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New Year, New Mindset

Steve Tugwell
It’s January of a new calendar year, 2019. The holidays are behind us, it’s cold outside, and life just got serious again.
And in the weeks ahead, many of us will feel like giving up on that new year’s resolution that just doesn’t seem to be happening. Much has been written about the psychology of making positive changes in our lives, breaking old habits, and establishing new ones. I resist the temptation to add my voice to the overabundance of well-intended advice on the topic. What I do know, from years of working in a school environment, is that children can really benefit from the fresh start that comes in January.

Our work here in the Elementary School, the cycle of energy flow in education, is driven by the academic calendar. The new year starts each September, and that’s when children feel the anxious energy and pressure that we adults feel each January. They’ve had a long break from routines and are anxious to meet their new teachers, reconnect with classmates, and settle into the expectations of a new grade level. September is all about establishing new routines in school, routines that will be practiced over time to become habitual, setting students and teachers up for success in daily teaching and learning.

The beauty of January is that our students are returning to class refreshed and ready to continue what was already rolling; routines and expectations are in place and we can hit the ground running. Students, with adult support, can reflect on their school experience thus far and set reasonable goals: one or two specific things broken down. Less is more. And the key to making it work, day after day, is to praise their effort not their talent.

Over the past few years, our faculty has keyed in on applying the growth mindset (as opposed to the fixed mindset) in our work with students. Personal qualities are not fixed, and through effort, people can evolve, develop, and improve. “The fixed mindset message is: you have permanent traits and I’m judging them. The growth mindset message says, you are a developing person and I am interested in your development.” (Carol Dweck, author of Growth Mindset) The shift in mindset, from fixed to growth, is profound in that it moves students from worrying about proving themselves to taking risks and really learning. And it moves parents and teachers away from doing things for children to doing things with children.

January is the perfect time to set aside time to talk with your child about how school’s going and where he or she would like to improve. Then, rather than jumping in there yourself to come up with solutions, give them time to develop their own ideas for what to work on over the final two-thirds of the academic year. It has the potential to be a new year’s resolution that actually works, so long as you’re there to check in on daily progress and cheer them on. Every day is a new day and growth is life! Happy January.
 
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