For seven years I worked with some of the most amazing educators I’ve ever met—teachers, principals, paraeducators, professional development specialists, secretaries, school psychologists, and technology gurus. People who devote their lives to the task of giving young people today the academic tools they need to succeed in the world.
That job experience not only changed my perspective on my own life, it changed my perspective as a parent, especially when it comes to my child’s learning.
With this new perspective, there are some things I want my child to know as she heads off to school each year.
You can learn anything if you believe you can.
Everyone has a learning “mindset”. A “growth mindset” means you believe that your brain can learn and grow. A “fixed mindset” means you believe that you are born with a certain level of intelligence and you can’t change it. For example, if you are a growth mindset, you believe that, even if you are not good at math, you can get better. If you are a fixed mindset, you believe that you’ll always be bad at math.
Research shows that some of the people who excel at what they do–professional athletes, authors, scientists–do so because they have a growth mindset. That means they might not have been very good at what they did when they started, but they knew if they worked hard they would get better. So they did.
You can do anything if you set your mind to it. Don’t forget that.
The most important thing you will take to school with you is a good attitude.
You get to choose how you “show up” at school each day. No one else can make this choice for you. You may not always get to choose everything about your school day, but you can always choose your attitude. You have the power to make assignments that might be boring be fun. You have the power to make classes that feel hard feel exciting instead. It all comes down to your attitude. Choose wisely.
You can do hard things.
Sometimes learning will feel easy. A lot of the time it might feel really hard. That is perfectly normal. Don’t give up just because something isn’t easy at first. Learning how to do hard things is one of the greatest skills you could ever acquire.
I will be happy as long as you are doing your best.
Please don’t cheat yourself out of learning by not trying. If you are going to do something, do your best. If you do this, you cannot fail. Because if you did your best, then you learned something, and that is never failure. Yep, you heard me right. If you do your best on a test and you fail, I will still be proud of you for giving it your all. And we will have learned what it is that you still need to study. If you don’t try and you fail, then you wasted your own time and energy. Don’t do that. Time is precious. You owe it to yourself to see what you are capable of. So do everything you do with your whole heart. If you do this, I will be happy.
School does not measure your worth.
In school, you will take tests. Tests are a way to measure what you know and what you still need to learn. THAT IS ALL THEY ARE. You should do your best when it comes to tests so that they can be an accurate measure of what you know. But never forget that that is all they are. They do not measure what a good learner you are. They do not measure what a good person you are. Don’t give them more power than they deserve.
The same is true of grades. Grades are a way of measuring progress. They show us what we are doing well at and what we still need to practice. If you have a lower grade in science, it does not mean you are bad at science. Grades are information we can use to learn about how we learn best.
Schools use tests and grades and levels and scores to measure a lot of things. But there are also a lot of things they don’t measure. Tests will not measure your passion or your drive or your determination. Grades do not reflect what a kind and thoughtful person you are. Don’t believe for a second that any letter or number could measure your worth. You are more than the sum of your scores.
Your curiosity is your greatest strength.
Your curiosity is what drives your best learning. It drives you to question things you don’t understand. I hope you always keep your fierce curiosity. It is when we stop being curious and think we “know” things, or when we simply give up and stop asking questions, that we stop learning and growing.
Others may not always appreciate your curiosity, but don’t let that stop you. You may have to learn to hold your curiosity until an appropriate time to seek your answers. You may have to learn a respectful way to express your curiosity. But beware of anyone who tells you your curiosity is bad. It’s not true.
The thing that will make me more proud of you than anything else is your kindness.
School is important. You will learn things that will open doors to more things and more doors and so on. But there is so much more to learn than science and math. If you graduate and you don’t know algebra but you have learned how to feel empathy for another person, I will be immensely proud. If you can’t remember what the scientific name for rain clouds is, but you know how to be kind to others, even when they aren’t kind to you, then I will know you have succeeded.
Learn as much as you can from school, but don’t limit your learning to the information in your textbooks. Because the things that matter in life are so much bigger than that. Let your sweet light shine and do all the good you can for the people around you. As your mother, I love to see your brilliant brain in action. But I am never more proud of you than when you show the world your kind heart.