BY PRISCILLA ST. JOHN
One little word, only three letters long, is transforming Forsyth Country Day School’s first and second grades. Don’t say you don’t know what it is. Say, “I don’t know…yet.”
Tacking the word “yet” onto the end of an “I can’t…” or an “I don’t know…” is a simple way to establish what’s called a “growth mindset.” It simply means that we embrace the idea that, through making mistakes, we learn and grow our brains. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, is the idea that we are born the way we are, and that we can’t change.
When first graders entered Happy Bell-Wiatrek’s classroom on the first day of school last year, they saw the word YET over her door. They read a book called Bubble Gum Brainas a fun way to introduce the concept. “We talked about BubbleGum Brain and how when you learn new things, your brain grows,” Mrs. Bell-Wiatrek says. “Bubble Gum Brain is always changing, always growing, always fluid, while Brick Brain is a heavy rectangle that never changes its shape.”
To help students grasp the concept, she had her students change the way they ended their sentences. “We added ‘yet’ to every ‘I can’t,’” she said. “‘I can’t do that…yet.’
The idea clicked with different kids at different times, but when they make that connection, it’s so powerful.”
Second-grade teacher Allie Brinegar agrees. “We’ve learned that we’re capable of creating the design of our own brains and that we can learn to do new things with effort and perseverance and practice,” she says. “We’ve been working a lot on coming up with multiple strategies for success, so that if one strategy doesn’t work, we can try another. We can ask, ‘What can we do to reach a goal?’”
Second-grade teacher Rebecca Miller also buys into the power of “Yet.” “A lot of kids who have poor confidence think they can’t do something, but this is teaching them that there are strategies to help them get there.”
Ms. Brinegar is seeing her students become empowered. “I’ve been quite blown away at how accountable they are,” she said. “I’ve seen a very supportive classroom environment. Several children will speak up and say, ‘I can’t’ and others will say, ‘yet.’ Even when children overcome something, they’ll say, ‘Look what you did!’ I do think it has changed the dynamic. It’s definitely empowering them as individuals.”
Another key to making growth mindset work is knowing your students—which is facilitated at Forsyth by its small class sizes. “We all have a fixed mindset sometimes, so we ask, ‘What are the triggers? What can we do to get over their triggers?’” Mrs. Miller questioned. “One child may shut down because they think math is hard, or they’re hungry, or they didn’t sleep well. This is when knowing your kids is so important.”
Head of School Gardner Barrier would love to see the can-do attitude of a growth mindset flourish school-wide. “I wanted the teachers to have the information, to know about the growth mindset, but it’s not something you impose,” he says. “I’ve said ‘Permission granted’ to the staff to take risks in their teaching, to change things up and embrace new ideas. How the first- and second- grade teachers have taken this and run with it is just what I hoped would happen.”
How to Help Your Child Cultivate a Growth Mindset
- Research! Parents can check out The Innovator’sMindsetby George Couros as a starting point.
- Read with your kids. Share kid-friendly books on the concept with your children. Some of FCDS’s favorites are Bubble Gum Brain, Your FantasticElastic Brain, and the Book of Mistakes.
- Celebrate mistakes. (No, that’s not a typo.) If your daughter is learning to ride her bike and she falls off, celebrate how far she got. Look for ways the fall can teach her to get better.
- Use the Y-word. If your son says, “I can’t do it!” when faced with a tough math problem, have him add the word “yet” at the end of the sentence.
- Model failure. Did the recipe turn out terrible? Did your efforts at DIY bite the dust? Point it out to your kids as it happens. “Wow! Look at those drips on the wall. I’m not a great painter…yet. I think I need to work on my technique.”
If your child could benefit from an educational experience that encourages a growth mindset, we invite you to schedule a tour of Forsyth Country Day School and see “the power of yet” in action. Go to FCDS.org/admission/schedule-your-tour.