Blog #11: A Commitment to Positivity and Growth Mindset
A Commitment to Positivity and Growth Mindset
As an educational leader, I am in constant reflection regarding the culture in our building. There are so many layers to culture from the morale of our staff to how safe and valued our students feel in our building. As the famous quote goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We know that keeping a pulse on our school culture is paramount if we are to maintain and grow our high levels of learning and achievement here at WHS.
These last few years in education have been “unprecedented,” a word we have used frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that teachers have had to teach in new ways, students have had to learn in different settings, and we know that we have been more isolated and less connected. Couple this with sickness, loss of loved ones, mental health challenges--and low morale becomes an explainable reality.
But while I validate these struggles, these losses, and appreciate how much our students, staff, and families have had to navigate and overcome--I feel compelled to challenge myself and our school community to choose an attitude and perspective that champions two crucial components to living life both victoriously and life-giving to others: positivity and growth mindset.
While our circumstances can affect our mood and get us down, if we intentionally choose to embrace positivity and a growth mindset, we will not stay down for long. Here are a few of my own experiences and learnings along the way that have shaped how I see these two attributes:
First, let’s talk about AUTHENTIC positivity. This is one of our pillars of the Westfield Way. This doesn’t mean we paste a fake smile on our faces and always tell people we are doing great. This doesn’t mean we are always excited and peppy, although the individuals who are authentically this way sure spread that positivity and help raise everyone’s spirits (so thank you to those people!) Authentic positivity means we choose to see the possibilities over the limitations. We are intentional about voicing what we are thankful for. We seek to bring light and hope to people and places where darkness seems to dominate. We know that there will always be something negative to see if we go looking but that there will always be something positive too--and we seek it out. It’s truly about perspective.
As I reflect upon the times I have exuded positivity as well as the times I brought others down due to my short-sighted negativity, I have identified two specific mentalities that seek to steal our positivity. The first thief is the comparison game. We look at those around us and we see how good they have it or how “together” their lives seem compared to ours. Or we grow envious of the accolades they receive while our accomplishments seem to go unnoticed. Comparison with others can be healthy as we try to improve ourselves by setting benchmarks, but it can quickly become dangerous because it takes us down a path where satisfaction becomes out of our reach. The second thief is “the grass is always greener” mentality. While similar to the comparison game, we focus on circumstances instead of people. We play the “if only” tape in our heads. If only I had this...If only I could get this position, this house, this honor…Too many times it robs our positivity and trades it in for negativity, resentment, and growing bitterness. And when this happens, it leads to the victim mentality. I know we have all been there from time to time and it is not a good place to be. Nothing positive can come from this mentality. It permeates our thoughts, our words and leads to isolation and self-deprecation. While we get busy blaming our circumstances or those around us who have wronged us, we have in turn robbed ourselves of joy and the gift of overcoming our circumstances to be the best versions of ourselves. For the best versions of ourselves mean we are connecting positively to those around us and making a difference in our circles and communities. And that is joy-giving and fulfilling.
Growth mindset-one of our four cornerstones of the culture here at WHS. This cornerstone is all about self-reflection, learning, and growth. We take risks, are not afraid to fail and we commit to learning from our mistakes and from the challenges that come our way. It is all about being reflective. We celebrate what went well and we continuously try to improve ourselves and the impact and difference we can make in others. Then, we learn and grow some more. Like positivity, I have identified two thieves of the growth mindset as well. The first is complacency. We get in a rut, we take the easy way out and we become okay with that. I’ve learned that when we let complacency rule in one area of our life, it is easy to let it in to take another. While it may feel good in the moment or maybe even consider it “self-care” to say “I’m fine the way I am,” the truth is complacency is completely unsatisfying. We were meant as humans to grow, flourish and share ourselves with the world around us. The second thief is fear of failure. We refuse to get out of our comfort zones or have courageous conversations because it is safer to stay inside our box. It will hurt too much to fall short. We let a lack of confidence and an attempt to avoid shame keep us from dreaming big. I have come to believe that the greatest lessons in life come when at first I felt like I failed. Not only do I learn the most powerful life lessons, but I am humbled enough to look at my life priorities, I come face to face with my fears, face them and then I chart a new course.
The decision to embrace positivity and a growth mindset has to be made daily. And I have found that both are much more at my forefront when I am intentional about living a life of gratitude. How can I be negative and how can I stay where I am when I am giving thanks? There is no room for the victim mentality to creep in when I refuse to miss the moments of greatness and inspiration that come my way on a daily basis. There is just too much good and our mission is too exciting for me to stay down too long. I have also found a common denominator in my failure to bring positivity and a growth mindset to the surface in my life: isolation. We were not meant to live life alone. But why is it when we struggle the most we retreat and keep it inside? I have found this invitation to be incredibly powerful as I seek to maintain a positive life mindset: “Will you process this with me?” When I hear the negative voices creeping in and self-doubt robbing my joy, I ask a trusted colleague or friend to process with me. The key is that the person who processes with you has to be committed to positivity and growth mindset as well and has to know what your “best you” looks like. While listening with a sympathetic ear feels good at the moment when we are down, this process partner isn’t afraid to show empathy but then help you get back up. Even if it means telling you something that is hard for you to hear but you desperately need to hear it. To quote my pastor from Sunday’s sermon, CJ Johnson, “It’s ok to not be ok, but it’s not ok to stay that way.” When we connect with someone, process our thoughts and struggles, we can keep the four thieves away and return to the best versions of ourselves: the versions that live life courageously and joyfully and seek to serve others. And when we live our most courageous and joyful lives, we give others permission to do the same. And my friends, that is a very powerful thing.