How do you respond to adversity?

Last night, I observed a quarterfinal game in the state volleyball tournament.  Walker’s opponent lost the first two games and was on the brink of elimination.  Digging deep to find their poise, the opponent showed resiliency and determination in winning both the third and fourth games.  As the match headed to the fifth and final game, Walker found itself in a challenging position, having lost the last two games.  How would the Wolverines respond?

Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford University Psychology professor, digs into the relationship between ability and achievement in her book, Mindset.  Dweck has discovered in more than twenty years of research that “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life…”  Dweck’s work highlights two mindsets, the fixed and the growth, which, while not absolute, tend to dominate our mental approach, effecting how we respond to adversity.

The fixed mindset is characterized by “believing your qualities are carved in stone, and creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over.”  In the world of fixed traits, “success is about proving you’re smart or more talented.” And if you’re not good at something, it is because you don’t have that particular talent.

The growth mindset is characterized by “the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well.”  Legendary basketball coach John Wooden put it this way: “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better.  By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”  Dweck’s book highlights many examples of the growth mindset at work…  She points out that “when NASA solicited applications for astronauts, they rejected people with pure histories of success and instead selected people who had significant failures and had bounced back from them.”

So how did the Wolverines respond?  With determination, focus, and teamwork; the picture above highlights the final point in Walker’s victory.  How do you respond to adversity? It is one of life’s most important questions.  If we respond to adversity with a growth mindset, as Dweck concludes, “effort will ignite ability and turn it into accomplishment.”  A wise man once wrote that adversity produces perseverance; perseverance gives rise to character; and character conceives hope.  As educators and parents committed to giving Walker students the self-confidence they need to find success in school and beyond, we should welcome moments that generate perseverance, character and hope in our students and children.

The Spirit of ‘Wanting to Know’

I ate lunch with a group of first graders last week. As I sat down with my tray of food, a small group was deeply engaged in conversation about a recent experiment in science class. These children were talking excitedly about volcanoes. When I started asking simple questions, I soon learned that I needed to increase the sophistication of my questioning technique.

First graders at Walker spent the month of September learning about volcanoes — the prompt for this unit of study was the anniversary of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (August 24th in 79A.D.) Children’s innate interest in physical science (and things that explode!) is fascinating and an incredible example of how students experience lessons and units that connect to their passions and keep them engaged and learning for days and weeks to come. In this case, it was mid-October and these students were still talking about a science lab that was completed in September!

As I ate my lunch and listened to these students, I was reminded that there is so much we adults can learn from children. At the lunch table, I became the student and the first graders were my teachers. They told stories, shared statistics, and explained everything I needed to know about their science experiment and their new learning related to this scientific phenomenon.

A recent New York Times article, Scientific Inquiry Among the Preschool Set, offers a glimpse into the power of free exploration and guided inquiry in the classroom:

When engaged in what looks like child’s play, preschoolers are actually behaving like scientists, according to a new report in the journal Science: forming hypotheses, running experiments, calculating probabilities and deciphering causal relationships about the world.

In the Lower School, science teachers Suzanne Waddington and Denise Mullins capitalize on children’s passions and willingness to take risks with an array of learning activities. These activities often look like child’s play — like the creation and eruption Mt. Vesuvius depicted in the video below — but such play allows children to explore and test multiple hypotheses and travel down varying roads of investigation.

This short video offers a brief glimpse into the first grade unit of study on volcanoes. It also demonstrates the many ways in which our Walker School teachers cultivate students’ spirit of wanting to know in every setting…which is our promise to the families we serve.