Tired of the Fixed Mindset

The school year is over. I’ve spent the past 5 days recovering from one of the most difficult years I’ve ever taught. I have done a lot of thinking in the past five days as I start to regain my energy. I look back and see a beat down and exhausted person pleading for mercy. I was so tired…

…of watching students crumbling up their notes into a ball and throwing them, instead of using them to study.

…of watching young men and women punching and slapping each other.

…of them avoiding accountability and always putting the blame on others.

…listening to screaming – in other people’s faces, in my face, and in general.

…listening to incessant cussing. Oh, the cussing.

…of students refusing to lift a pencil to do work and my encouragement falling on deaf ears.

…watching middle school students throw temper tantrums like toddlers because they are not allowed to leave the classroom to go to the bathroom when, in fact, they most definitely don’t need to use the bathroom.

…of breaking up fights and listening to threats.

…of disrespect. Blatant and malicious disrespect.

But, above all else, I grew tired of the fixed mindset.

The sad truth is that the students I taught exhibited these behaviors on a daily basis. The sadder truth? Every single one of my students has amazing academic potential. Unfortunately, the fixed mindset they have developed over time interferes with their learning. They have lost belief in themselves as learners. Their previous failures have damaged their egos and their self-esteem in the classroom. Therefore, when the content becomes difficult, instead of making an effort and trying, they resort to other behaviors.

And at the end of the day, I don’t blame them. Even though I get frustrated with them, they are not the ones at fault.

I understand that these students did not develop these mindsets on their own. My students’ families – spearheaded by their parents – and neighborhoods have instilled these mindsets in them. Their past teachers, classmates, and other school faculty were not able to help them establish a growth mindset that helps them overcome failures, either. The result? A student body devoid of a single growth mindset.

My students are at an age where most of what I say will be trumped by their peers (or at least that is what Erik Erikson has taught me). Despite that, I still wanted to encourage my students to rid themselves of their fixed mindsets! So, I introduced my students to Carol S. Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, We read passages that exemplified both types of mindsets and discussed the consequences of each. I was determined to open their eyes to what they were missing.

Well, I’m afraid I fell short. My students are moving on next year; many of them with the same mindset they had when they started this school year. When I first realized this, I felt as though I had failed my students. But, wait. I already knew that my encouragement to an individual with a fixed mindset is going to have very little weight, let alone a teenager with a fixed mindset. So did I fail, or did I learn a very valuable lesson that I can blog and share with other educators?

Mindsets are formed early. As educators, we need to start teaching the benefits of a growth mindset often, as early as kindergarten and before! And educators need parents, more than ever, to instill a growth mindset in their children. If parents do not get on board in encouraging their children to grow mentally and emotionally, how are teachers ever going to succeed in expecting a growth mindset in the classroom?

What will I do differently next year? Talk about the growth mindset early and often and to everyone I meet! Our students need to know that they are capable of so much! The first step in reaching their goals is believing that they can and realizing their potential. Hopefully, this will give them something to believe in and hold on to throughout the challenges that middle school will present to them.


My Favorite Podcasts: 2015 Edition

Like many of you reading this, I’m a fan of podcasts. It began several years ago when my husband and I were on a road-trip. He had downloaded a few of his favorite comedy podcasts for our trip and as soon as we listened to them, I was hooked. To this day, I love taking road-trips with my hubby and laughing along to Comedy Bang Bang (@comedybangbang), the Nerdist Podcast (@nerdistdotcom) and Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guy Podcast.

It didn’t take me long to realize that there are podcasts out there for everyone (and I mean, everyone.) I have listened to a wide variety of different podcasts in the past two years. I have found some that I listen to religiously and others that I deleted after five minutes. [Now, I know what you may be thinking: Five minutes?! She didn’t even give them a chance! But there are too many awesome podcasts and episodes of podcasts out there to waste a mere five minutes on one that doesn’t float my podcast-boat.]

Fortunately for me, my commute for the past two years has roughly averaged 50 minutes a day for nearly 400 school days..According to my calculations, I have devoted 20,000 minutes of my life to traveling to-and-from school. While not every minute has been spent listening to podcasts, an over-whelming majority of them have been. During those 20,000 minutes, I have become slightly attached to several podcast shows that I would like to mention in this blog as some of my favorites. My hope is two-fold in that (A) you’ll be inspired to become an avid podcast listener if you aren’t one already, and (B) you’ll be encouraged to try out one of these podcasts for yourself. And, of course, I’d absolutely be tickled if you’d comment on my blog or contact me via Twitter (@thatmathlady) and share some of your favorite podcasts with yours truly!

By the way, I download all of my podcasts for free from iTunes, but you can find them online and on Android phones as well. Without further ado, here is my list of favorites for 2015:

Podcast #1: Stuff You Should Know

Of all varieties of podcasts out there, SYSK is my favorite! I listen to the hosts, Chuck and Josh, on my commute to work, while running around the neighborhood, and even while grocery shopping. What is this podcast about? Well, it basically well-equips the listener with thorough facts and unique trivia about various topics. Want to know how water slides work? What about cinnamon? You can find out about these topics as well as hundreds more – from stem cells to black holes – each week!

Ever since I have been listening to SYSK, I have been able to impress my husband (and students!) with dozens of random facts. His response whenever I drop a trivia fact out of the blue, “You’ve been listening to Stuff You Should Know again, haven’t you?” Yes. Yes, I have.

Podcast #2: Every Classroom Matters

Vicki Davis (a.k.a. The Cool Cat Teacher) and her podcast on the BAM! Radio Network was the very first K-12 podcast I found and boy, am I glad I did! Vicki Davis does a phenomenal job exploring a variety of hot topics in education today including policy issues, tech-integration, creativity, and engaging students in every classroom. She has interviewed hundreds of expert teachers and leaders in the profession and I have learned so much from their personal insights. (Side Note: A professional goal of mine is to be one of those expert teachers that Vicki Davis interviews some day!)

Podcast #3: Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers

I found Angela Watson’s podcast after a member of my Twitter PLN raved about her book, Awakened. I began following Angela Watson (@Angela_Watson) on Twitter right away. Shortly after that, I learned about her podcast, “Truth for Teachers.” I downloaded all of her episodes at once and had caught up her entire first season within a few days. Why do I love this podcast? Ms. Watson tells it as it is. There is no sugar-coating to the troubles of this profession; however, there are classy and professional ways to handle the curveballs that are thrown at teachers on a daily basis. Watson reveals some real struggles that teachers must face on a daily basis and gives supportive suggestions to help persevere through them. Finally, I don’t feel alone in this demanding profession anymore. And you won’t either!

Podcast #4: TeacherCast Broadcasting Network

In today’s connected world, there are so many ways that teachers can utilize technology to improve their practice. But how many of our educators know what these methods are and how to use them most effectively? My goal is to integrate tech into the classroom in the most efficient ways possible. Sometimes, however, I’m still scared that I’m not doing that. Listening to Jeff Bradbury and his many techy guests on this podcast have given me a plethora of ideas and strategies to use technology with my students. While I’m still slightly intimidated by stepping up my tech game, I’m much less so thanks to this podcast!

PS – You can even watch or listen to this podcast LIVE!

Podcast #5: Serial

This 12-episode mini-series was the Game of Thrones of podcasts in the fall of 2014. Listeners could not wait to download the latest episode each Thursday and hear the new evidence that the host, Sarah Koenig, had dug up and the dots she had connected in regards to the 1999 murder this podcast was investigating. If you haven’t checked this podcast out, you still have time before Season Two of Serial is released later this year.

BONUS Podcast: BeardED

This podcast is a new addition to my list, but I felt it needed to be included in this blog post, anyway. I knew I would be a big fan of this newish podcast when – within 5 minutes of the first episode – the host, John Mason, uttered the words, “All teachers should geek out on coffee.” Truer words have never been spoken.

I haven’t met John face to face (yet) but we’ve shared many cups of coffee while chatting with our #BFC530 PLN on Twitter, Monday through Friday at 5:30 AM. I am the biggest fan of each of my #BFC530 PLN members, and I just knew John Mason’s podcast about being a connected educator would speak volumes to me. (I was right!)  Three episodes in and I have a feeling that Mr. Mason has a hit on his hands!

One Final Thought

For those of you looking to increase your podcast experience in life and need some guidance, may I suggest the #PodcastPD Twitter chats on Sunday evenings at 8:30 PM EST!

This Teacher Builds Sandcastles

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine you are at a beach on a beautiful, sunny day. The calm breeze and the rolling waves create a harmony that fulfills your soul.

Your mission on this gorgeous day is to build a sandcastle. Not just any sandcastle; the tallest, strongest and most ornate structure you have ever imagined! You spend all day working on the sandcastle, sweating, and pouring your heart into this masterpiece. You walk away at sunset, beaming with pride and satisfaction.

You arrive at the same beach on the very next day and see that your sandcastle has been destroyed by the waves that rolled in with the high tide. While some remnants remain, the castle that you left standing yesterday is no longer there. You begin again and spend another full day, starting from scratch, on your craft. But it doesn’t last for long.

Day after day you return to the beach and rebuild your castle. Some days are better than others. Yet, you spend nearly 200 days doing the same thing with similar results. How do you feel?

Would you say you have made progress? Are you frustrated that any progress you make daily is ripped away each night? Who are you frustrated with: the sandcastles, the waves, yourself? Or something bigger?


I have spent the past 189 school days building sandcastles in a high-poverty school. I have worked harder each day this school year than ever before and yet I see similar results today, in June, as I did last August. Some may say that, by definition, what I do is insane. And I’m here to admit…they might be right.

My students are living in generational poverty. Due to circumstances beyond their control, my students and their families face many more of life’s obstacles than the norm. Teaching and learning in a high-needs school has many challenges, too. But the biggest challenge to me is the tide.

While my school has dozens of hard-working, highly-effective, and empathetic teachers devoting hundreds of days to building them up, the students are torn back down every time they step onto the bus. I am here to tell you, first hand, that the tide is stronger than what we can build in eight hours. The tide is stronger than the education system.

If we want our masterpieces to stand tall and firm, the public education system must change. The social justice system must change. Our nation’s views on poverty, success, and everything in between must change. As long as we keep ignoring the issues that keep our impoverished students at a disadvantage, students and teachers will just have to continue to build sandcastles…that is, until we run out of sand.