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School of Thought

Insights & Ideas for Online Teaching

Changing Parents' Mindset

Guest Author:  Lisa Light

Over the summer I have learned much about the importance of a growth mindset.  I've also learned how devastating it is that our nation is so at ease with the feeling that ""I suck at math".  As I weave together my game plan to overcome this in my classroom with my students I realize there is another game plan I need to put together. That of teaching the parents of my students a growth mindset too.

What is a growth mindset?
There are two types of mindsets and they are important to understand, especially in the teaching of math.  A fixed mindset basically says that I am good at math because I have an inherent talent for it.  I'm either born with the math gene or not.  This is the mindset most people have and it severely limits the accessibility of a deep understanding of mathematics.  A growth mindset says that I am good at math because I work hard.  The importance of this is that it opens the door to a deep understanding of math to everyone!  You don't have to be born with the math gene you just have to be willing to take responsibility for your understanding, ask questions, and work hard.  Other countries, like Japan, establish a growth mindset in their students and I believe it is part of the reason they fare so well.  There are things you can do to encourage a growth mindset (maybe a post on that in the future) and I'm working at putting those things into play this year.

I suck at reading and that's okay! 
It is a crisis in this nation that so many freely admit and accept being horrible at math yet it is not on the radar as such. Saying one sucks at reading or writing would bring specialists out of the corners to intervene.  Friends would be appalled to hear such a statement.  Yet Americans say they are horrible at math all the time. And most of their friends respond with "I am too."  Why is it acceptable to be horrible in number sense and problem solving (let's face it folks, that's what math is!) but not acceptable to say you are a horrible reader?  Somehow it has become socially acceptable to be bad at math.   This has to change.

How did we get here?
Where this is most concerning to me is when those saying this are the parents of  my students. It concerns me because they say it in front their children during parent teacher conferences and directly to me.  Now I don't blame parents for feeling this way.  In a sense they have been set up for it by the way we have traditionally taught math in this country (something we need to drastically change!).  Parents have come to accept a fixed mindset.  The horrible part is that they are unwittingly passing this onto their children.  I believe that you can't change what you don't acknowledge (Dr. Philism, I think) and I hope to find a way to help parents understand their role in helping me to change their children's mindset.

Let's ask parents, "What if?"
Cracking the shell on "I suck at math" is going to be difficult.  It's ingrained and carries with it many horrible experiences people have had with math.  Rather than confronting it abruptly, I wonder if asking parents to dream a better way might not be the way to go.  I wonder the reaction if I asked parents to consider, "What if?"  What if they had be given the opportunity for a better experience in math class?  What if they had been given the message that they are good at math?  What if their math teachers had given them praise for their efforts?  What if they had been taught that mistakes make your brain grow and they are okay?  What if they had been allowed to work in groups to learn from each other?  I think that if I can get parents to see that their could have been a better way for them that I can get them excited to help me create a better way for their children.

Newsletters never end up home!
I thought about sending home a parent newsletter to give parents information about how to help me change their children's mindset.  And I think for this to be successful they need to feel they are a part of the process.  I certainly can't do this without them! But I know in my own household of five kids, newsletters never end up at home.  If they do they sometimes end up in the garbage or read weeks later.  So I thought I would instead create an online newsletter (think parent blog) that was sent out by a link through Remind 101.  I already have parents sign up for it and that way it goes directly to them. I could even use it to send out periodic hints of things to ask their children about class or positive messages that they can relay to their kids. 

Parents are your greatest ally!
I don't think there is anyone more powerful to help us change kid's mindset better than parents.  If they are on our side and working with us our students will benefit greatly.  Although I haven't worked out every detail I have gathered a game plan in my head.  Here are the highlights of that plan:

Help parents to see how their experience shaped them and how it could be better for their kids
Show parents how I am doing things differently by sharing what's happening in the classroom
Ask parents to help me make things better by giving them concrete things to say and do with their kids

I believe that once parents see how doing worksheets of 30 problems on the same concept in complete silence sitting in rows day after day has affected their relationship with math they will be hungry for a better way for their kids.  And when I share with them all that I do in my classroom for students like giving them choice in assignments, having them work in groups, etc. they will see hope.  And maybe, just maybe, through their own children they will change their relationship with math for the better.

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