Nothing Compares 2 Ur Learning Focused Relationships
As I stood in front of my class, sweetly crooning “It's been seven hours and 15 days, since you took your love away...” I thought “How did I get here?” and “Where did it all go wrong?” and my mind drifted back to the day a week before when my Year 10 Social Studies class slumped dispiritedly into my room.
“Miss, we’ve got a MATHS TEST next period. I’m SO STRESSED!”
“Miss, I’m gonna fail. I suck at Maths”
“Whatever, Hannah...she’s really good at Maths, Miss. She always gets Excellence.”
I’d watched Carol Dweck’s TED Talk the night before in a marathon YouTube vortex and something in my brain went “ping!” listening to these very “fixed mindset” statements.
“What if I told you that you don’t actually suck at Maths, you just think you do and that thinking is what makes you suck?”
Carol Dweck writes about how our beliefs about our potential shape our learning and predict our success. She describes two types of mindset: fixed and growth. In a fixed mindset, we assume that our character, intelligence, physical and creative abilities are carved in stone and no effort will change them. We believe that success shows that we are inherently talented and so we strive for that at all costs and avoid failure like it’s Covid so we can maintain our sense of being smart or talented. In contrast, with a growth mindset we thrive on challenge and know that failure is a learning opportunity, and that greater success awaits when we persevere.
These two mindsets provide a blueprint for our behaviour and our relationship with success and failure across our personal and professional lives. An understanding of the two mindsets is crucial learning for our students as we develop a learning focused relationship in our classrooms. It gives us a language for talking about what it means to be a learner and how we can boldly face the challenge of new learning with confidence and panache!
In case you’re wondering, once I had explained that to the class, that was the point where it all started to go wrong: I somehow found myself offering the example of my cacophonous singing voice as a skillset that could be improved through a growth mindset. Before I really had time to reflect on what I was doing, my mouth wrote a cheque that my body (and fragile ego) would have to cash:
“How about I learn to sing to prove to you that you can become awesome at Maths?” (I know! In retrospect, the link is missing to me as well.)
“But, miss, how do we know you’re not really just a good singer already?”
And that’s how I found myself attempting to do justice to Prince’s finest song writing moment in front of a class of clandestinely sniggering 15-year-olds. We videoed my first performance as a benchmark. Then the class gave it a rating out of ten and then predicted what rating they might give my final performance. I asked them not to tell me either of these ratings for my own peace of mind. Then I went to the singing teacher and nervously asked if she would be able to teach me to sing.
“Can you tell when you’re out of tune? That’ll make it easier.”
For the next 8 weeks, as I learned to sing from an incredible teacher, we instituted ‘Grow Your Brain Wednesdays’. We explored our beliefs about talent and skill and learning, watched different videos about growth mindset and discussed quotes that inspired us. We talked about resilience, learning from our failures, taking risks, falling seven times and getting up eight. Meanwhile, the poor singing teacher listened to me butcher ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ week after week as I incrementally improved.
For the last 2 weeks of our growth mindset block, I challenged the class to choose something they had a fixed mindset about, make a plan and spend the next two weeks trying to improve their skill and mindset. Many of the class chose maths but others chose to improve their violin practice, their vegan cooking, their reading of non-fiction books, their kindness to their siblings. Everyone reported some growth, some carried on with their effort beyond the two weeks.
Then the dreaded day arrived. I don’t usually fear going to work but I did that day - what if I hadn’t improved? What if they laughed at me? What if I got stage fright? Why on earth had I chosen such a difficult song to sing?
Reader, I survived.
The reviews were generous. Most of the class said I was better than they expected me to be. They gave me a kind round of applause and then we talked about what we had learned from our experiments.
“I learned that I don’t have to suck forever, that if I want to get better at something I can just try and keep trying and I’ll eventually be not bad and then one day even good at it.”
“I learned that I can make myself smarter by exercising my mind, like I can grow my brain if I think I can get better.”
And then years later, in a senior class: “Miss, remember that time you sang for us?”
“Hahaha...yes, I’m still traumatised. How about you?”
“Nah, miss. It was awesome. You were so brave! I’ve thought about it sometimes when I was scared to try something new because I thought I’d suck at it and it’s made me give it a go.”
The shame hangover receded and I started to believe the risk and attendant vulnerability was worth it. My heart was briefly warm.
“Do you know any other songs, Miss?”
“Yeah, can you sing ‘Bodak Yellow’ by Cardi B?”
If you’re interested in building learning focused relationships in your classroom, check out the resources below or contact Renee for assessment for learning PLD support (but please don’t ask her to sing - she stopped practicing and is now as cacophonous as ever.)
Carol Dweck, Mindset : Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential.
Michael Absolum, Clarity in the Classroom, Ch. 2 Learning Focused Relationships.