The ‘Effort Ribbon’ Generation: A Strategy to Battle Parenting that Discourages Growth Mindset

A recent quote in this Independent Article tweeted by @GeneratingGenius certainly got a lot of us thinking today.  It simply read: ‘If a mother tells daughter she could never do maths either, daughter’s performance in maths immediately decreases’ .

Now, this obviously serves as an interesting perspective on resilience and ‘grit’ in Growth Mindset Education.  Suddenly, and almost certainly, it seemed to feel amongst educators that this battle extends beyond the conversations you have with your students and into the realm of family attitudes to learning and parental education on cognitive dissonance.  Which sparks the question: How can we encourage resilience and ‘grit’ in the classroom if it is discouraged at home?

We have all heard parents make a passing comment about their child that sometimes seems to eliminate our year’s work: “X will never be good at English,” “X has never been good at English,” “X doesn’t enjoy English” and so on.  When we hear these, we attempt to politely backtrack around the statement to respond along the lines of “Well, X did a wonderful piece of creative writing and is sometimes engaged but could really achieve in English if X ensured they took on challenges, reflected on their targets and allowed themselves to ‘jump’ into the pit of learning!” – the parent remaining oblivious to your attempt, as an educator, to highlight the idea that Growth Mindset, perseverance and challenge were the steps to achieving a good result.  The most frightening thing, of course, is perhaps the realisation that this way of speaking about X continues beyond the school bell, into the late hours of the evening; it becomes increasingly apparent that the challenge to encourage X in English is harder than you thought.

When this Independent Article was published, I did tweet the question: How do we then overcome self-narrative that is developed (and repeated) beyond the classroom?  A few responses that came through said the only answer was to educate the parents, however, I’m going to explain why I think that’s not the case.

Certainly, educating the parents would be a dream.  Imagine holding a school assembly: every parent gleaming to see their child achieve to the best of their ability; every parent interested in the latest research and educational theory so that they understand cognitive approaches to effectively encourage their child’s learning; every parent leaving with a sound and developed understanding on ways to apply growth mindset beyond the classroom.  Lovely idea, but certainly a Utopia.  The three concerns I have with this are as followed:

  1. The parents that we want to hear such theories will be the hardest to draw in.
  2. We cannot ensure that these strategies of growth mindset are effectively carried into the home life of pupils.
  3. We cannot learn everything we need to know about growth mindset in one ‘Information Evening.’

So, while this idea seems lovely, I want to focus on something that we can do instantly and almost effortlessly that I believe would have a good impact. The strategy? Target the Generation of ‘Effort Ribbons’

I was fortunate enough to speak to a few pupils today about the roots of their self-narrative.  They claimed the only reason they listen to their parents is because they see them as “role-models” and, consequently, there is an expectation that what their parents say is accurate and truthful.  Interestingly, as they develop into their teenage years their notion of a ‘role-model’ shifts – usually to their friendship circle or social group.  In fact, there was actually a level of defiance towards their parents that discouraged him to believe the parental challenges to self narrative: if they thought their child was good, the pupils questioned their honesty.  If they thought their child was bad, the pupils wanted to prove them wrong. Therefore, if the student sees their friends as role-models and will regularly believe that their friends have a strong understanding of who they are (at times, this understanding is believed to be stronger than their parents), encouraging growth mindset amongst their peers seems to be the most effective way to combat or challenge parenting that discourages growth mindset.

And this may not be as difficult as we think. Upon my discussion, one student proudly asserted: “But miss, we are from the generation of ‘Effort Ribbons.'”  Which sparked something extremely interesting to be aware of. The truth is, the modern generation of pupils have been consistently rewarded for ‘effort’ rather than winning.  It is not uncommon to see students receive certificates for an attempt and many admit that this motivates them to try again; the need to ‘win’ not always being the absolute motivation in their attempt at an activity or a competition. Adding to that the fact that a teenage pupil considers their friends and peers to “know them the best” is a bonus for us, because they will be from the same ‘Effort Ribbon’ generation.

Consequently, perhaps the answer to all this lies not in endless meetings with parents attempting to effectively teach cognitive dissonance and strategies to effectively promote growth mindset beyond the classroom but simply ensuring we continue to engage a pupil’s intellectual and social circles.  If everyone around them understands that effort is the key to success and there are no self-narrative absolutes, this would certainly further encourage and motivate an individual to try.  And if we teach this well enough, we can raise this embedded understanding of growth mindset in a generation of future parents.

Twitter: @S_Donarski
More about the Self-Narrative here.

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3 thoughts on “The ‘Effort Ribbon’ Generation: A Strategy to Battle Parenting that Discourages Growth Mindset

  1. Definitely agree that parents sending such messages can tear away at all the good work of stealthy psychological interventions. I also agree that the teen brain is more receptive to peer pressure anyway, so it is about guiding that herd mentality for the good. I think there are lots of nudges where we can better make this happen, but, fundamentally, let’s keep it simple: it is about a knowledgeable teacher (deeply knowledgeable about their students and their subject) setting the bar sky high and having expectations that every child can and should meet that challenge. School systems should be aligned to help that better happen. Awards, ribbons, parental meetings, and the rest will not prove enough if that fundamental prerequisite is absent.

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  2. I’m beginning to believe the best thinking is sparked in a person when it becomes apparent that two people they admire have different view points. This could be parents (as in Victor Hugo) or anyone now, once we start seeking out the leaders of the field we care about. You did this for me Alex on your post about Genius Hour. It got me thinking hard and ultimately, I believe, moved me through one of those thresholds on perception/need. I actually talked about it in my ResearchED presentation as an example of the learning I’m experiencing now. If students stay present long enough in whatever field they care about, they will find two people they admire who have different views. This compels them to dig inside themselves towards formulating their own conclusion. This is the start of independence from absolute parental influence.

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  3. This is such an interesting article. I developed a self-narrative as primary school pupil that I was no good at Maths. I went on to achieve an A at GCSE, but still believed I was no good at it and that was a fluke. Maybe, if someone had sufficiently challenged me and interested me in that subject my narrative would have changed (particularly if someone had actually explained to me why they suddenly started substituting numbers for letters that didn’t spell anything. Hello algebra!).

    This also ties to a theme I’ve been discussing on my blog – student’s fear of failure. I think they build up this self-narrative so that failing in some regard becomes ‘safe’. It doesn’t matter that they’ve failed because they’ve never claimed to be good at it. Parents are also resistant to promoting risk taking in their children because our culture does not permit failure.

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