Monday, May 4, 2015

The Flat Tires of Life...

“A bad attitude is like a flat tire: You can’t go anywhere until you change it.”

While visiting another school several weeks ago this message, shown below a frustrated student on a poster, grabbed my full attention. I thought for several moments how attitude shapes our student’s learning experience – often much more than their immediate success or failure - while they navigate through new information, skills, and opportunities presented to them.

We are quick to label a grumpy, edgy tone in someone’s interactions as being evidence of a bad attitude. While it is no fun to be around someone like that, I think this is perhaps a limited definition. A bad attitude (or mindset) might better be described as a moment when the person has given up on the chance for something that isn't going well to actually turn out positively in terms of their learning and personal welfare. Their perspective has become narrow and shortsighted and they don’t see a way out of it that can be a win-win for themselves and those they are interacting with.

Sometimes there isn't a way out of the situation that is a win-win all the way around. In those moments, coaching our students to accept the results in a way that respects themselves, others, and their possible future success is the most valuable prize.

Some thoughts on developing a healthy attitude in our students:

  •  Ensure that a student has opportunities to be publicly recognized for the things they do well or have shown growth in. Success creates an appetite and determination for future success. 
  •  Encourage re-attempting things that didn't work, perhaps in a more success-possible manner. A delay is fine too. Resilience is a key part of developing healthy attitude. 
  • Work to have a child’s feeling of self-worth not be entirely dependent on immediate success or failure in challenging situations. Learning to cope with first-attempt failure is a key life skill. 
  • While every student is talented in different ways, we don’t help our students by labeling them as “not a math student” or “not musical” or “not creative” in their crucial years of development. We are shutting doors for them far too early in doing so.
  • Model responses for them that show a healthy attitude. I’m convinced our children are watching and listening much more closely than we first realize when we ourselves encounter struggles. We are the lesson they are closely studying in those moments. 

I’ve changed my fair share of flat tires on cars, wheelbarrows, bikes, - once I even had to arrange for it on a transport truck. None of them were great moments that conjure up happy memories. All of them helped me to grow in my response to unexpected problems or failures.

Be ready for your next flat. It's coming soon. SJ

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