The importance of beliefs, and changing them

Beliefs are critical to success. The ability to change beliefs is equally important to success. As educators, we need to remember that all of us are capable of making significant shifts in beliefs, and that children are particularly malleable.

As I write this, those statements feels obvious, but I also know from experience that certain students, with certain challenges, can overwhelm us with a sense of frustration. It can be difficult in a classroom to wait for change as these behavioral concerns impact all of the students around them.

I have been fortunate enough to make some changes in my personal life recently, which help remind me of the possibility of this change. My new position also gives me the opportunity to see students change in many different ways.

Changing my personal beliefs

For a long time, I was convinced that I was not a morning person. I have listened enviously to friends and colleagues who managed to wake up early and lead productive mornings, especially compared to my last-minute mornings which combined a speed shower, rushing to get dressed, and a measly on-the-go breakfast. This summer, I changed that belief.

With help from a few innovative educators, I made some critical changes toward becoming a morning person. The first step was reading through James Clear’s Habits vs Systems, which convinced me that focusing on small habits could help me make big changes. Second, I realized that my new job’s starting time of 7 am, while only half an hour earlier than previously, was going to be a challenging shift. Finally, the idea crept in that if I could start my day better, I would be a healthier, more productive teacher and leader.

Slowly over the summer, I started waking up earlier, going for a run, doing yoga, making a breakfast that I could actually enjoy and sometimes reading, writing or meditating. The improvements were slight and slow, with many unsuccessful mornings, but went well enough to keep me engaged with the process. By the start of the school year, I was waking up at 5:30, working out, and accomplishing more in my days than before.

I do not believe, yet, that I am a morning person. I do believe, however, that being a morning person can lead me to be more successful. Maybe someday I will be a morning person, but for now, it is enough to know that waking up early and having a plan helps me throughout the day. The unexpected benefit of this shift is knowing that, even at my age, my beliefs can change significantly with the right steps.

The importance of believing in children

In my new position as an assistant principal, I get to see a number of students who are struggling with behavior issues in the classroom. Last week, two young students proclaimed, “I hate school,” during my conversation with them. While this was a bit of a punch to the gut – that our school had somehow led to these feelings – I could not be upset with the students.

I responded by asking, “What do you hate about school?” I didn’t think of it at the time, but this question comes from my own core belief that ‘children inherently love learning.’ It also springs from the fact that I know beliefs can change.

I cannot believe that a student hates every part of school, especially at such a young age. I can believe that they hate some part of it – limited choices, being told to stop doing something regularly, feeling unsuccessful during the day – but not school as a whole. I also believe that there is something they do like about school.

I will let you know now that I have not worked any miracles with these students and shifted their beliefs. However, knowing that beliefs can change allows me to view every child that walks into my office after making a poor decision as someone who can become a better learner and friend.

I find that belief to be critical to teaching young students. Kids are going to make mistakes, some of them incredibly surprising and frustrating. The only thing that is more frustrating is to hear educators speak as if a child’s poor decision making says that they are an inherently bad person. I worry that, at some point during a particularly challenging set of students’ poor decisions, I might succumb to those same feelings.

This makes it all the more important that I maintain my belief in children – that they have a natural love for learning, as well as the capability to change. I also need to believe that teachers and schools are capable of fostering that love of learning and positive change. If those two things are true, then we can continue our work to identify the student’s needs (in this case, what they ‘hate’ about school), identify their strengths (what they enjoy about school), and use them to be the change-makers that we want to be.

By writing this, I think I am mentally preparing myself for that day of frustration, that moment where I question my beliefs. I plan on posting these beliefs in my office, so that I can come back to them when I need them most.

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