Seeing Differently

A poem about the strength of connection and understanding that can come from sharing our experiences with one another, thinking about our different perspectives (points of view), and finding out what we have in common.

"My bedroom is on the top floor of our house," said the child.
"My nest is near the top of a tall tree," said the bird.

My house has three peaks with a window in each one.
My nest is in three tall trees standing together.

From my house I can see the rooftops of my neighbor's houses.
From my nest I can see the tall buildings downtown.

I can watch people walk by from my window.
I can watch clouds pass by from my branch.

When the wind blows my house stands strong and still.
When the wind blows my nest stands strong and sways.

From my house I can hear cars driving by and children playing.
From my trees I can hear planes flying by and children playing.

There are three trees by my house, if I look I can see the tops of the trees.
There is a house by my nest, if I look I can see three peaks on the house.

"I see you and you see me. We live in the same place! We are together."

-Kay Lybeck

The Strongest Classroom

Connection, courage and possibility help me to navigate a strongman contest (insert any challenge in the blank).

Noticing the connection of the process that I share with all of the competitors to improve and grow builds a feeling of community for me. We share struggles, worries and adversities. We share gains, wins and celebrations. Noticing the frustrations and the joy, and experiencing this contrast of emotions together builds “a bonfire of belonging”(a beautifully strong phrase I heard from author Brad Montague).

It takes courage for me to get out there, to push to my edges and possibly beyond in a public setting. At the competition when I look around I see courage in action from the other competitors, the coaches, the judges, the spotters, the host who was brave enough to undertake and organize the event. All the different ways of being brave that I see, and the courage that I know I can’t see, motivate and inspire me to keep going.

Being in that atmosphere of connection and courage I can bravely try. I can go for it!!. I can risk being seen trying and failing, because I know, they know, what success is. I may leave bruised up from the all out effort, and with failed attempts, but I gained insight into how to try it again. I leave feeling fired up for the possibility that’s ahead of me, next time!!

Knowing that I am not alone in this difficult endeavor and bravely, repeatedly choosing to keep going, leads to success no matter the outcome.

From this environment of bravery to try and a community connected by growth, there seems to be a high level of encouragement and care. Care for myself, care for performing to my best and  care for others. That is an AMAZING byproduct of being in a strongman contest (insert your challenge in the blank). 

That is exactly what I want to foster as the teacher  in a classroom (challenge), a caring and encouraging community. Students need time to build a “strongman community” in their classroom before they can take risks to make learning gains. If we don’t allow for that time to build that strong community, and nurture a safe space to grow, which leads to caring, we are limiting great potential and children’s joy of dreaming big and going for it!!

My Thoughts on Intelligence

I want children to believe, “I belong here, I can do this, I am brave.” When they step into the classroom they should be flexing those thoughts, experiencing challenges and building skills in perseverance and resilience.  I know that not all children believe they are smart and/or can learn when they are in the classroom. 

The following excerpt comes from the book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom by Thomas Armstong. It is from a section in the book where the author is describing how he introduces students to the theory of multiple intelligences. 

“I usually begin by asking, ‘How many of you think you are intelligent?” I’ve discovered there seems to be an inverse relationship between the number of hands that go up and the grade level that I am teaching-That is, the lower the grade level the more hands go up; the higher the grade level, the fewer the hands.”

Pair that discovery with this survey shared in the book Mindsets in the Classroom By Mary Cay Ricci and the urgency to address this decline in confidence and sense of ability as our children progress through school must be improved. She surveyed students about their beliefs about intelligence. She used the following statements in the survey:

  • Everyone can learn new things. (a growth mindset)
  • Some kids are born smarter than others. (a fixed mindset)
  • We can change how smart we are. (a growth mindset) 

Here are the percentages of children who believe they can learn new things and they can change how smart they are, by grade level:

  • 100% of kindergartners 
  • 90% of first graders
  • 82% of second graders
  • 58% of third graders
illustration of results

The percentage of students who believe in a growth mindset has a downward trend, just like the number of students who think they are intelligent.

A child (adult too), who doesn’t think they are intelligent, and who doesn’t believe they can learn new things doesn’t feel in control of their path, because there isn’t anything better to move towards.  That helplessness leads to feeling stuck ,and  unmotivated. From there, participation can drop and interest and effort can fall. All of these outcomes are difficult obstacles for teachers and students to overcome.

In part, I believe this is happening because we are teaching for test results. We are trying to upload as many facts and as much information as we can into our children before the test taking time comes. Due to pressure and limited time, we are overlooking the skills and understanding they need to process, and find meaning and motivation in all the work/information given to them. Time is taken away to experience, explore and find connection with all they are being shown. For the students, and for the teacher, school is a race to cover all the needed information before testing, taking the tests and then possibly feeling defeated by a seemingly fixed label (test results they have seen, heard, or felt).

We can make progress to lessen these downward slopes. A shift in our goals, a thoughtful change in our focus in our schools, in our classrooms and at home. We can  help children to expand the word intelligent to be more encompassing, have a broader meaning. We can teach them about the brain and it’s amazing abilities to learn, relearn, problem solve, adapt, and connect. We can also help them to strengthen their mindset by providing appropriate challenges and time to explore and grow, in safe spaces where they feel it is okay to wonder, try, fail, connect with others through struggle and progress. We can share tools with them to help them to practice their perseverance, and resilience. 

This quote from the book Going Right by Logan Gelbrich points us to a shift we can make, a direction we can head, 

“…in a world where we think results are everything. I’m asking you to have a mindset that says the process is everything.” 

We need a shift from too much focus and time spent on testing and results. Instead we can focus, with more care and energy, on building up their understanding of the process of growth that we all share, and helping them to notice their amazing ability (intelligence in action) to adapt, problem solve, persevere and learn new things as they navigate towards better.

We can focus more on the right side of this diagram and allow for movement to happen for all children so they continue to believe in their intelligence and their ability to make progress.

By Kay Lybeck,