I thought I didn’t need anyone. A child with my own pains and own learning fumbles, I pushed aside family and teachers that proffered to help. The help seemed like a facade of good intentions and I felt unworthy of the true care any outlier might have had. Yet the persistent presence of education in my life, a privilege not lost on me ever, but especially now having seen more of the world–it’s presence embedded understanding within me.
Understanding is a loaded word, much like pain. Yet education done correctly is all about unshelfing assumptions, erroneous perceptions, and ignorance. Education is a noun, a verb, and an adjective all spun together to create a thing, a place, an action, and a description of growth. I grew to understand that faring it alone would leave me less knowledgeable and less equipped than my counterparts who linked arms as little girls to skip across the playground, buddied up to create an explorer research project in the 4th grade, or crowded together in celebration of one who was accepted to her desired college years later.
Hindsight reveals that the times others’ emotional, academic, life support, and encouragement was present in my life, I became more–more involved in school, more able to aspire to success, more willing to dream. Trauma had short circuited my brain to believe that all of life was fight, flight, or freeze. I have spent decades dismissing learnings and opportunities not out of want, but out of a wiring in my mind that fixated on not taking risks and defending baseline.
Indebted to educators and youth workers who modeled that I did not have to diminuitively accept the short road, the path of least resistance, the less than my potential goals, I have started to train my brain to fire in the direction of belief. I have learned how to get unstuck. With this comes the realization that we must shoulder to shoulder our efforts to make the world a better place. Not just utopianly on a large scale, but intimately for our own lives and momentously for our direct communities.
In understanding how people function, how systems work, how messy stories still have positive outcomes, we all grow to hope more is possible. The dismal state of dysfunctional and injustice can always find a counterpart and these antithesis communities and peoples are ones who have not gone it alone. Counterparts who break cycles of poverty, recover from addictions, end generations of abuse, rise to stand amid the plague of mental illnesses, and those who beautifully proffer life in the face of their own ongoing grief, these are the men and women our students and children must see and have access to. Business leaders, gym enthusiasts, Navy men and women, die-casters, musicians, hair stylists, gamers, politicians…there is no end to a list a people who learn understanding from others.
Nearly a decade ago, psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues put forth convincing research of how people, specifically students, who operate under the premise that growth and effort, flexibility and new learning can develop a mindset fortified enough to dislodge fixed ways of thinking and living. Her work has become foundational to a number of education reforms, both overtly in professional development and low-lying in those who practice a growth mindset and then contagiously affect others.
Dweck revisited her work in Education Week last year. Her update and clarification brings further insight to the statement of how we need others. Dweck asserts that we can’t just try for better, we must be presented with new ways of trying and receive feedback/support of others to reach optimal growth.
A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches-not just sheer effort-to learn and improve.
Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck revisits the ‘growth mindset’. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html?cmp=eml-contshr-shr
We need others. We need people for when we get stuck, for when we are discouraged, for when our dreams need the network and support of those further down the long road. We are not entitled to the help of others, but we are worthy of it. Growth hinges on new understandings, so let us surround ourselves with those who for a “we understand” instead of seclusion or self.
Let us teach who Orville was to Wilbur Wright, let us share stories of the Missionaries of Charity who surrounded Mother Teresa, let us uncover who encouraged Cesar Chavez to believe, and let us tell the stories of Peter Norman standing beside Tommie “The Jet” Smith and John Carlos in the fight for human rights. Let us be the ones to tip our heads and hearts to those who are different in our lives. Now is the time humbly remind ourselves we did not get this far on our own and celebrate those who helped us understand, grow, and become.
Our students and children need us, not just as cheerleaders, but they need role-models, activators, door-openers, challengers, and genuine assistance to their next step of learning and growth.
They need others…and truth be clear, so do we.