My school prides itself on instructing with a "growth mindset" in careful consideration.
A mindset, according to Dweck, is a self-perception or “self-theory” that people hold about themselves. Believing that you are either “intelligent” or “unintelligent” is a simple example of a mindset. People may also have a mindset related their personal or professional lives—“I’m a good teacher” or “I’m a bad parent,” for example. People can be aware or unaware of their mindsets, according to Dweck, but they can have profound effect on learning achievement, skill acquisition, personal relationships, professional success, and many other dimensions of life.
I am completely on board with this mentality. I think people of all ages who open their minds to new challenges and experiences are more than likely to live a more fulfilling and diverse life.
However, one of the statements I've been told from time to time not to use with my students (as part of the growth mindset mentality) is to tell them that they are "smart."
I disagree with this statement.
From the time that I was very young, my Dad has used the phrase "Be Smart" with me on an almost daily basis. He never explained what the word "smart" meant. He never elaborated on what his expectations of "being smart" meant, yet I think I have a pretty clear sense of what was implied.
"Being Smart" is not limited to a test score. It has nothing to do with how quickly you finish an assignment. And it's not because you were able to solve the problem first in your head.
To me, being smart is and always will be, a growth mindset in itself.
Every morning before the bell rings, I am visited by 3-4 former students before they head off to their current class. They are all boys. They are all minorities. Does that part matter? To be honest, I really have no idea. I'd like to think they come for an extra boost of encouragement from my assistant and I (who advocates for these children more than I could ever imagine a person is capable of) before they set off to tackle the world of upper elementary school life.
Every morning I tell them: "Have a good day. Be Smart." They know what it means. They know I mean it. No judgement. No criticism. Just expectation.
Let me show you:
Student A: "Mrs. Barringer, I've got a big test in math today."
T: "You'll do just fine. Have a great day. Be Smart."
I expect nothing from this math test but best effort and perseverance. I expect you to be smart. Use your tools, your resources, your background knowledge. Take your time, check over your answers, don't give up. Be Smart.
Student B: "Mrs. Barringer, John and I got into a big fight yesterday."
T: "I'm sure you'll be able to work it out. You two care a lot about each other. Be Smart."
I expect you to do your best to resolve the conflict. Be fair and open minded. Always try your best to be a good friend. Be Smart.
Smartness is....situational. It is flexible. It cannot be defined and put into a tiny box in just one category.
Every time I said goodbye to my Dad (either because I was going somewhere or about to do something significant) his phrase was and is always the same. Be Smart.
Make smart choices. Behave yourself. Study. Do your schoolwork. Respect your elders. Listen to adults. Clean up after yourself. Take responsibility for your actions. Be kind. Be fair. Take care of yourself. Follow directions. Be open minded to success. Expect success from yourself.
I have always and will continue to tell my students that they are smart.
- A student gets a perfect score on an assessment - "You're smart. I can tell you worked hard to master this concept.
- A students gets 3/4 of the questions correct on an assessment that they would typically only get 1/2 correct - "You're smart. I can tell you've really been working to improve on this skill."
- A student turns their homework in on time, labeled, without having to be reminded to get out their work - "You're smart. You're showing responsibility and accountability for your own work."
- A student handles a conflict independently - "You're smart. That shows maturity and social awareness."
- A student makes a three-point shot at recess - "You're smart. I can see you've been practicing."
- A students waits for 2 adults to finish their conversation before they interrupt with a question/comment - "You're smart. That was very respectful of you to be patient and wait for me to finish talking."
I don't have any children of my own yet. One of the things I will tell them when they are old enough to hear it is "Be Smart." They will hear it often and in numerous types of situations. They will understand that being smart is not just applicable to intelligence or an IQ score. It is life skills. It is common sense. It is mindfulness.
Students need to hear that they are smart. It makes them feel good. It jump-starts their self confidence. They also need to know that there are millions of ways to be smart. It has nothing to do with a report card, an EOG, or data of any kind.
It is, and always will be, a mindset on how they work towards success. In all aspects of life.