My friend, Tara Lesko, works in a Northern New Jersey school that focuses on alternative learning methods (my own words). The followings was written in response to goal versus process oriented methods of teaching and learning.
On a personal note, I’ve found that being too focused on the end goal has the distasteful result of disappointment when in fact much has been gained. I think about my career changes, failed businesses, and other endeavors that never came to fruition. Even my graduate degree is considered a failure by some because I’m not currently using it to make money. However, if I discount these life events as failures because they did not manifest as expected (which brings me to another topic – whose expectation did they fail to meet? Mine, or someone else’s?) then I have discounted much by the way of personal growth.
Drawing fairies, fashion photography, chapbook editor, novelist, journalist, Health Nut, even administrative assistant – these are all endeavors that did not make me much by the way of fame or fortune, but they each took me one step closer to where I am today. Not only in my career, but in my life. If I were to look back over my life as a whole, I have little regrets. What I do have is a road map of events that have helped me evolve as a human being and a spirit of light and love. This is how I must define myself, not as a summation of the goals I reached, or chose not to reach. Because it is a choice… and choosing to forgo a goal in light of personal growth by far the more difficult path to take.
Following is Tara’s take on the topic – especially with regard to a very important demographic – children learning to find strength in their personal path and individual talents.
by Tara Lesko
Focus on the process and not so much the result. I am sure we have all heard this advice or something similar to it. Because we are a society that is often fixated on the outcome of our goals and objectives, we often forget about the steps forward and the steps backward we needed to take to achieve the desired outcome. Individuals who have a fixed mindset often overlook the valuable lessons of the “journey” because of the intense concentration on the “destination”. How can anyone with a solid, fixed mindset be able to learn and progress? A staggering number of Americans nowadays suffer with plaguing feelings of uselessness, depression, and an overall lack of true identity. Teaching our young people to have more of a growth mindset could possibly lead to a generation that is more committed to an ethic that involves continuous learning and growth.
All too often, our students become preoccupied with choosing and achieving their academic and professional goals. I often wonder if this is such a good idea anymore. How can a seventeen year old, whose mental and emotional being is still not fully developed, be able to determine what he or she wants to spend 80% of his or her adult life doing? Most college students change their majors, sometimes more than once, and many adults in every age bracket change their occupations, sometimes numerous times. This seems to happen frequently because parents and educators alike are encouraging fixed mindsets. When we do this, we are doing a disservice to our youth because they can end up seeing themselves as successful failures.
I happen to teach in an environment where it is next to impossible to encourage anything but a growth mindset. My school consists of a small population of students, from grades 7 to 12, who have various disabilities and disorders: ADD, ADHD, Anxiety & Depression, OCD, Learning Disabled, substance abuse, Bipolar Disorder, Behavior Disorders, and different levels of the Autism spectrum. In many cases, these diagnoses follow our students out of high school and for many, these special needs hinder their functioning. Even though our students are always encouraged to consider college an option after graduation, the fact remains that most of them are not college-bound, in a traditional sense.
The teachers at my school emphasize to our students that even though their academic and professional opportunities seem bleak to them, there are still numerous paths to growth and independence. No one is expected to declare a specific major by their junior or senior year, and no one is expected to pick an academic major. Our completely non-academic kids are steered into the workforce in a positive way, so they know there are many chances for some form of development. Those who are considering some schooling by way of career training are encouraged to consider trade schools such as Lincoln Tech or Eastwick College, or they are introduced to certificate programs that are often completed online. For example, my school recently held their annual Career Night for our students and their families. A very indecisive senior who is in my Core Group (a.k.a homeroom) was surprised to learn that many community colleges now offer a wide variety of Certificate of Completion programs in many trades such as Fire Code Inspection and IT work – fields that would involve a complete hands-on approach to learning. Since I teach two nights a week at Essex County College and represented them at the fair, it was rewarding to be able to help my happy and relieved student towards a path that peaked his interest.
When we encourage our students to have a fixed, set-in-stone mindset, we are setting them up for a false sense of success or straight-up failure. Seemingly, encouraging a fixed mindset only teaches kids to meet the expectations of others and make their skills look good without actually being good.
When students are faced with problems, challenges, and constructive criticism, they are led to focus on the process as opposed to the result. Many students, especially those with special needs, have a difficult time seeing the value in this kind of mindset because we are a society fixated on the end result of a process. Instead of learning from mistakes, they are viewed as accumulating failures.
It is our responsibility as educators to teach our kids that we never stop growing and evolving even into adulthood. So why lead them to feel they have to have it all together now?