Before starting at my new school, I followed various Grade 1 teachers on Twitter that are doing incredible things with their students, and I got inspired about classroom set-up, timetabling, and teaching approaches.
Then reality hit. Despite my attempts, students weren’t extending learning in the way that I hoped. Many children were still behind in reading and writing skills, and the majority of students lacked schema (background knowledge). This schema is so important, for if we want students to question and think deeply, they have to have something to question and think about.
I had to take a step back. I didn’t give up. I didn’t say, “These students will never …,” but I did ask a trusted friend and educator for some advice. I shared my concerns, I shared what I tried, and I asked what I might be able to do next. She gave me many ideas, and with the use of targeted mini-lessons, lots of oral language opportunities, open-ended activities that allowed for multiple entry points, and large blocks of time to explore, talk, question, and investigate, I started to see results.
Did every child reach benchmark? No. But every child made gains, and about 70% of my students met benchmark, compared to about 20% that were meeting it when they started in Grade 1. Please note that I’m not solely responsible for this change — not even close. As a primary division, our focus on developing phonemic awareness skills made a huge difference. Also, daily support from the Learning Resource teacher, the ESL teacher, and the Reading Intervention teacher (the teacher delivering LLI), helped tremendously.
Near the end of Tony’s post, he makes this call to action.
I can’t help but wonder if there are a couple of different keys to this changed mindset.
- We can’t be in this alone. We benefit so much from a support system that can help us explore other options and provide more intensive support for those students that need it.
- This change isn’t easy and it doesn’t always work the first time. From my own experience, I’ll tell you that it can be upsetting, frustrating, and discouraging when we do believe but we don’t see results. Sometimes we have to keep on changing. Sometimes we just need to give our new approaches some more time to work. And sometimes we need to look more closely at those students that aren’t succeeding, and figure out some changes for them that may vary from the rest of the class.
What do you think? How do you create a “yes, you can” mentality, and how can the rest of us do the same?
This is amazing! I completely agree that a positive growth mindset is a key ingredient in our schools!
There’s a similar situation of not reaching benchmarks at my school. However, we are focussing on the growth that students are able to make. They are proud of that growth, whatever it might be and our awesome principal makes calls home with them to celebrate success!
Thanks for your post, I’m glad I found your blog.
Thank you so much, Ellen, for your comment! I think that focusing on growth is key. Having a supportive staff that all works together to help positively impact on student learning is also so important. Thanks for sharing what happens at your school. It sounds like a wonderful place to work as well.
I’m very curious to hear what others think about Tony’s post and how we shift away from a deficit mindset!
Thank-you, Ellen. I think having a team that passionately believes all students will achieve at high levels, no excuses, really is key! I believe the adults need to bring this to the table before a school can achieve excellence! I think once the adults believe we will start seeing our learners with a new set of lenses. This belief will start producing learners that believe in excellence too! This pocket is where the magic happens. Connaught is well on their way! Our young leaders are worth it. I appreciate your passion on our team.
Lori, I think this conversation shows the power in a team. With all of you working together and supporting each other and the children, this positive/growth mindset comes through.
I think that kids can succeed and do well when they have the support of dedicated adults who help them see their strengths and encourage them to persevere.
I know I spent a lot of time helping my students to see all their amazing qualities and strengths. Once they see these things they can start to use them in their learning and to help build skills in other areas. Building on previous successes helped my students realized they could achieve and meet their own individual goals.
The other thing that I found really helped what ensuring that each student understood they were a unique individual and did not need to be compared to others. Each success, no matter how small, was to be celebrated.
It didn’t fix everything and my students still had struggles, but they were more willing to try new things and many of them made great gains.
Thanks for the comment, Sarah! You make such important points here. I particularly liked the one about students not comparing themselves to each other. This is essential for students, parents, and educators to understand and support. If students just compare themselves to themselves, then we can really focus in on individual goals and individual “growth.”
Great post Aviva. I really believe that for me to be a model for my students, I have to show them – often – that “yes, I can”. Some days are harder than others and I let my students know that. I actually tell them what I’m feeling and why I feel like I can’t…that reflection alone tends to kick me into high gear. Just my thought.
Thanks for the comment, RT! This is a very important point, and being vulnerable and modelling our own struggles, is so important. I wonder how the belief that “we can” transfers to the idea that “others can” as well. Do all people that have this positive/growth mindset when it comes to themselves, also have it when it comes to others? What do you think?
Great questions! I think that anyone can do anything that they put their mind to. So I do think “others can” just like “I can”. The first step is the mindset, then comes the work. Both of those things can be difficult but are doable. What do you think?
Thanks for your reply, RT! In theory, I agree with you. But as someone that lives with a significant learning disability, I’ve also learned that sometimes putting my mind to it isn’t always enough. Sometimes I need to consider different approaches for how to solve a problem or complete a task. Sometimes all of my hard work won’t yield the results I want, and I need to ask for help, and work with someone else to get a job done. This is not about saying, “I can’t,” but it is about knowing the upset that can come from thinking and believing, “I can,” and then not seeing results. Sometimes we need to know what we can do, continue to push the envelope, but also, not be afraid to ask for support along the way. Maybe, it’s a matter of saying, “I can, but with …” What do you think?
I think that is fair to say. I’m with you, in that, even though we believe we can, we require support in a variety of ways to get to where we want to be. One size certainly does not fit all. I have and continue to learn where to find support/assistance for things that I do that require it. I believe that the first step in accomplishing anything is to believe in what you are doing and then starting the process. Hard work, grit, assistance, a little luck….all are needed and even then we don’t always get the outcome we seek. Shooting for the moon and not getting there, but ending up at the highest mountain on earth is still a pretty good outcome.
I agree, RT! I think that having high expectations, when coupled with the supports in place to succeed, is a wonderful thing. I’ve really enjoyed this discussion and the time thinking about a positive/growth mindset.
Thank you so much for sharing this powerful personal (and professional) reflection with the world – we need to share more stories of this nature so we can overcome challenges together! The piece resonated with me and got me thinking about what I could do differently moving forward. The one theme in your piece that stood out to me was the notion that we, as the educators, have to keep changing and trying different things – it is not all on the kids and that is critical!
Thank you again for sharing this with the world!
Thanks for the comment, Tony, and for the inspiration! I think that an educator’s willingness to change is huge. This can be hard and scary, especially if we feel as though we’re alone. Having supportive colleagues and administrators — like you — around is so important, as it’s these people that inspire us and also give us the courage to take these risks, make mistakes, and try again. I think we all need “our people.”
I totally agree that we need to shift our own mentality and those of others i.e. colleagues, students and the greater school community. I guess that it takes patience, perseverance and opportunities to shine. We need so many positive experiences to overcome the negative.
We totally do, Byron! What a good reminder. These positive experiences are crucial for student success.
I’m with Tony- what stood out for me most in your post is your willingness to change. When faced with challenges, we can’t simply continue as we always have. Furthermore, that will always be the case. What we know works now may deepen and shift over the few years, and we, as educators, need to bend and shift with that knowledge.
Thanks for the comment, Sue! I’m so glad that you made this final point. I think of what our principal often says at staff meetings: “Change is the only constant.” As our students change, and their needs change, our approaches will change too. And as we learn more, and maybe start to consider an approach that we hadn’t before, another change happens. I can’t help but think about yesterday’s PA Day session and our work on our professional inquiries. The inquiry format almost has change built into it: decide on a plan, try it, reflect, and try again (my simplified wording). Change: it can definitely be a very good thing.