Confidence Lost….and found…

What happens to us? Why do we lose our confidence? Why do we believe that we cannot do the things on which we have had our hearts set for so long?

I’ve just spent several days at the ASCD Annual Leader-2-Leader conference in Arlington, Virginia. I had the best time talking ‘shop’ with other teacher leaders who are as impassioned about their work as I.

We spent hour after hour talking about ‘growth mindset’. What it is; what it looks like; what it doesn’t look like; what it doesn’t feel like. One would think that I would have unbounded energy this week. And instead I find myself in a funk.

I can’t seem to get out of my own way.

I wonder how to ask for help. But instead, I turn to my keyboard to help me find my way through. As I type, I wonder about my students.

A non-educator would think me mad. Why would I wonder about my students as I try to get myself out of this funk? Why am I not buried in a video game and eating junk food?

Well, I’m a grown up. I know that this will pass. I know that my confidence will return because I am resilient.

What about my students?

What about when they lose their confidence? I don’t mean for the day and I don’t mean over a girl friend or boy friend. What about when they grow up without hope? You see, I believe that hope fades because we have no confidence that we can be or do something great.  As if no matter what, life just doesn’t see us.

What about when kids decide that that school doesn’t hold any opportunity for them? No way out. Life is the same as it’s been and there’s no changing it. So why stay in school?

The cards are stacked against them. They’re poor. They’re white. They’re black. They’re hispanic. They go to school in the largest school district in Virginia with the highest poverty rate in the state.

They’re invisible. Their school is in disrepair. It needs paint. It needs windows. The principal is tired. He is despaired. His work has not provided the results he so dearly wanted when he took the job.

But one day…

But one day… a new leadership team arrives at this super-large district. They bring a new vision. This team has a new idea about supporting students. They bring an open mind about the possibilites that can come if ideas are given an opportunity to see the light of day.

For example, instead of having the poorest and most under achieving students spend the month before standardized testing doing the normal drill and kill (that we all know doesn’t work), they asked their students why they hate school.

Why do they hate coming to school? The students say that their school looks like a prison. It’s old. It needs paint. And it has no windows.  (Really…. it has no windows… can you imagine going to school where there are no windows…?)

And the team says, “Let’s change that. If you could change it, what would you do?”

“We’d build tree houses in the multipurpose room.”

And so they did. And beautiful tree houses they were.

And guess what? Their standardized test scores were the highest they’ve ever been! (Neuroplasticity anyone?)

The principal isn’t retiring. He’s staying because he said he hasn’t had this much fun since he was in the classroom.

Or this…

In another school, the principal always ran the remedial summer school just like he was expected.  But nothing really changed.  The kids still failed. They still didn’t find any reason to come to school.  So he brought a new-fangled idea to the new team. What about running a maker-camp instead of the the boring unsuccessful remedial summer program. (Think kids would be lining up for this one?)

And guess what?  The super superintendent said yes….

And a little boy who had failed every subject in sixth grade… who was a behavior nightmare for every class he’d been in… who came to maker camp and was asked, “”What do you want to make?” [nothing.]  What do you like? [nothing.]

The boy said, “I love baseball.  And I hate it when the umpire calls a ball a strike and a strike a ball.  I really hate that.”

And within 3 weeks, this boy who felt like an academic wasteland, developed the prototype for a laser guided system that would call balls and strikes without error each time.  Think he has hope for his future now? Think he wants to come to school and sit in a chair and do worksheets?

I want to be that kind of change.

These students didn’t find hope.  They found themselves because someone dared to use a growth mindset in the most unlikely places.  Small changes can have big impact.  Just like Superintendent @PamMoran  and  @IraSocol of the Albemarle School District in Virginia  are doing for the children in the Albemarle School District in Virginia.

Presentation by Pam Moran and Ira Socol, ASCD L2L, 2015