We have been working on a remodeling project this summer on a house for our son. With great anticipation, I trekked to Home Depot to purchase tile in order to redo the bathroom. The project started out well, as laying out tile is just like making a quilt. You design a pattern, cut the pieces, and line up the edges. Feeling confident in my abilities, I moved on to grout. Oh my goodness, I really dislike everything to do with grout!
The process seems easy enough. Using a tool called a “float,” you simply smoosh the grout into the spaces left between the tiles, let it dry for a few minutes, then wipe the remains off the tile surface. No problem! Yet, at one point, with tears streaming down my face I announced, “I hate this. I can’t do it . Someone else has to finish this project.”
There was no one else to do it but me. After wiping away the frustration, I started again. Carefully I reviewed the steps, smoothed out the previous grout with a new layer, and finished the project. It’s not perfect, but it is complete and I did improve.
As I reflected on this experience, I couldn’t help but remember the Growth Mindset attitudes we had focused on at school last year. Our classroom’s favorite was “I can do things, even if they are hard.” How often had I reminded students of this phrase when they were near tears when stuck on a long division problem or could not think of a better word when they were writing? As I looked back on my adventure with tile, what type of assistance did I need to help me do hard things?
1) I needed someone to acknowledge that grouting actually was hard! I felt like everyone on the you-tube videos could do this, so what was the matter with me? It is necessary to let our students know that learning is hard – and that different topics are hard for each of us.
2) I needed someone to break the process down step by step. Just telling me to grout the tiles wasn’t enough, but I needed to know how to accomplish this task step by step. As a teacher, how can I break down difficult tasks into manageable steps?
3) I didn’t want someone to tell me my grout job was perfect – I knew better than that! What I did need was someone to tell me that not being perfect was okay and that I was improving. When we hold ourselves up to perfection as a standard, we can’t help but fall short. How can I help my students know that hard is fine and we are all learning together?
This was a hard lesson for me to learn. As educators, we believe that every teacher should occasionally try something new and frustrating to learn. The empathy we gain for our students is irreplaceable. As writing coaches, the grouting experience also reminded us to help teachers step-by-step, and to continually remind them that perfection is not the goal. We all just need to help one another be the best we can be.
Darlene and Terry
Check out our pinterest board for other ideas on working with students to attain a growth mindset.