The Power of Changing Our Mindset


Our guest blogger this week is Jeff O’Neal, a senior at Mt. Hebron High School who serves as Student Government President. He writes today about a recent discussion on the book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 9.26.30 AMEarlier this month, I had the privilege to participate in a book discussion led by Dr. Foose on “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” by Carol Dweck. The book explores the idea of mindset and how it affects people’s lives, focusing on the comparison of the fixed mindset versus the growth mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes that self-imposed change can be too hard or impossible, but one with a growth mindset believes that change is necessary for improvement.

While this may seem like common sense, there is an encouraging value in the book’s lessons, particularly for future generations. Mindset itself can be changed, and changing it can reap benefits in virtually all aspects of our lives. The growth mindset accepts and learns from failure, viewing it as a necessary step on the road to success.

While the feeling of failure is certainly not enjoyable, the most important part of failing is when you pick yourself up and resolve to move on from it, better equipped with an understanding that you didn’t have before. From failure, we are able to identify our strengths and weakness and learn how to improve our skills.

This idea is not revolutionary. Successful people in a variety of fields have learned from experiences, especially failures, and have taken the opportunity to better themselves. The drive and perseverance in trying to make themselves better are traits that a growth mindset develops and strengthens. This manner of thinking takes time to develop, which is why teachers play an integral role in fostering the growth mindset in their students.

Mr. Tom Sankey, my calculus teacher of two years, has always tried to empower students by showing them that their efforts make a difference. He always pushes every student to go above and beyond so that they can truly master the material, regardless of the grades they may be earning in the class. Students in his class are able to understand that a poor grade can eventually become a better grade with effort, and he makes himself available to help his his students every step of the way. Mr. Sankey, like many of my teachers at Mt. Hebron, helps students understand the power of effort.

With a growth mindset, students can learn from failures and understand that every bit of time and effort expended on any endeavor, whether it is a service project, difficult class, or friendship, will truly make a difference in improving their lives.

The Importance of Education in Howard County

Guest blogger Allan Kittleman is the Howard County Executive. He formerly served as a state senator and Howard County Council member.

kittleman_6693j-cropped-hires[1]Howard County lands high on the “best places to live” lists for a host of reasons — a vigorous economy, excellent public services, premier library system, shared commitment to serving the less fortunate, and many others. All of these factors share one obvious common denominator: education.

Our excellent educational system is at the heart of so much of what makes this County great. Education also ranks at the top of my priorities as your new County Executive, because it is the key to ensuring a bright future for our children, our economy, and our entire community. I look forward to collaborating with Dr. Foose and other community leaders to raise our already enviable educational program to an even higher plane.

It is striking how closely the guiding principles, goals and strategies in the HCPSS strategic plan, Vision 2018, align with my overall vision for our county. We all share the responsibility for creating a climate where each and every child will thrive. By pooling our abundant resources in talent, compassion, determination, and capital, we will surely bring our shared vision to life.

I am well aware just how fortunate I am to take the helm of such a strong community that enjoys so many varied assets. I am eager to join HCPSS students, parents, teachers, school and system leaders, and every other member of the community in creating an even brighter future for us all.

Jody Zepp

Traits of a Good Teacher: Insight from Maryland T.O.Y. Jody Zepp

Guest blogger Jody Zepp shares her insight on the most important characteristics of a good teacher. Zepp is 2014-15 Maryland Teacher of the Year and a government and psychology teacher at Hammond High School.

I believe a teacher is someone who is willing and humble enough to drink from the instructional wells of those who have preceded us and continue to be nourished by them.

I come from a family of educators. My father was a professor and my mother was an elementary school teacher. My oldest brother is a high school teacher and my older sister is an elementary school teacher. Each provides inspiration, encouragement, and perhaps most important of all, the never-ending sense of wonder that truly is teaching.

So when I was asked to outline some of the characteristics that I think are commonly found within great educators, I think that faith, experience, compassion, conviction, and confidence are among the chief elements needed to inspire young people to reach their potential.

Faith: It is imperative that teachers demonstrate a sustained belief and faith in all students, and be mindful not to give “gotcha” tests or grade students on behaviors. We must recognize that among our “regular” students are, in fact, “advanced” students and advocate in their behalf. Students cannot talk about a future until they can see one.

Experience: In psychology, we talk about learning as the relatively permanent change in behavior as a function of experience. So it is the experience that precedes all else when it comes to learning. I have found that very little significant happens in the classroom apart from relationships; therefore providing a learning experience must begin with relationships – relationships of trust, relationships of never-giving-up, relationships of walking-with-your-students.

Compassion: Carl Jung suggested that, “If we have to deal with the human soul, we must meet it on its own ground and we are bound to do so when confronted with the real and crushing problems of life.” We do have to deal with the human soul in the classroom and we do have to meet it on its own ground. Our students bring a multitude of real and crushing problems of life into that doorjamb every single day. If we are not bound to confront them as teachers with humanity and understanding, then we will never be able to establish a human experience from which to learn anything together.

Conviction: The degree to which a teacher is disheartened is adversely affected in the classroom. A heartened teacher, on the other hand, knows that students can see a future when they are empowered in the classroom, when they feel a sense of self-actualization with academic progress, when their learned self-fulfilling prophecy of failure is no longer perpetuated, when the “stereotype threat” is lifted, and when the teacher is walking that talk. A heartened teacher is dedicated to a student’s fundamental right to learn, is moving “regular” students to advanced classes, is not going to give up on their struggle to succeed on state and college exams, is not going to allow students to fail on his or her watch, does not want to see what will be a fifth generation of girls in the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women. A heartened teacher is salient in conviction about her belief that education is an equalizer and that the best for the best of students is the best for all students. As John Stuart Mill stated, “One person with a belief is equal to a force of 99 who have only interests.” That is what I live with my students every day as I go to the mat on principle on their behalf.

Confidence: Great teachers are secure with who they are and why they are. They are fearless about their passion and are willing to capture learning no matter how zany the method or activity. They engage in raw, often uncomfortable, introspection on a daily basis and reflect on how well their instruction can be measured, and, therefore, how the instruction needs to be modified, differentiated, and adjusted accordingly. Great teachers understand that the student experience in the classroom transfers directly into the testing environment, so great teachers do not begin the day with “What am I going to do today?” but rather, “What are the students going to learn today?” Great teachers understand what I call “the pedagogy of the heart,” because experiencing something in our heart helps us to live it more effectively and to teach it more effectively. We want great learning and we want learned greatness.

Learn more about Jody Zepp and her experiences as Maryland Teacher of the Year.