One of my favorite aspects of working in education is the power of a reset. Not only do we get the chance to start over each September, but each new semester feels like an opportunity for growth and renewal. As we are about to embark on our second semester of the school year, this is an ideal time to work on starting fresh, recovering from our missteps, and emphasizing the importance of a growth mindset.
I was recently speaking with a fellow twice-exceptional educator who has worked with this wonderfully complex population for over 20 years. As she was sharing about some successful strategies for differentiation, she, somewhat nonchalantly, mentioned teaching into the “recovery of missteps”. Her phrasing immediately piqued my interest and I needed to dig deeper into this idea with her. She explained that she uses “missteps” rather than “mistakes” because it has less “emotional baggage”, but I also found it powerful as a misstep alludes to steps in a process. A process is something that can be broken down into more manageable components and can be worked on over time in order to achieve a desired outcome. Process over product is a belief that we hold in high regard at Lang, and missteps are undoubtedly a part of that journey.
I did not always think this way. Like many other female-identifying neurodivergent individuals of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I was not officially diagnosed with ADHD until the end of high school as many of my quirky wirings were well-masked with high academic achievement. I can remember the doctor reading my parents a list of criteria (essentially a dossier of what I considered flaws) and they were asked to rate my likelihood for each item. When he got to “often makes mistakes”, I felt crushed. I knew it was true, but I was overwhelmed with frustration upon hearing that as I had worked so hard to not make mistakes. For years, a fixed mindset and perfectionism had been commandeering all of my thoughts around who I was a learner. I assumed that in areas where I made mistakes, I would never be good enough and needed to overcompensate in my areas of strength so that no one would notice my struggles. (Does that sound like anyone you know?)
Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and develop new pathways of learning, had to be fostered. It took a very long time to come to terms with my wiring, and even longer to start to consider some of my quirks to be strengths. Similarly, I had to practice being a flexible thinker in order to create new neural pathways and develop a growth mindset about who I was as a learner. Knowing what I know now, I feel a strong sense of duty in supporting students as they create new pathways of understanding, and help them to feel empowered as they embrace missteps as opportunities for learning and growth.
Why do so many of our students demonstrate reluctance to go back and revise their writing? Why do so many of our students give up instead of erasing and starting the process of solving an equation over again? It is almost painful to experience failure or feel a sense of rejection due to our missteps. Knowing this makes it even more important for us to strategically and intentionally teach into how to recover from a misstep and embrace a growth mindset. Our overarching goal is to provide our students with the tools to accept the inevitability of missteps and learn to navigate what comes next in recovering from a misstep. Own it, process it, and move forward.
Using a Growth Mindset to Recover from Missteps at School and Home in the Upcoming New Semester:
Slow down: Many of us like to jump in and begin a task before fully understanding the expectations or learning objectives. Let’s work together to reinforce the idea of reading/hearing all instructions carefully and investing in the skills necessary for the task at-hand before we begin.
Anticipate challenges and be proactive: Consider areas in which your child has shown rigid or stuck thinking in the past and create an action plan for the order of steps in the process. Involve them in the process by asking, “what might be hard about this task?” and “what do you think we could do to feel more confident with this task?”.
Be a model: Model your own recovery by naming the misstep and thinking aloud about what didn’t work, and how you might think or do something differently moving forward. Normalize the occurrence of a misstep by being up front when you experience it yourself.
Name the progress and praise effort: Look for progress being made with new skills and let the student know that you see them. Give ample opportunities to practice the skill in low-stakes ways and notice the effort.
Continue Your Neurodiversity-Affirming Journey
Something to Read
Gifted and Distractible: Understanding, Supporting, and Advocating for Your Twice-Exceptional Child by Julie F. Skolnick
Sign up for her newsletters at www.withunderstandingcomescalm.com/.
Something to Listen To
The Neurodiversity Podcast with Emily Kircher-Morris
Something to Watch