Billy's Blog

Good beginnings start with a growth mindset

August 17, 2018
By Billy Handmaker

“Good seasons start with good beginnings.”  

--Sparky Anderson


I thought about these words from the legendary baseball manager as the Keystone faculty and staff spent the last week and a half preparing for the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. Whether it was the maintenance crew beautifying the campus, the administration creating rosters and finalizing class lists, or teachers decorating their rooms or planning units with colleagues, there was a buzz of anticipation around the school.  Together, we engaged in thought-provoking discussions as we considered how we wish the upcoming year to proceed.

Peering into upper school lockers filled with books or strolling through the Little School and enjoying the colorful and dynamic rooms gave me an anticipatory thrill for the promise of a new school year. While there can be some anxiety around the beginning of the year, this is natural as all of us--teachers, staff members, parents, and students -- enter a new phase that holds many unknowns. If we were not a little anxious, we would be ignoring the positive kind of stress that new beginnings inevitably bring.  Being nervous and excited simultaneously is a good thing, and we should let our children know that this is not only OK, it is healthy. We can heed the words of the author John Galsworthy who once said, “Beginnings are always messy.”

So how do we as parents and as educators help our children navigate this potential messiness? Author and educator Dr. Amy Eva offers suggestions in a blog post in Greater Good magazine, “Tips for Helping Kids Develop a Growth Mindset.” While Eva focuses on the social benefits of a growth mindset, versus a fixed mindset, this approach to living and learning for children and teens is just as applicable to their academic and extracurricular experiences.  

Eva explains some of the advantages of a growth mindset are improved peer relationships, empathy, and cooperation.  Believing that our brains are malleable and our abilities are not set also enables our children to take on greater challenges in their academic classes, the arts, and in athletics.  This kind of approach empowers our children to respond well to setbacks and to look at them as an inevitable component of the learning process. As a colleague once said, “A failure is an event not a person.”  

As the adults in our children’s lives, we have a crucial role to play in helping them see obstacles as opportunities.  If we share with them new tasks we have taken on that were outside of our comfort zone, they will understand that this is natural and even exciting. If we explain to them that, at times, we experience difficulties but we persevere and grow, they will see that their current stress is an inevitable part of changing and growing.  

Instead of saying when they get a low grade on a quiz, “I was bad in that subject also,” we should explain that “I struggled in this area, but after a lot of hard work, I really improved.”  When they earn a good grade on a paper, rather than applauding their success by stating “You’re really smart,” we should commend their hard work as the reason they prevailed. While these may seem like small differences, the impact can be large as our children learn that their effort, instead of their innate ability, may be a deciding, or even the determining, factor in their doing well.  

I also recommend watching the video below with your child to explain a growth versus a fixed mindset. It may help clarify the concept and show them the benefits of this approach to life and learning. This may also allow your child to understand that learning is a journey rather than an arrival at a finite point and that, like any good trip, there will be ups and downs along the way.  The ballerina and author Missy Copeland said it well, “Decide what you want. Declare it to the world. See yourself winning. And remember that if you are persistent as well as patient, you can get whatever you seek… I may not be there yet, but I am closer than I was yesterday.”

The Power of Habits

August 07, 2018
By Billy Handmaker

“Sorry, it’s a habit.”  “Creature of habit.” “Force of habit.”  How many times in our lives as parents do we attribute something that either we or our children do to habit?  We act or say something with such ease, and with so little thought, that we may not even realize until later that it happened.  

As we know, habits by themselves can be value neutral. Some are good; we want our children to say “‘please” and “thank you” automatically or to do their homework or chores without our having to remind them.  However, we are equally aware that some habits are not beneficial; “please stop biting your nails,” or “please stop using the word ‘like’ in every sentence!”

As a bibliophile, I consider reading to be one of the most beneficial habits we can develop. Obviously, it expands our vocabulary, allows us to learn something new, or escape to another world, but some studies have shown that reading literary fiction can also make us more empathic human beings. A rationale for summer reading in particular is to ensure that students continue immersing themselves in good books when school is out of session so they don’t have to revive the habit of reading in mid-August when summer ends and the academic year begins.  

To help us begin the year with a shared mindset at Keystone, every member of the Keystone faculty and staff read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit  this summer. This highly readable study of habits, how they develop, and how they can be changed has applicability for all of us, no matter what role we play in the school. As part of our week of professional development this year, we gathered together on Monday evening, August 6.,  to discuss our habits at Keystone-both the ones we like and maybe some we wish we had. Just as we ask our students to reflect on themselves and continually seek to improve, we’re all looking at what we do well and what could be even better.

This habit of reflecting on one’s self and always striving to improve characterizes excellent school like Keystone and will inform the work we will do this year in our Independent Schools of the Southwest (ISAS) Accreditation Self-Study. In a spirit of what I call “healthy dissatisfaction,” we will analyze how and what we do, commend what we do well, and recommend how we could be even more effective.  Every self-study committee will have what we’re calling an “outsider,” someone from outside the usual group who asks the hard questions that force us to look deep and hard at why we do what we do and either reaffirm our rationale or seek to make change. This is exciting and invigorating work that will make Keystone an even stronger school than we are now, and we look forward to the work ahead of us.

For parents and students, one of the beautiful things about school is that every August, we have a chance to reinvent ourselves. We can shed or change bad habits and create new ones that will help us. I have linked below an article that may be beneficial as you ponder how to begin the year on the right foot.  In “15 Steps on How To Get Ready for School Quickly,” Laura Richards offers tips on the little things we can do the night before so the mornings aren’t quite as rushed.  Perhaps we should set that dreaded alarm fifteen minutes earlier to give ourselves a little more time in the morning or maybe students should set out their clothes the night before so they’re not panicking because they “have nothing to wear” while their ride is outside waiting. While each of these habits in isolation may seem small, taken together they can determine whether our day starts out well or we’re leaving the house already on edge and anxious.  I hope you find it helpful.

I’ve enjoyed seeing  so many of you around campus as we approach the beginning of school, and I look forward to connecting with even more of you in the days ahead.  We will have a great year as we celebrate Keystone’s 70th birthday and join together in the meaningful work of helping bright and motivated children pursue academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership.

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8/17/18 - By Billy Handmaker
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