Head Lines: January 2018

As one year ends, and a new year begins, it is important to not only take stock of the previous year’s accomplishments but to also consider the learning opportunities that come from the mistakes and setbacks we have each experienced. In my new role as Acting Head of School, I find it fitting that we not only consider the learning opportunities we face as a school but also the opportunity we have to role model the foundation of resilience for all of our Yorkies. I look forward to connecting with parents individually and collectively and engaging in ongoing conversations with you regularly, either in person or via my Head Lines blog.

As a parent and educator, I have learned to appreciate that meaningful growth and renewal can often come from setbacks. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe it is important to cultivate a healthy and active relationship with achievement. Setting goals and establishing benchmarks to reach these are essential skills for both students and adults. However, I also feel it is imperative that we encourage students to be resilient and learn how to deal with disappointments.

The key to viewing setbacks, failures, and sorrows as opportunities for growth is really about cultivating what Carol Dweck, a Stanford Psychologist, calls a “growth mindset”. Carol Dweck, who pioneered this research, began studying students’ beliefs about intelligence because she was interested in the question of why some students are so resilient in the face of challenges while others are not. Her research of “Fixed vs Growth Mindsets” has shown that the view students adopt of themselves profoundly affects the way they learn. As parents, I encourage you to view her Ted Talk, “The Power of Yet”. What Carol Dweck’s research yielded was that students generally hold one of two very different beliefs about intelligence. Some students have what she calls a “fixed mindset”;  the belief that intelligence is a fixed trait that doesn’t change much. So, like eye colour, these students believe they are born with a certain amount of intelligence and there’s not much they can do to change it. Other students have a very different belief about intelligence – a growth mindset. They see it more like a muscle that grows with effort.

According to Dweck’s research, it turns out that these beliefs act like lenses through which students interpret their day-to-day experiences in school, particularly experiences of adversity. It turns out that students can draw very different conclusions about the meaning of the same events.

What it comes down to, is that these interpretations – these lenses – are what shape the narrative our Yorkies use to make sense of their world. Therefore, the meaning we all make of events is what determines the behaviours we choose to engage in. If a student believes there isn’t a point in trying, then even the best teacher or the most encouraging parent may not be able to reach them. It’s like the old saying goes…“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” So it is important to note that mindsets, at any age, affect the goals students have, how they view effort and how they respond to challenges and failures on a daily basis.

So what can be done to empower a growth mindset? It turns out that the brain’s neuroplasticity allows it to change when it learns new things. Last year, during one of our parent evening Tiger Talks, Dr. Joann Deak shared with us the importance of stretching “our brain elastics”. Brain research suggests that through persistence and trying challenging things, students’ beliefs or mindsets can be changed and that, when they are, students can experience success. It is important to note that our interactions with our girls can have a significant influence on shaping their mindsets.

As parents and educators, we must ask ourselves some key questions about how we view  learning:

  • What beliefs are being reinforced?
  • What goals are being promoted?
  • Are mistakes valued?

To that effect, I would like to share with you some suggestions found in Carol Dweck’s research on the language we should use when praising or encouraging young minds.

Try Not To Focus On:

  • Qualities commonly interpreted as stable such as the talent or intelligence of your child: e.g. “ You are so intelligent. Look at how well you did on this project.”

Do Focus On:

  • Seeing the effort and strategies used by your child: “I like how you tried a new way to solve that problem.” or “I can tell you have put a lot of effort into this project.”
  • Seeing your child’s abilities improving over time with practice: “You’ve been practising and I can see it’s paying off.”
  • Use the word, “yet” to indicate that your child is on a learning curve that can be reached with time and effort. Instead of saying, “Maybe learning languages isn’t one or your strengths,” add a “yet” to the end of the statement: “Maybe learning languages isn’t one of your strengths, yet.”
  • Viewing mistakes and being challenged as a natural and necessary part of your daughter’s learning: “You’ve made some mistakes but what a great opportunity to learn. Being challenged is when your brain grows the most.”

This last one is so important because students are often really scared of making mistakes, but mistakes are an essential part of the learning process. When your daughter comes home from school today, try asking her, “What was the best mistake you made today?” Have your daughter reflect on her best mistake from a growth mindset point of view and have her explain why this was her best mistake. This will set the stage for an interesting discussion. Don’t be surprised if your daughter looks at you with confusion at first. Try this often and be persistent. It will pay off.

Finally, as parents and teachers, it is important for us to role-model how we ourselves have experienced growth and learning from our own setbacks and failures. Let’s share with our girls the lessons we’ve learned…the hard way. Showing a little vulnerability is an admission to our girls that as adults, we don’t always have all the answers and that we too, can fall short of perfection, and that is just fine.

I look forward to making many new connections with our York House School community. May this new year be filled with the satisfaction of goals achieved as well as numerous opportunities for renewal and growth. May we all “grow through what we go through” in 2018.

Sincerely,

Mme Julie Rousseau
Acting Head of School
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Head Lines: December 2017

 

Dear York House Families,

First and foremost, I wish to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation for the dedication and focus demonstrated by our faculty, staff, and administrative team during our last week before the holidays. It was heartwarming to witness our whole community supporting both our Yorkies and each other during this past week of transition. Despite challenging circumstances, our community rallied, keeping a focus on what is most important to all of us, our girls. As we head into the winter break, I wish to reassure the York House parent community as well as our alumnae that we are a strong, caring, and resilient community.

Throughout the week, I appreciated the numerous opportunities I had to connect with the community and listen to feedback provided by students, parents, faculty, and staff. It is clear that people care deeply about our school and I am committed to ensuring that we have a caring learning and workplace environment. It was a pleasure to have conversations with parents both before and after school as well as engaging in conversations during the Senior School parent-teacher conference. I was also able to drop into many classrooms and attend several events that solidified for me the commitment of our outstanding faculty to our students.

One event I had the privilege to attend, had me reflecting deeply on the power of collaboration. I had the pleasure to see our Grade 5s proudly present their culminating learning demonstrations on accessibility. This interdisciplinary inquiry project demonstrated how our dedicated teachers work collaboratively to create learning opportunities that are engaging and meaningful for our students. The girls came up with creative ideas on how to remove barriers, raise awareness, and change attitudes related to accessibility issues faced by people with disabilities.

The Grade 5 project on accessibility reminded me that we can all mobilize around an issue, engage in discussions, and together seek solutions to strengthen our York House School community. In the new year, I look forward to connecting with our parent community and alumnae and providing you with opportunities to get to know me better.

In the meantime, on behalf of all York House School faculty and staff, I wish to offer my warmest wishes of happiness this holiday season and throughout the coming year.

Mme Julie Rousseau
Acting Head of School

 

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