Posts Tagged ‘Growth Mindset’

An excuse is a reason some people give for failing before they have even tried.

You will never outrun your excuses until you stop making them.

I can think of nothing in the entire world I would rather do with my life than work with and be surrounded by middle school students. I know, I know…some of you are gasping for breath with brows raised and eyes bugged.  With mouths agape you’re wondering “what coo-coo wagon did this nut job fall off of?” I get it. And, to be fair, it does help to be a little crazy to enjoy working with these young humans as they stumble through the matrix. But, for me, nothing could be more fun, more important, more meaningful, or more fulfilling.

Have you ever seen the movie The Perfect Storm? If you have then you understand the analogy as it applies to an adolescent. The tumultuous winds of puberty unleash tidal waves of hormones, emotions, self-awareness…and questions.  You remember the questions, right? “Where do I fit in?” “What if I don’t fit in?” “What if they don’t like me?” What if HE or SHE doesn’t like me the way I like HER or HIM?” “MY LIFE WILL BE OVER!” “Why are my feet so big…and when did they start smelling like this?” “I think I’m all out of Axe deodorant!” “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Why do I even feel this way?” “Why should I even care?” On and on the questions rage. Thoughts and worries never before entertained, barrels of hormones evoking emotional, physical, and social changes never before experienced, combine with an enhanced and insecure self-awareness.  This hodgepodge cauldron of hormones, changes, questions, and insecurities converges on this single period of their history on earth and, VOILA!  The Perfect Storm. Anyone squirming through flashbacks right about now?

In simple terms, the challenge of working with middle school students is that their emotional brain becomes super-developed due to the onslaught of pubescent hormonal surges. Their purpose? To compel them forth on a find-a-mate-to-keep-the-species-alive mission. While at the same time, their reasoning brain remains disproportionately under-developed.  ~Some of you are laughing right now.~  In other words, they are suddenly capable of feeling emotions they have never felt at an intensity they have never experienced. Their bodies are beginning to do and feel things they have never been able to do or feel. And this new-found emotional and physical prowess is misguided (or not guided at all) by a lack of reasoning ability or the skills required to manage their feelings or properly express them. It’s akin to being a passenger in a car careening out of control at full speed down a curvy mountain road. As

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Original art by Joe Martinez

you cower and convulse with fear in the back seat, you dare open your eyes just long enough to glimpse the sign that reads, “CAUTION: Bridge Out.” Oh yeah, and the car has no brakes.  Yup that’s it. That’s adolescence. All gas pedal and no brakes. The beautiful significance of the chaos that adolescence creates, though, is that within it lies the portal to unlimited and untapped potential for meaningful contributions to the world in which they live. They are adults-in-training.

Herein, lies the wisdom of integrating social-emotional learning programs as part of the culture of every school. Not just middle schools but all of them. Inasmuch as there are curriculum, strategies, and standards to bolster GPA’s and standardized test scores, there must also be equal efforts, methods, and “rigor” spent toward helping middle school students gain the skills to manage this crucial time in their development. Education in our country has become largely “Data Driven and Performance Oriented.” In and of itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when performance and data are stalked to the neglect of developing social-emotional skills, it is done so to the hurt of student wholeness and to the future of our society. I propose that a “Destiny Driven and Purpose Oriented” filter be used to guide us toward balance in the drive for performance and data. Social-Emotional Learning is the fulcrum upon which this balance can be achieved and maintained. If you don’t believe me, ask a middle school student of poverty, who wakes up at 5 am to make sure his little brother and sister are fed, dressed, and at the bus stop on time, all while doing the same for himself, because his single mom is working two part-time jobs…ask him how his improved test scores have changed all of that. Better yet, try to convince him that working harder at school and getting better grades will make things better at home…now. This is one student in one school. Our school of 870 is well above 50% on free or reduced lunch because their families are at or below the poverty line.

There is plenty of data available to support the reality that meeting students’ social-emotional needs and teaching them how to cope with the harsh realities of life does much to improve academic performance. Without citing scads of data to prove my point, let me ask you a simple and practical question. Have you ever not wanted to go to work but decided you should go anyway? What was the reason? Were you sick? Did you wake up late and on the wrong side of the bed? Maybe you had a fight with your spouse. Kid’s sick? Too many bills left at the end of your paycheck? Life happens to everyone, right? So when you got to work that day, did you operate at your peak performance level? Or, did you want everyone to know you were in a bad mood and to stay out of your way. Did you desire a little understanding and latitude about not being the best version of yourself? Did your co-workers and boss demand no slacking in your productivity or did they offer some understanding and concern? Which approach worked better?  Admittedly, I have done this before…and preferred understanding. Yet, kids can face life issues on a daily basis and we expect them to report and perform at optimum levels with seemingly little concern for why they are not when they don’t. One would hope that, as adults, we have obtained the critical social and emotional skills necessary to get through a day like this with few mishaps. The young people we deal with, on the other hand, have not had the opportunities or time needed to hone those skills. We have to make the time and provide the opportunities.

If every student in America achieves straight A’s before leaving high school but we’ve done little or nothing to prepare them for their social and emotional lives, we have failed them. What benefits do 4.0 GPA’s and off-the-charts test scores provide young adults who don’t have the life skills to maintain healthy relationships or keep a job? I argue that the well-being of our society is more endangered by social-emotional illiteracy than it is by academic illiteracy. You don’t need straight A’s to be a good person. There is absolutely a need to obtain literacy and balance in both areas of development.

There is no greater discovery than self-discovery and middle school students are crossing the threshold of finding themselves and their place in the world. What an amazing privilege to greet them at the gate and direct them on toward the rest of their lives! And if you are one of those gatekeepers who stands at the ready to calm their storms and lovingly nurture their self-discovery, I commend and applaud your bountiful love, passion, and sacrifice. Because what else could possibly keep you there? I am honored to be counted as one within your ranks. I have stood at that threshold for thirty years now. I know more now than I did when I started but I certainly don’t know it all…or enough.  There is always more to know. Times change. Kids change. Needs vary and so methods change. But though the methods may change, the message remains ever the same; every person who ever lived, is living, or ever will live has value. We all have purpose and something unique to add to life. Middle school students are at that time in their lives when they are ripe to begin realizing their great potential. What an absolute joy and sense of fulfillment to be a conduit for information and skills that will help them discover, develop, and deploy their innate super-power; that unique quality that only they can bring. Social-emotional learning provides the skill set they will need to properly and effectively share their lives with the communities they inhabit.

And what will happen if we continue to fall short in this endeavor? That’s simple. Just watch the news.

…Food For Thought

Peace and blessings…

~joe