Let's start this week's column with a little quiz that we give our seventh graders in Advisory.
Below you will read statements about real people. As you read each one, I want you to guess whether that person was a success (write “S” on the line) or failure (write “F”).
1. ____ Politician: Ran for political office seven times and was defeated each time.
2.____ Cartoonist: All he wanted to do was to sketch cartoons. He applied with a Kansas City newspaper. The editor said, "It’s easy to see from these sketches that you have no talent." No studio would give him a job. He ended up doing publicity work for a church in an old, dilapidated garage.
3. ____ Writer: His first children’s book was rejected by 23 publishers.
4. ____ Inventor: In the first year of marketing his new soft drink, he sold only 400 bottles.
5. ____ Actor: He went to Hollywood as an 18 year old, and after a couple of parts was unemployed for two years. As he ran out of money, he sold off his sectional couch, one section at a time, and lived on macaroni. He had no phone. His office was a phone booth at Pioneer Chicken.
6.____ Athlete: As a baseball player, he struck out more than any player in the history of baseball: 1,330 times.
7.____ Politician: Flunked the sixth grade. As a sixteen-year-old in Paris, a teacher had written on his report card, "Shows a conspicuous lack of success." He wished to become a military leader, or a great statesman. As a student, he failed three times in his exams to enter the British Military Academy.
8.____ Athlete: As a high school student, he felt so unpopular with the girls that he thought he might never be able to find a wife. That's why he took a cooking class.
- Abraham Lincoln. He was defeated for legislature, defeated for speaker, defeated for nomination to Congress, defeated for Senate, defeated for nomination to Vice Presidency, defeated again for Senate. Yet he didn't give up and became the sixteenth President of the United States.
- Walt Disney. The old garage he worked in was in such bad shape that it had mice. One day, he sketched one of those mice. The mouse one day became famous as "Mickey Mouse."
- Dr. Seuss. The 24th publisher sold six million copies.
- Coca Cola.
- Michael J. Fox.
- Babe Ruth. He held the strike-out record and also held, for many years, the home run record.
- Winston Churchill. He stubbornly refused to accept defeat and became one of the greatest men of the 20th Century. Though he was rejected many times by the voters of Great Britain, he finally became the Prime Minister.
- Michael Jordan. He was also cut from the Varsity team his sophomore year? The cut may have been the best thing that ever happened to him. Angry and embarrassed, he began to get up early each morning to practice with the Junior Varsity coach. Eventually he not only made the Varsity team, but became the most popular athlete in the world.
Many of us, if confronted with the above failures, would have simply given up. Why are some people able to fail and then pick themselves up and persist while others crumble? In Advisory, we focus with the students on the skills needed for resiliency and facing difficulties in life to answer that question.
In our Faculty Inservice a few weeks ago, we began the day by watching a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson on the topic of creativity and education. (If you are interested in seeing the talk see http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en). Sir Robinson speaks of the importance of being willing to fail, and that most of our children are afraid to fail. “When they are young they are not frightened of being wrong. If you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original.” In our society, we stigmatize mistakes, so children are fearful of failure.
Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset- The New Psychology of Success, speaks of two mindsets – the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. She begins her book with the story of a research study she did on how people respond to failure. Children were given a series of puzzles to do. Some children when confronted by challenge said things like, “I love a challenge!” as if they loved failure. These children “knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort...Not only weren't they discouraged by failure, they didn't even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.” These children had a “growth mindset.”
On the other hand, those with the “fixed mindset” think that human quailities are “carved in stone. You were smart or you weren't, and failure meant you weren't...If you could arrange successes and avoid failure (at all costs), you could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, perseverance were just not part of this picture.”
To put in the laguage of a student, if you get a C on a paper, a person with a fixed mindset would say, “I feel like a reject. I'm so stupid. Why does everything always happen to me? It's unfair.” How would the fixed mindset person cope? “I wouldn't bother to put so much time and effort to do well in anything.” “Stay in bed.” “Eat chocolate.”
Someone with a growth mindset might say, “The C would tell me that I have to work a lot harder in the class, but I have the rest of the sememster to pull up my grade.” How would he/she cope? “I'd look at what was wrong on my exam, resolve to do better.” “I will speak to the teacher.”
These mindsets, says Dweck, change the meaning of failure. In a fixed mindset, failure “has been transformed from an action (I failed) to an identity (I am a failure).” So, the wonderful speller in class will be fearful of entering the spelling bee. Now I am a success. Why should I risk becoming a failure?
Dr. Dweck speaks of a study she did with seventh graders, and her results were so familiar to me, as I have experienced the same with many students. Students were asked how they would respond to academic failure. As above, those with the growth mindset said they would study harder. But, those with the fixed mindset would study less for the next test. “If I don't have the ability- why waste my time?” And, those students said they would seriously consider cheating. Additionally, instead of working to repear their failures, they try to repair their self-esteem by looking to hang out with people who are doing even worse than they are. In another study, college students who did poorly on a test were given the opportunity to look at the tests of other students. Those with the growth mindset chose to look at tests of those who did better. Those with the fixed mindset wanted to see tests of those who did even more poorly than they did, so they could feel better about themselves. People with fixed mindsets also attempt to repair their self-esteems by blaming others or making excuses.
Generally speaking, Dweck found that people with fixed mindsets had higher levels of depression, and did less to improve their situations. There were some with growth mindsets with depression as well, but the more depressed they were, the more they took action to confront their problems.
Our job as parents and educators is to raise children who “believe... their failures may still hurt, but failures don't define them.” From a young age, we encourage them to take risks by letting them know that it is okay to fail, and no matter what you will always be proud of them. Dweck stresses the importance of not praising their intelligence or talent, (a topic of a previous column!). She also speaks about how to encourage them after failure. Instead of telling them, “You're still the best and the other team didn't deserve to win,” say, “I know it's disappointing to lose, and you've worked so hard all season, but your team needs to practice their foul shots...” Sympathize, but also help him see what it takes to succeed in the future.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Sixth Grade- They focused on organizational skills as they learned the P.A.C.K. Method to organizing their bookbags and lockers.
Seventh Grade- The boys engaged in a lesson about Foul Language and the girls focused on the power and danger of Gossip. This past Thursday Rabbi Yitzy Haber spoke to the entire grade to launch our next unit in Advisory “When Life Gives You Lemons- Coping With Adversity In Life” as he shared his life story of adversity and his way of coping with humor.
Eighth Grade- Students practiced interview skills and tips as they prepare for their high school interviews and for making a good impression in life in general.