The Power Of Yet

Posted by Dr. Beth Reaves

We’re back! This week is our first week of the 2019-20 school year. As I greeted returning students and met our newly enrolled 3rd graders, I felt the excitement of a new year and new possibilities, and the fresh start that a new school year provides. And also, throughout the past few days, the refrain of “…not yet” has been reverberating in my mind.

Let me explain. Almost everyone who knows me knows that I’m a book person. I always have several in process – everything from contemporary fiction and YA to dense non-fiction in a number of categories: educational leadership, studies of equity and social justice, or a new memoir from a societal or spiritual leader. If you need a recommendation, I’m your gal. (Or if you have a recommendation, send it my way!)

This year, the WSG faculty and staff will join me in a year-long book club of sorts, focusing on the fascinating research of Carol Dweck. We will read her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and explore her research as it relates both to our students and to our own professional lives.

Dweck’s core premise is that all learning and achievement is possible when one has a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset means that when one experiences a setback or failure, they believe that they can still succeed at the task through hard work. Her research demonstrates that “the power of yet,” the idea that there is no failure, only “not yet,” can have significant implications for our capacity to grow and improve. The concept of “not yet” applies broadly beyond education – each of us has goals that can be impacted by a growth mindset, whether personal, professional, or in our relationships with one another. The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, characterized by the belief that our abilities “are what they are” and cannot be changed.

The Leadership Team and I selected Mindset as our book of the year because her thesis, that learning is not constrained by innate ability, but rather, is infinite based on our effort and commitment, aligns with what we believe about our students. We say often that our strength as a school is our commitment to each student and our belief in her potential. Among our students might be a future doctor who will discover breakthrough cures, a future senator or president, a CEO, or groundbreaking artist. And those future thought leaders might, right now, be struggling in school.

But we believe that every child can learn and that poor performance in school does not mean that a child is unintelligent or unable to master the material. It simply means, she has not mastered it yet. Our job is not just to deliver instruction and hope that the material sticks. Our job is to help each student persevere, to believe in her own capacity to learn, and to explore all the different reasons why, perhaps, she is not there yet.

So what will this look like for us in practice? Well, we don’t know… yet! I am eager to hear what our teachers think about Dweck’s research over the course of the year, and for our community to collaborate and integrate this philosophy into our daily practices.

For a summary of her research on Mindset, this Stanford Connects talk delivered by Dweck provides an engaging overview.