Today, I was going through student writing and one poem in particular struck me as powerful, yet in the piece the student stated "I'm not smart" and "I'm not good at studying." This happens often, students who think of themselves as "not good students" find their voice through poetry. Sometimes they believe me when I tell them that they are powerful writers, sometimes they do not. I've even had students like this actually shut down when I encourage them, like they have lost a bit of trust in me when I disrupt the negative self-talk they have come to believe. More often, these students light up when I share their writing as an example of what I am looking for in student work because their work has seldom been held up as an example.
Please do not read this as me blaming teachers for these self-confidence issues. The teachers I work in with in schools do everything in their power to help students succeed. Let me just say that again, as I don't think we say this enough: The teachers I work with in schools do everything in their power to help students succeed. They buy their own supplies, work overtime without pay, and educate themselves continually on new and better approaches. They rock and should get paid way more.
I think it has more to do with standardized testing and curriculum that makes some students believe they aren't "smart." There is so much I want to say to these kiddos, but I know I'm but a tiny voice in a cacophony of voices telling them what they need to do to be successful. Truthfully, I worry about the over-achievers even more than the students that are struggling. I want to tell them to relax, to remain open to life and the opportunities it will bring. I want to tell them not to lock in their identity in high school, as that often brings pain later when they realize life is about more than your typical version of success. The new term for this is "growth mindset," which is basically the belief that intelligence can be developed, versus the belief that intelligence is fixed (a fixed mindset). Kudos to the Oregon elementary schools for incorporating this into curriculum and school goals! I think this is one of the single most important messages we can send to kids- you can always change, you can always improve, your fate is not fixed in the results of one test or even one school year, good or bad.
I like to show students, especially freshman, this diagram and talk with them about Ikigai, which is a Japanese word that translates as "a reason to get up in the morning." I hope it helps students think about their life as a whole, apart from just their performance in school. I hope it reaches both students who consider themselves smart and those who don't. What is your Ikigai?