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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

MIssion Impossible

I recently had to make a presentation entitled, "Change and Dealing with Resistance" to a group of educators who have the difficult task of working with low performing schools, i.e. schools with consistently poor standardized test scores.  These educators are initially viewed as outsiders by the staff working at these schools.  They are also viewed as people who are visible symbols of their "failure" because their school is not good enough.   Needless to say these people have the very difficult charge of helping these schools get  "better."  To be a change agent in a situation where the people you need to change would prefer that you would go away is challenging if not almost impossible task.  Many of these people however overcome this huge hurdle by establishing positive relationships with the staff in these schools-this is a situation where the human connection is the only option for success.  Ironically, the bureaucratic mandate to change makes change almost impossible while the human to human connection is the only avenue of possible change.  These people have to invest time in developing trusting relationships with the people schools so that they can shed their negative association with the fact that the school is judged as deficient.

My challenge in presenting to these educators was to offer them something to help them become more proficient and effective in facilitating change and dealing with the inherent resistance that they face as do their jobs.  I have never had to facilitate change in a school from the outside.  As a principal I had the opportunity to learn with the staff and community together and didn't face the stigma of public failure hanging over our heads.  Change is easier when it is viewed as a process of getting better rather than fixing a defect or overcoming a deficit.

 People who work in low performing schools can easily and understandably feel misjudged or even victimized by circumstances outside of their control.  These schools typically are in neighbors beset with socio-economical problems that dwarf the problems that occur within schools from better neighborhoods.  When it comes to change, these educators from the outside who have to go into these schools to help them get better, are like the Mission Impossible team.  The question I had to ask myself was:  what can I offer these educators?  I have no experience doing what they are doing.  What creditability do I have with them so that what I offer can be viewed as relevant and useful to them?  Given the complexity of their jobs,  they rightfully could be very critical and skeptical of any professional development offered to them.  As they faced professionals in the schools they served to rightfully look at them and ask: "who are you to tell me what to do", they likewise could look at me and say the same thing.  I knew this going in and spent a lot of time figuring out what I should offer them and how to frame it in a way that respected them and acknowledged the work they did.

My challenge put my understanding of the change process to the test.  If wanted to change how they approached change, I couldn't just say to them: here you need to change how you try to change people. I had to model the change that I proposed them.  Most of the professional development that these people had been offered previously focused on content, i.e. different instructional methods that they needed to know so that they could "transfer" this knowledge to the schools they worked with.  If I deviated from this approach and offered just some "theoretical" approach to change, they could dismiss me as someone wasting their time with fluff out of some book.  Although I agree with the phrase "there is nothing as practical as a good theory", people in the field facing dire situations are usually looking for something practical.

So how did my own mission impossible go with helping the Mission Impossible teams go? It went very well and my presentation  received overwhelming thumbs up from group of people who rightfully could be called tough-minded critics.   To what do I attribute my success?  It was the "frame" that I put around the my whole presentation.  This concept of framing is so central to all the research I had analyzed about change that I decided to be very strategic in how I set up my whole presentation.

Here is what I did to frame my presentation the right way:

I told a story that equated the title Change and Dealing with Resistance as being at the heart of what it means to be human.  I told a story about a young child wanting a baby sibling but then after the baby arrives and cries all the time asks his mother where his sister came from.  The mother replies. "Heaven" and the kid says "Can we send her back?".  I added that even when we get the change that we want, we often don't like it,  but over time that child will be happy to have a sibling.  I tried to help the participants see that our daily struggles are at the heart of what it means to be human.  I wanted to be upfront with them  that the  presentation was not another "educational" one, but one grounded in a common experience.

I told a brief story of about myself.  I was an active educator for 35 years and didn't have time to read until I retired.  As I said this I brought out a bag filled with many books that I read about change.  I exaggerated the number of books so that it looked a little like a circus clown car.  After this visual display showing what I had read, I added that my retirement was the opportunity to do what they couldn't do and what I couldn't do when I was an active educator.  I told them to "take advantage" of me - that in a sense I was providing a service to them.

I also added that I deliberately stayed away from reading books in the field of education and focused instead on social psychology.  This was to let them know that I would be coming at issues and problems from a different perspective-I was worried that this difference would turn them off so I highlighted it at the start and presented it as an advantage to them.

I compared my presentation to a movie and the expectations that a person could have towards a movie. I used the example of my recent viewing of the Great Gatsby with my grown daughter whom I just visited in Chicago.  I said that I had actually taught the Great Gatsby as a novel and immediately upon viewing the movie realized that it was a version that varied greatly from the book that I knew so well.  I  verbalized how I had a choice of sitting for the next two hours disappointed that the movie was different from what I expected or that  I could choose to accept it for what it was.  I explained that I chose the latter and  it turned out to be ok.  I suggested that my presentation to them could be like my experience of the Gatsby movie. I suggested and "gave permission" to accept a non typical presentation.

I used the McDonald for lunch strategy that I explained in a recent blog post.  I said that what I was offering them was not intended for them to accept but instead was an initial offer that could trigger  even better ideas on their part.  In as sense I invited them and embraced them as critics.

I attribute these frames as setting the stage for allowing the participants to be open to the content of my presentation.  In  a way I removed the barriers that were inherent in the circumstances that brought them to the presentation.  Ironically, I practiced avoiding the FAE (fundamental attribution error) that was part of my presentation.  Instead of viewing these participants as hard people to please, I saw that their previous critical responses to presentations were not because of who they were but because of the circumstances of the work they did.  My framing of the presentation addressed their mindsets and addressed the factors that affected how they saw any material presented to them.  Coincidentally the FAE part of my presentation was the part that resonated the most with many of them. I guess that even though it might be very challenging (a mission impossible) it really always pays in the long run to practice what you preach.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Common Core or the common core

I am sixty one years and I am still in the process of understanding who am I and what my role in the world is.  That is a good thing. Those who say that they have it all figured out are fooling themselves or have packed it in.  To be alive means to be learning and learning means finding out about yourself and the world you live in.  Can there be anything more relevant or meaningful?  We are all learning what it means to be human and how to relate to each other.  We should be an endless source of interest, wonder,curiosity to ourselves and others.  The research has borne this out-those who stay engaged mentally, physically and socially live longer and have a better quality of life than people who sit back thinking they have it all figured out.  This doesn't mean that someone should become self absorbed thinking about oneself all the time.  Quite the opposite, we learn about ourselves by interacting with others.  We learn about others when we are able to empathize with them and discover what we have in common and how we differ. 

It is a great experience to discover something in common with someone who initially seemed so different.  Likewise we benefit from the differences we discover in people with whom we share many commonalities.   Our social relationships shape our identity-it is through them that we reveal to ourselves who we are and that process never ends or at least should never end.  We are "works in progress" always incomplete in the process of becoming whole.  As soon as we decide that we are "finished products" we are more likely to think of other people as "finished products" and consequently we make up our minds about ourselves and them. (Our minds were not made to be made up.) 

The reseach of Carol Dweck and David Yeager exploring people's perception of themselves and others has empirically shown how essential this basic perception is to all that we do or say and to all learning.  When we view ourselves as "works in progress" can let ourselves learn without judging ourselves as lacking.  We can admit to being wrong and not condemn ourselves but rather chalk it up as part of the learning process.  When we believe that same thing about other people, it changes how we interact with them and how they in turn interact with us.  "Works in progress" makes it a lot harder to separate people into groups or categories.  It allows us to separate behavior from identity-the person from the act.

If someone like myself is still learning about who I am, what about young people?  They are in the midst of not only discovering who they are but are struggling to get the words right, to get a handle on what exactly is going on with them.  Think of great works of literature like Hamlet or The Great Gatsby and you will find at the core of these stories,  characters in the process of discovering who they are and what their role is in the world.  Works like that endure because they tap into something timeless and universal-the human experience.  We are drawn to these stories because we identify with these characters and we hope that by seeing what they do we might get a better understanding of who we are and what we should do.
What does all of this have to do with bullying prevention?  Everything.  Bullying prevention is really about how we treat one another.  It is all about social interactions and people figuring out who they are in relation to others.  When people make up their minds about someone and put a fixed label on the person, it is easier to either bully that person or ignore that person being bullied.  It is easier to distance ourselves from people who in our minds are "finished products" - not capable of changing.  This distancing allows us to cut ourselves off from the process of learning anything new about the person and discovering what we have in common with that person.    Research has shown that the biggest barrier for bystanders to intervene or report bullying is the perception of difference in others. 

I am not an expert on the Common Core standards and I have reservations about them as the solution to our problems of education.  Putting that issue aside, I suggest that perhaps a better approach would be to look at the common core without the capitals.  What is our common core?  What are we about? Who are we? How do we live in the world and relate to each other?  These are not easy questions and the thinking that they prompt makes us go deeper.  Every subject matter ultimately probes these questions albeit in different ways.  The very nature of learning should bring people together in common pursuit of these never ending questions. 

Why not truly connect students to each other in learning about each other and themselves?  Why not have them read the rich and exciting social psychology on why people do what they do?  Why not have them explore issues related to bystander behavior?  Why not learn about mindsets and fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets?  Why not explore what it means to be human?  Would students be bored? Quite the opposite - they are hungry to discover who they are.  They need to understand what is going on inside their hearts and minds and the hearts and minds of others.  Bullying prevention (how we treat each other) is all about the common core of what it means to be human.  By turning it into a program or another issue/problem on a long list, we miss a tremendous opportunity to connect students not just to the core of learning but to the core of what it means to be human.   They want us to educate them meaning to guide them in discovering who they are and what is at their core.

Monday, May 20, 2013

McDonald's For Lunch

Michael Fullan says that effective leaders rely less on a strategy and more on being strategic.  Strategy is  usually a program or a plan that people need to follow in order to achieve the desired change.  There are many reasons why this approach fails:

  • It is a one size fits all and every school is unique with a different set of strengths and a different culture.
  • It can imply that what happened or is happening is somehow deficient.  It can be veiled criticism implying blame.
  • It usually does the thinking for people who like to think of themselves as good thinkers.
  • It comes ready made and people like to being involved in the making of things.
  • It becomes an easy target for people to block or passively resist.
  • It is usually a solution to a problem and not connected to reaching for a goal or principle.
Being strategic means taking into the account the change process and recognizing why people are often resistant to change.  It means looking at what is already working in a school and the strengths that are unique to that school and then finding a way to build on the positive.  It means tying all proposed changes to the core mission of the school, tapping into the original moral purpose of people.  It means letting the people involved with the change be active in determining the plan of action.  

One of the hardest things a leader has to do is leading without controlling.  Too often people in leadership positions think that because they are the leaders  they are in charge and that they know more than the people they lead.  Leaders don't know more but they have the responsibility to tap into and mobilize the collected knowledge and skills of the people they lead.  To do this they need to be strategic: knowing what will connect with the hearts and minds of the people they lead and creating the right conditions for people to work together to shape the type of school they want and need to have.  

Here is an example of being strategic: proposing McDonald's for lunch.  This might sound strange but my son shared an article he read about change and it mentioned this phenomenon.  Imagine a group of people sitting around trying to determine where they should go for lunch.  No one wants to step forward and make a suggestion for fear of being shot down, criticized or thought of as being too assertive.  Someone throws out the idea of going to McDonald's.  Suddenly the silent group become united in saying that McDonald's wasn't the greatest idea.  People go from being out on a limb (vulnerable) to being in a one up position of coming up with an idea that might not be the greatest but at least it is greater than the McDonald's idea.  After a while several people throw out ideas and finally the best one emerges very often without one person being able to claim credit.  The group just needed to get kick started and once the process got going the best solution emerged from the discussion.

Whoever threw out the McDonald's idea needed to be pretty secure.  The person who threw out that idea was being strategic.  The person knew the group probably had some good ideas but were reluctant to go first and risk criticism.  A good leader is not concerned with getting credit. I doubt people would point to the person who suggested McDonald's as being the one who ultimately was responsible to going to a good place for lunch.  That person was a leader who sacrificed his/her ego for the greater good.

A good leader knows what conditions are needed for people to become leaders themselves.  A good leader has a great deal of trust in the people in the organization.  A good leader gets the ball rolling in the right direction and believes that ultimately change must be owned by the people who need to change. 
Don't forget that the people there already were hungry and lunch was a common goal for all of them.  If a leader suggested McDonald's for lunch and it wasn't lunch time and no one was hungry the whole idea wouldn't work.  A leader has to "read" the group and determine what they are ready to hear and know what their needs are.  Trying to convince people to eat when they aren't hungry just doesn't work-never has and never will.  I wish our policy makers at least knew that little piece of common sense when it came to getting people to change.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Suspending Suspensions

I just read a news article about the LA School District ending its policy for suspending defiant students. I don't know how far this policy extended or if teachers and principals were previously told that suspension was required if a student was defiant.  Did this mean that if  students refused to do anything that they risked being suspended?

This reminded me of one of the saddest moments I had as a principal.  There was this first grade student  who had transferred to our school having spent the previous year in kindergarten in a different school. His family was pretty transient and he ended up only spending one year at our school.  When we reviewed his records from kindergarten, it turned out that he was suspended 5-6 times during that previous school year.  If this boy had any problem, it was that he was rambunctious.  I didn't consider rambunctious a problem-it was sort came with the territory of being a young boy.  I considered it our job as educators to make schools work for all students especially kids who were just learning how to "go to school".  If you stop and think about it (a lot of adults don't do this) it is not easy to walk into a new environment with a lot of other kids of all different backgrounds, temperaments, personalities along with all the adults that you have to figure out and expect kids to adjust to all the expectations and demands placed on them.  It is amazing that most kids make this adjustment so easily.  Just think of how long it takes us adults to adjust to new situations.

The kids who have trouble adjusting often have backgrounds where there have been issues related to trusting adults.  Many kids from these backgrounds might lack stable father figures if they have them at all.  Many kids might have had a series of adults and learned to not to depend on them.  In fact I learned early on as an educator, that many kids had to learn how to function at too early an age on their own without having to depend on undependable adults.  These were survival skills for many of kids.  In addition to being rambunctious (I enjoy kids who are rambunctious) this particular boy had learned not to automatically do what he was told.  It wasn't because he wanted to defy adults it was more that he always didn't see the reason why he should drop what interested him just because some adult decided he should stop doing what he was doing.

He had a terrific first grade teacher and  I worked with her very closely on making sure this boy would experience school as a place where he belonged and could succeed.  We decided that we both needed to invest a little more time one to one with this boy to develop  a positive relationship with him.  We both realized that he needed this extra one to one time to trust the key adults in his life-he couldn't just get it from being one kid in a class of twenty.  This extra investment worked.  The teacher maybe gave up one or two of her lunchtimes to invite him to eat with her in the classroom just to talk together.  I invited him to eat lunch with me.  She had him help her put up some bulletin boards.  We also coached him to ask for breaks if he had trouble attending for too long.  All in all we made adjustments and he responded positively.  Did he become a student who immediately did what he was told the first time every time? No.  We realized it would take some time and he continually improved not just his behavior but his academic skills.  We discovered that one of the reasons why he didn't always respond to teacher directions was because we was very afraid of failing especially at reading.  He made sure he got special support in language arts and our main intervention was helping his feel safe to try out new skills.

All in all school became a safe place he could trust and his growth in one year was significant.  His mother saw his success and did what she could to stay in our school area for the whole year, but come the end of the year, she had to move away to a new area.  On the last day of school, this boy knew that he was moving and leaving this place where he didn't get suspended 6 times.  Our school was a place where he succeeded and people helped him learn-a school where there was no doubt he belonged.  His previous experience in kindergarten had taught him that if he didn't what he was told that he couldn't stay in the school (that was how he understood suspension-I am sure.)

On the last day of school, his last day with us, on the way out the door, he bolted from his class and ran into my office as I was getting ready to say goodbye to the kids for the summer.  He caught me and locked his arms around me as tears were falling down his face and said to me, "I am going to miss this place." That was all he could say but he knew that he would be going to another school where he probably wouldn't belong, where he had to do what he was told or else. I worried a lot about him and   don't know to  this day what happened to him.  I wished that he could have stayed with us for the rest of his time.

 I don't think it is too hard or too much to ask of our schools to make them place where kids belong, feel accepted no matter what they do and get the help and support they need to succeed.  I have never met a kid who didn't want to belong or succeed,  but they  are not able to articulate those thoughts and feelings.  Too many educators forget that and only see compliance or defiance.  Those two responses are such a very small piece of their stories.

I am glad LA is suspending their suspensions but I hope that they replace that approach with one that helps kids belong, feel safe and accepted for who they are as people.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


I was sitting in a Starbucks yesterday and happened to have my book, No Place for Bullying, lying on the table.  While I was in a conversation with someone, a woman stopped and  stared intently at the title.  Forgetting she didn't know that I was the author, I asked her why she was interested in it.  She said she was a retired teacher but now volunteered in an assisted living home for seniors.  I remembered that I probably should tell her that I happened to be the author of the book, so I did.  Since I became an expert now in her eyes, she asked me if I thought bullying was more of an American thing or was it multi-cultural.  She also informed that me that bullying was an issue with the seniors she worked with.  She also shared that as a teacher she worked in an inner city school with students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and she thought there was a minimal amount of bullying, while later in her career she taught a more middle class group of students and definitely there was definitely more.  I told her that those were good questions and observations that I would have to think about.  She said that she would look up my book on Amazon and that it was an easy title to remember.

Her questions about the cultural dimensions of bullying reminded me of an insight I heard James Garbarino make about the difference between suburban schools and inner city schools.  He said that there was less bullying in inner city schools because the social world and stratification was not of primary importance to kids, what was important was where you stood on the street not the school.  This was why gangs were prominent-they offered people a group to belong to and protection.  There was no need to bully for social status, the gang culture provided the means for gaining status.  In suburban schools, the social world of the school extends outside of the school so that what happens in school socially is of upmost importance.  In both cases however you have instances of kids having  to establish their own social structure without adults playing a role.  Perhaps a better way to say it is that adults in either case haven't figured out a way to connect with kids in way that doesn't try to control them.

If we want to look for situations where bullying isn't as prominent we should look to positive deviance examples-situations where something worked well.  I think that if you examine those cases where adults connect well with kids, you don't have to look any further than extra curriculum activities.  I recall a great documentary called Bad Times at Frederick Douglas High.  In the documentary recorded over a year's time at a high school in Baltimore you could witness firsthand examples of positive deviance in the midst of dysfunction.  While what happened in the classroom bordered  disaster, what happened in extra curriculum activities was inspiring.  They had a broadcast studio and a drama club that worked together to make various productions and they had an amazing debate team.  Their marching band was great.  In each of these extra's there were no motivation issues, no attendance issues and a great sense of community.  I wondered after watching it, why they wouldn't suspend normal operations and just have the entire school become a menu of extra curriculum activities.

What did the extra's have that the regular school didn't have?  The clubs and after school  activities were meaningful and purposeful and kids chose to be there.  The adults had high standards and demanded a lot from the students but the kids didn't feel controlled or manipulated-they felt supported and coached.  Most of all they all belonged, they all felt needed and important.  I highly doubt that there was any bullying in those clubs and activities.  There was conflict, struggle and many other emotions but the power structure that existed wasn't compatible with bullying.

We can't equate bullying with all human difficulty and struggle.  Bullying doest happen but it usually happens when there is a leadership vacuum or where the leadership dominates and almost forces people to create they own ways of meeting their need for autonomy, belonging and competence.   The answer to the problem of bullying isn't a secret-it rests in the experiences we all have had-times when we felt in control of our lives but had some structure organizing us to help, but not to control; when we felt connected and belonged regardless of how we performed and when we felt we were improving without being penalized for the mistakes we made in the process of getting better.  Is bullying everywhere? I still don't know.  I do know that we don't have to look very far to find situations where people don't have the need to bully-and they are everywhere.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Consider the Source

I recently wrote a letter to a 19 year old girl I know who has gotten herself into a quite a bit of trouble.  She has made a lot of mistakes and has suffered some significant consequences as a result of her actions.  I didn't say much in my letter.  I shared with her what I was doing and some of the writing I had done.  When she was younger before her teenage years, she had shown an interest in writing and I had given her a book on keeping a writer's notebook.  She also used to write very imaginative stories that I enjoyed.  Needless to say, writing has not been a recent activity of hers and school in general was not a positive experience especially in her last few years in high school. 

The other day I received some feedback on my letter.  I didn't speak to her but her mother commented that her daughter had referred to my letter as fabulous.  I didn't really understand how she could describe a rather simple relatively short letter as "fabulous" until she added that her daughter had said that it was the first letter she had received that "didn't tell her what to do."  Ironically, there was a lot I wanted to tell her to do and not do, but figured she had heard it all before.  Instead I tried to ignore her troubled situation and simply shared what I was doing and connected it to something she used to do.  I wanted her to start to see herself differently and figured that at some point she could turn her current circumstances into a lot of good material to write about.  I felt she needed to see beyond her current situation and see herself not someone who messed up but as someone who still had great things to do.  I was appealing to her Superman not her Clark Kent.  By doing that I was trying to open up some lifelines into her world and to do I had to be someone who wasn't judging her, criticizing her and most of all not someone trying to control her.  (I might add that I am not criticizing those who did tell her what to do.  If she were my daughter I doubt I could restrain myself from doing the same. In my case I could maintain some emotional perspective and translate my concern a different way.  It is not easy to do and harder the closer you are to the person.)

This the great paradox we face especially with adolescents: the more we try to help or steer them on the right path, the less influence or credibility we have with them.  The need to be independent and define oneself apart from adult authority can drive some kids into doing the exact opposite what most adults would consider good sense.  Deci in Why We Do What We Do said that whenever we try to control or manipulate anyone (instead of influence) two things happen they either conform or defy, but that even the immediate conformity only plants the seeds of later defiance.  What is the dividing line of control and influence-it can be a fine line, but still a line: the motive for the person in the one-up person.  Does that person want the other person to be their authentic self and support them in the process of discovering who they are or do they want that person to do want they want them to do?  If adults don't stop and ask themselves that question and then adjust how they interact, it is doubtful that kids will see a distinction.

All our efforts to help will be seen as efforts to control or worse as efforts to define the person we have authority over.  Deci has done empirical research demonstrating how sensitive a person is to this basic perception and how it colors the content of the help being offered.  If the help offered is seen as a a disguised attempt to control and manipulate another it is likely to be rejected or accepted as a way to gain approval or advantage with the person in authority.  If the help is offered in a non controlling, non manipulating way, meaning freely and genuinely offered,  respecting the recepient, than it is more likely to be considered on its merits.  Kids truly consider the source and the motivation behind the help.  They are in many ways very dependent upon us to carefully consider the most effective way to open up a life line with them- a line of communication where they can listen to what we have to offer.  If there are strings attached to our message no matter how great it might be, it will be rejected because of where it is coming from-its source.  If our kids are so sensitive is considering the source of whatever message they hear, we need to stop and look inwardly to consider what our source really is and what our motives are when we send out our messages.  This is not easy thing to do but that doesn't mean it isn't essential for getting through to some kids who need life lines from us.  Sometimes we can do something "fabulous" by just sharing rather than telling.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pick a Metaphor: Change the World

In a classic book entitled, Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson,the authors state that metaphor is the fundamental mechanism of our mind, that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experiences to provide an understanding of countless other subjects and other experiences. The authors claim that metaphors shape our perceptions and actions without us noticing them.  Another important concept in social psychology, the fundamental attribution error, the inclination to attribute a problem to a person rather than the situation for circumstance, creates two major metaphors for how we approach all of our social problems. When we make the fundamental error  people  are viewed as finished products and if we avoid making this error  people are viewed as works in progress.  This is a vital and essential distinction that all educators must reflect upon and then ourthemselves: which metaphor shapes my view of world.  Our traditional educational practices follow the finished product metaphor. 

Think about it.  A finished product is done and is designed to be judged against other finished products.  When an artist or craftsperson determines that the product is complete, it is ready to go into the world and then critics or consumers judge it, rate it and place on value on it.  The great works last; the not so great fall by the wayside.  If a finished product has a flaw or defect it may not even make to the public-it is thrown out.  When we look at finished products we don't see all of the drafts, prototypes, the start-overs, the mistakes along the way that lead to the finished products.  It is like the consummate professional or artist who is ready to perform in front of the public and be judged.   A pianist, a great athletic determines when he/she is ready to step out into the world and make themselves vulnerable to criticism and judgment.  Here again we don't see the 10000 hours rule (Gladwell talks about in the book, Outliers)-we don't hear the missed notes, the missed foul shots the mistake after mistake that happens along the way preparing the skills demonstrated in a performance.

In the past few years I spent writing,  I have discovered the endless process of rewriting is really what writing is all about.  I cannot write a polished piece right off the bat-no one can or should.  Thankfully there are no penalties or punishments for mistakes.  Mistake is not even a good word for what the process really is.  Mistake are still considered wrong or has a shouldn't attached to it.  In writing, there are no mistakes just attempts and refinements.  Once the connotations of mistakes are removed from the equation, the whole process is challenging yet is it an enjoyable and engaging challenge. 

The works in progress metaphor goes hand in hand with creativity-something new and different emerges from the process of improving what you started with.  The creative process is hard and demanding but it is one that people who experience it keep going back for because there is something there that provides meaning and fulfillment.

Teaching and learning should always be about works in progress and not finished products.  Human beings are works in progress and never finished products.  The great thing I liked about teaching was how much I learned from doing it and then getting the chance to go back the next day and try again.  Nothing felt better than when I took a mistake (not the best word to use ) and then figured out how it missed the mark, made some adjustments and then got a little closer to hitting the mark I set out to hit.  This is almost blasphemous to admit in our culture of accountability and data but teaching was actually a lot of fun and I always felt that the more fun I had and the more creative I was the better the teaching was.  Now with APPR and data, teaching seems a lot more like a root canal process-a painful experience designed to make someone better who had a problem in their mouth.  You have to do it the right way and fix the problem.

Since this piece is filled with metaphors here is another: teaching and learning in schools are a lot more like recitals than they are karaoke.  Sadly, if music only existed in the form of recitals with everyone sitting in the audience hoping and praying for a minimum number or zero mistakes, music might likely die a slow death at least for the people who had to perform.  Compare a recital to karaoke:  karaoke at least gives people a chance to experience performing in a warm and friendly environment, mistakes are part of the fun, it is easy to do with another and it makes everyone feel good.  Schools should at least allow some time for karaoke experiences-this may help people discover that learning is not a lifeless task that  exists for performance and judgment.  Sometimes I think that schools are giving a bad name to learning and I hope that it doesn't cause it to die a slow death.  Dare I say it-learning can be fun-but it depends upon your metaphor, I guess.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Not in our stars but in ourselves

I have been reading quite a bit about change and how to influence change.  Just about every book on it mentions the fundamental attribution error-the inclination we have to attribute problems to the person and not the situation or context.  Successful leaders avoid this error.  They assume the best in people even when people are not showing their best.  Somehow they sense what is keeping people from being their best (their Superman identity) and remove those circumstance and allow the best to come out.  By believing that everyone has something inside that wants to do great and good things, people are much more likely to come around and start to act that way.  A positive aspirational message is much more effective than one that assumes that people are one step away from doing something bad or unwanted.  The fundamental attribution error however has been institutionalized in most of our laws and policies.

Individuals are held accountable for their actions.  Law enforcement doesn't care about why someone did something or the circumstances behind their actions.  Law enforcement is there to make sure the negative or the transgression doesn't happen-it is not concerned with helping people learn not to do the bad thing.  Laws are there to draw limits around what can and can't happen and are designed for the exceptional situation. Good laws are ones that most people already follow and reflect the actions most people would do even if there were no laws prohibiting those actions.

An activity I put into my book is designed to get educators to think a little more about laws, policies and their role in facilitating change.  Here it is: ask yourself what law would you break if there was no law prohibiting that action.  Would you steal? Would you murder? Would you drive drunk? Most people not all but most people wouldn't break those laws because of their own moral code.  Think about the laws and limits that most people do break-traffic violations.  These violations are usually because of thoughtlessness -"I forgot to stop at the stop sign."  Going over the speed limit is something people do regularly because they don't see it doing any harm.  Most people exceed it on the highways that are distant from residential neighborhoods.  Law enforcement even cuts people slack and don't stop people who are only going a few miles over the limit. Speed limits are more like a guidelines rather than a strict laws.  Laws are useful but limited in influencing behavior-they are better at containing or restraining it.  In a way it is ok if they are designed without avoiding the fundamental attribution error as long as they stay in a limited role.

When laws and policies are depended upon to dramatically change behavior especially when they try to stop things that most people already do, they usually fail.  Ultimately even something like seat belt use is more dependent upon people seeing its benefits and developing the habit of using them automatically without thinking.  Most people don't snap their seat belts into place consciously thinking,"I better do this because I don't want to get a ticket."

When you really look at how people change it is usually because of the circumstances, environment, the people around them,and the situation that they are in.  People adapt their behavior to their environment almost without thinking.  Most people behave differently in a fast food restaurant than they would in place of fine dining.  People litter at ball parks but not at another person's house.  These changes occur without rules or signs being posted in those places.  Signs can help if it is an environment where the cues are not so clear.

In spite of all the research on human behavior and change, schools continue to make the fundamental attribution error in how they manage students.  Rewards and consequences convey that kids make conscious choices about how they act.  Most kids who get rewards in school for behaving would act that way even without getting the reward.  The kids who don't get the reward and break the rule are probably doing so more because they are lacking some social skill or are acting impulsively -it has more to do with their developmental needs than their will.

Read a book like Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahnman you will read about research findings that show how suggestible people are by things in their environment that they are not even consciously aware of.  It seems when you read this research it is pretty clear that we are all somehow interconnected to each other and our environment.  In spite of all of this research "proving" our interconnectivity we cling to the idea of individual decisions people made as being the real source of human behavior.

These reflections reminded me of my college Shakespeare teacher who had a very different interpretation of him than most scholars and the general public.  He viewed Shakespeare as someone who believed in the spiritual nature of life and saw the growing trend to very everything materialistically as misguided.  My teacher thought that this was a constant theme in all of Shakespeare's work.  Famous lines  like to "thine own self be true" that most people today interpret positively, he would claim were statements for characters who represented the material rather than the spiritual.  "To thine own self be true" was something Shakespeare disagreed with.  Shakespeare thought people should to be truthful to others and hiding the truth was just a clever strategy to get ahead in the world.  Likewise the line the "fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves" was not something Shakespeare agreed with.  Shakespeare believed in the spiritual world and how everything included the alignment of the stars really affected how people acted.  Those who were in tune with the spirit and connected to others did the moral thing while those who just focused on their own individual self often made immoral decisions-what would be best for themselves not others.

After reading about the scientific research showing how interconnected we are and how our thoughts and actions are so influenced by so many things we can see or hear, maybe if you interpret stars to meant circumstance, environment, the interconnectivity of people with their environment, I think my college Shakespeare teacher was right and that Shakespeare discovered the fundamental attribution error a long long time ago-there is a lot to be said for looking to the wisdom of the ages for the truth.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Superman or Clark Kent?

Most people have secret identities or should have them.  By secret identity I mean a part of ourselves that others don't readily see but lies within us.  This secret identity resides in our hopes and dreams; it is who we want to be at our best using all of our skills and abilities doing something great and worthwhile.  In the previous post I mentioned how in advertising sex and fear sells,  but if you also look closely at advertising,  appealing to people's secret identities-their view of themselves as great and empowered, also sells.  Think of the Audi ad about a teenager going to the prom alone who builds up enought courage to park in the principal's space and marches up to the prom queen and kisses her, is attacked by the queen's date but rides off in the Audi with a smile on his face even though he has a black eye. This ad is saying the underdog can be the topdog if only for a moment and Audi can give the underdog the courage to do daring things. 

This secret identity is an important part of growing up because hopes and dreams should be a big part of becoming an adult.   It is a little tricky for adolescents because they also have to confront the hopes and dreams placed upon them by others.  Sometimes the hopes and dreams of others don't match their own and they become torn between both sets of them.  Kids are also looking to adults to say go ahead and make your secret identity your real identity.  They are looking and hoping for adults to affirm that they can be great and do great things-make their dreams a reality.  Ideally adults will do that but also guide them in the practical reality of what they must do to make their dreams a reality. 

Identity is the central issue for most students. Eric Erickson said that the primary task of adolescence is figuring out who you are.  Many educators unfortunately forget about this or never know it.  Educators whether they know it or not are constantly sending messages to kids about who they are.  People in power or authority have a responsibility to be very conscious of how they use their power.  There is a great temptation to use power to get people to be the way that they want them to be, i.e. people who do what they are told.  This makes life for those in power a lot easier.  People in power can be leery of people's secret identity especially if that identity challenges their power and possibly lessens their control. 

Educators ideally shouldn't be primarily people who use power over others.  Educators should be people who help students figure out who they are.  They therefore need to be very careful and circumspect about what they say or do in order not to inadvertently stifle or repress students' hopes and dreams.  This is why when schools become too bureaucratic and focused on order and efficiency,  kids can get the wrong message about who they are supposed to be.  Since even the most repressive order cannot keep kids from addressing identity issues, kids will seek out this identity cut off from adult guidance and wisdom.  The secret identity stays secret because it is never nurtured or supported enough to become public, the real identity of the person. Kids need to feel powerful and in control of their own lives and they need to learn how to harness the power that they do have.  (This is why techno-panic is so potentially harmful because the internet has become a place where kids can "play" with their identities away from the direct control of adults.  If adults discredit this part of their life or fill it with fear, kids will just push the adult world even farther away.)

This is why it is so important to reframe bullying prevention for kids.  As long as bullying is just something that they shouldn't do or being a responsible bystander is just something adults tell them they should do, kids will push away from this message and from the adults who send it.  Kids resist being identified by a negative-being told what not to do and viewed as being a step away from doing it. In fact they resist being defined passively as merely as followers of someone else agenda.  They want to discover who they are by doing-doing something meaningful and purposeful-something great.  They truly want adults to treat them as Superman not Clark Kent.  They want adults to say to them, "We need you, we want you, you have something Iwe don't have, our world needs you to be a part of it- important part of it."  The irony of that is its truth.  Adults do need kids to be their better selves,  to be involved and part of the process of change. Adults and kids need to be co-creators, partners not merely in stopping a negative but partners in making the world a better place-a noble or heroic task.  If adults reject the notion that making the world a better place is too "idealistic" and replace it with a fear driven "realistic" one, they will truly be letting kids down.  The adult  world and student world can't be merged into one (there is a need to be separate) but they can  and should work together in mutual respect.  The two worlds naturally become merged as kids grow into adults-how much better will it be if they work with the adult world in the process of joining it.  Adutls need to nurture hope and vision not cynicism. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I am reading a terrific book by Nancy Willard entitled: Cyber Savvy: Embracing Digital Safety and Civility.

I highly recommend it to anyone interested in cyber bullying especially from an educational perspective.  There is a great website based on the book and it is a great resource for any educator:

In the book there is a chapter called, The Dangers of Techno-Panic.  This is how she defines it:

"Techno-panic is a heightened level of concern about the use of contemporary technologies by young people that is disproportionate to the empirical data on the actual degree of risk.  Moral panic is when a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal systems and interests.  Techno-panic appears to be a moral panic in response to fear of modernity and change as represented by new technologies."

We see examples of moral panic unfortunately all the time.  Any cataclysmic event that occurs triggers a host of 24/7 news coverage and makes people think that such an event is going to be a regular occurrence.  (One of the principles of change that is too often overlooked by leaders is the notion advanced by John Kotter a "sense of urgency" being a prerequisite for change.  Skillful leaders help people connect to the need for change through their hearts not just their heads.)

Moral panic and all that results from it operates on this sense of urgency gone wild and out of control.  Panic is the right word.  Kotter talks about urgency coming from a sense of wanting to do the right, moral and necessary thing to address a problem.  Panic comes from fear and too often triggers actions that have  little or no regard for the reality or the facts of a situation.  This panic triggers ill-conceived laws and policies that too often end up not addressing the real problem but making the whole situation more "problematic".

Moral panic is fed by an overexposure and dramatization of one event by media attention.  Here again a key element of change comes into play: the use of story to connect people to an issue or problem.  The media is good a telling stories and humanizing what were, prior to the cataclysmic event, abstractions or real problems that were out of sight and out of the public's mind. Used skillfully by a leader, story telling is a key tool for changing people's hearts and minds.  Moral panic sets in, however, when one tragic story triggers fears of that story becoming everyone's story.  Every crisis can be an opportunity for change but that change shouldn't be shaped solely by knee jerk reactions.

Long term policies and solutions to problems should be informed by research and reason.  Unfortunately moral panic too often creates policies and regulations designed to prevent the rare exception from happening.  Too often these ironclad regulations remove the element of human judgement and common sense in responding to the problem.  The best examples of a moral panic produced policy are zero tolerance ones.

Willard makes a very salient point about techno-panic that is also too often overlooked she states: "Often purveyors of techno-panic have underlying motives.  Organizations seeking funding to address Internet safety have been known to overhype the risks.  Fear based messages are conveyed by companies seeking to sell "technology quick fixes" to parents.  Other times, the techno-panic has come from law enforcement officials who have an unfortunate tendency to focus on fear...The widespread fear about young people online is not supported by the research data." (In advertising the cliche was "sex sells"-if that is true, then fear is a close second.)

This techno-panic also stems from the fear adults have of not being in control of what kids are doing.  The irony is that when it comes to non cyber bullying, adults too often have the illusion of control and feel that strong policies, rules and consequences can really do the job of controlling kids.  They don't have this illusion when it comes to technology-they know that kids know more than they do in this domain.  This is why cyber bullying and other techno fears prompt educators to defer to law enforcement officials.  (I once did a series of presentation on bullying but was paired with a state trooper who presented on cyber bullying.  He was very entertaining but definitely played to people's fears even though his facts weren't always very accurate.)

Sadly this techno-panic only widens the chasm between the adult world and the student world.  Kids do need to be guided by adults for responsible use of technology but it should be in the context of navigating the social world and how we need to treat each other.  It is really a moral issue not a legal one.

Here is how this techno-panic makes bullying prevention more problematic:

Adults think that the problem is much worse than it really is.  Most kids are very responsible users of technology.  When adults fail to recognize and acknowledge that  fact, the kids who are responsible users are more likely to tune out the adults in  charge.  (This makes sense-who likes being told repeatedly not to do something they already don't do.) Adults alienate potential partners who can help them  address the problem.

Reinforces the notion that adults are out of it and that bullying is an adult created issue and just another attempt by them to control even in the one arena where kids feel in control.  This can only increase the desire of some kids to outfox adult authority.   Adults need to recognize adolescents' developmental need for autonomy and provide positive outlets and opportunities for it.  Failing to recognize this need will only "force" kids to seek autonomy away from the adult world and improve their skills in hiding it.  Kids who are good at outfoxing adult authority usually gain more respect in the eyes of their peers-this is especially true when the adults are  primarily perceived as people who want to control kids.

This is why most kids reject the term bullying and replace with drama.  When kids reject the adult word for their own experience, they can tend to overlook situations when drama does really cross the line and turns into abuse.  If they tune out adults, we lose the opportunity to talk about a continuum of behaviors and the distinctions that do sometimes have to be made.  Kids understandably don't wanted to be labelled as bullies so one way of avoiding that from ever happening is to discredit the word to make sure it never applies to them.  We lose the opportunity to talk about these important issues-we  cut off discussions that can truly help kids develop their moral conscience.

Kids rightfully fear adult overreaction to real problems that kids are concerned about.  This decreases the likelihood that they will go to  adults to ask for help and advice on problems that might want to handle on their own.  Adults inadvertently cut themselves off from kids as resources and sounding boards.  Unfortunately kids do need the advice and guidance of adults but will not seek if they only see adults as authoritarian and heavy handed.

Kids fear losing access to technology if they report or share information about the misuse of it.  This represses the likelihood of them reporting a concern.

With techno-panic as the source of change, a great opportunity for "connecting" with kids is lost.  Kids don't want to always be in a one down position with adults.  When adults can seek out kids for help with technology and involve them as partners in developing reasonable guidelines for responsible use, this one down barrier is removed.  Kids do not think less of adults if adults acknowledge that kids have a necessary expertise-the opposite happens-  they are only too willing and eager to help when asked.  This problem can become a tremendous opportunity for a true partnership with adults and kids.  When peers take the lead in a positive direction and are viewed as the solution rather than the problem, the entire culture of the school can tip dramatically toward citizenship, respect and caring.

Willard's book is a very valuable resource for replacing techno-panic and everything that accompanies it with a reasonable, non fear based approach designed to work with kids in creating a more caring and responsible environment for every member of the school community.


I submitted this blog to the website TEACH 100 and it was accepted and added their list of education blogs.  It is a very helpful site for those interested in teaching and their list of blogs is a great reference tool to have given the number of resources on the web.

I hope that what I have to offer in my blog is helpful and provides a different way of looking at some issues.  I certainly welcome any comments and will respond to them in a timely way.  Also if you think that what I have to say is helpful,  I hope you can let others know about it.  I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my posts and I appreciate the positive feedback that I have received.  If anyone is interested in some of the work I am doing I encourage you to visit  Thanks again!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Going Somewhere

How is it that some parents retain influence on their teenagers behavior while some don't?  Adolescents as part of their development need to establish their independence from the adult world.  How come some do so in defiant rebellion while others can can do so more peacefully and with less damage to themselves and others?  This is a very difficult task for adults to manage.  We often are very rightfully concerned about the poor choices that kids can make in the world.  How can adults navigate the tricky world of influencing kids without controlling them?

Ed Deci in his book Why We Do What We Do recognizes the need for limits and structure that adults have to provide for young people.  He states "How can standards and limits be used so that person in the one-down position can live with the limits and still retain a feeling of self-initiation, and thus not lose intrinsic  motivation?" The answer he goes on to explain gets to the heart of the difference between control and influence and it starts with empathy.  When an adult acknowledges a person's need for autonomy yet also shares the reasons for limits and structure, then the adult appears supportive rather than controlling.  Deci calls this type of approach "autonomy coaching."  His research has revealed how sensitive students are to the subtlety of both word choice and tone of voice for interpreting whether the adult involved is presenting the limits in a supportive helpful way or is doing it simply to control.  It boils down to a subconscious but very real sorting of adults into two categories: those whose main purpose is to control or those whose main purpose is to help and support.

If limits or structure make sense and ultimately prevent people from getting hurt, most people should see them as reasonable and accept them.  When adults are heavy handed with imposing them and they become just another way for adults to maintain their power and control, it becomes harder for young people to view them as reasonable and helpful.  Ironically adults often make the desire to exceed limits more desirable not because the limits are unreasonable but because the young person resents being told what to do or not do.

This is where bullying prevention reaches a dead end or is a road to nowhere.  Most kids don't bully other kids and don't think bullying is a good thing.  This was true before any legislation was passed or any policy was put into place.  The new anti-bullying laws in place only formalized and sent a message that those in charge of things now decided to raise the stakes for doing what most people didn't do.  The more we keep telling kids who already don't bully not to bully, the more they will tune us out.  Many kids would probably like to just say "alright already we get it bullying is not good-now stop telling us to stop doing what we are not doing" or "there they go again." Many adults have also confessed to me that they are tired of telling kids not to bully-they should know it by now.  When the focus is on stopping something most people already don't do, people feel a little lost regarding what to do next.  People need to feel like there is something more to the story; something to reach for or strive for rather than standing still not doing something.

Adults need to tell a different story and provide a different goal or destination and it has to be something  positive and aspirational, something to appeals to people's better natures.  Although to some, it might seem touchy-feely, people, even those perceived as the  most hard core and stubborn people, don't like to think of themselves negatively; those people are literally just waiting for someone in authority to perceive them as positive, responsible and moral.  When policies and procedures are designed for controlling the possibility of the exception to the rule, the majority of people can end up feeling like they are viewed as being one step away from being a criminal.  People tend to resent being viewed and treated like that especially adolescents who are struggling to discover who they are.  In order to avoid that identity, they rebel against or discredit the people who make them feel that way.

Bully prevention would get a lot farther is we shifted the conversation from DON'T DO to "what can we do and how do we want to get along".  The conversation should be just that a conversation and a conversation can and should occur within the limits of the established law.  Why not discuss why we have the limits we do?  Why not discuss the possibility of more than just staying within the limits?  Why not discuss why some kids exceed the limits and what could be done to help them stay with the limits and be more responsible?  Why not discuss who is responsible for creating and maintaining the type of school/community they would be best for everyone?  Many people in schools might say that there is no time for these types of discussions because of the academic pressures on schools.  Our students I am certain would be motivated and engaged in these discussions because they are meaningful and relevant to their social lives.   If we meet them there and engage them as partners in creating the type of school that they want to have, I feel that their investment in school in general will only increase. If we want our students to think more deeply about things and become reflective what better place to start with where they are right now!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Two Basic Questions

Bullying prevention can become a road to nowhere unless schools can provide meaningful answers to the two basic questions that bystanders ask themselves when confronted bullying and their response to it: Is it worth it? Can I do it?

Most of us when faced with any decision ask ourselves those two questions.  We may not do it consciously, but our answers to those questions really determine what we end up doing or not doing.
If we want bystanders to, as they say now, “stand up” to bullying, we have to first bring those questions to the forefront-they must be articulated otherwise they will silently control what bystanders ultimately end up doing.  Telling people to just do something that requires both risk and doubt without at least discussing those risks and doubts is asking a lot-probably too much.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some kids who will step forward and “stand up” to bullying without those questions being answered-some kids will.  These instances of “heroic action” or positive deviance do happen.  If we want effective bullying prevention however we can’t just sit back with our fingers crossed hoping for these instances to magically happen to save the day.  We can learn from those instances of positive deviance.  We need to learn why some stand up and most don’t.  Our goal therefore should be to make positive deviance less deviant and more normal-that could be called a working definition of culture change.

This is really just a way of getting more kids to do what they want to do in their hearts.  The hopeful thing is that we don’t have to create a moral conscience in kids we just have to create the conditions for it to emerge-create a safe place for it.  We can increase bystanders’ perception of safety (perception is reality in this case) by bringing those two basic and essential questions into a conversation with them.  We can’t just tell them that it is worth it and that they can make a difference, they will need to ask themselves those questions, think about them, discuss them with others, become aware of the resources available to them and then feel some degree of safety in trying out the words and actions they can use in response to bullying.

Ironically those same two questions: Is it worth it? Can I do it? Are also ones that kids who bully ask themselves and answer in the affirmative most likely without consciously thinking about them.   It is very possible that if we talk about those questions in relation to the act of bullying, then the kids, who bully and do so without being aware of why they bully, might just be more likely to refrain from bullying.  In general when people become more aware of why they do what they do, they are more likely to have more control over what they do and say.  This is especially true of young people who are works in progress experiencing things for the first time very often with little or no awareness of why they are acting  in a certain way or saying certain things. 

It should be our job as adults to provide guidance and direction to our children for what is happening to them in their lives.  It becomes a road to nowhere for them and us,  if we just say to them NO don’t do that or if you do that then you will have bad things happening to you.  It also doesn’t little good for us just to give kids pep talks or try to shame them into doing what we think they should do. 
We need to educate them-help them think, reflect, discuss, ask questions, share stories, try out new behaviors and do all of that in a safe place surrounded by people they trust-people who are trustworthy.   When we are trustworthy to our children, we can start to help them ask and  begin to answer those questions: Is it worth it? Can I do it?   I know that if we ask those questions of ourselves in regards to educating our children, the answers have to be a resounding YES.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Change to change

The more we believe we can change,  the more we will change for the better.  This is the simple but profound statement that empirical research is showing to be true.  The more that we view ourselves and others as “works in progress” rather than “finished products”, the more we will treat each other with more respect or at least cut ourselves and others more slack.  This research has profound implications not just for bullying prevention but also for all education.

The research that is demonstrating this truth is an outgrowth of the work that Carol Dweck has done with the concept of mindset.  Students who believe that their success is attributable to their effort, i.e.  encountering difficulty and struggling only strengthens them as learners, actually learn more than students who view their success as attributable to their innate ability.  Daniel Yeager and colleagues are doing this new line of research.  I urge everyone to check out his work.  Not only is it  fascinating,  but it also points the field of education in a new and very promising direction.  It hold the potential for practical interventions that can get bullying prevention unstuck and untied from the many NOTS that it currently finds itself. 

In the article, An Implicit Theories of Personality Intervention Reduces Adolescent Aggression in Response to Victimization and Exclusion by Yeager, Trzesniewski, and Dweck ( Child Development, 2012) 

they present researching findings on the positive changes that occurred with adolescents when they  were given a serious of lessons teaching them the malleability of the human brain and how people can and do change with changes in their environment.  

Here are some of the keys points made in the article:

Adolescents are more likely than younger children to believe that people can’t change –this is referred to as an entity theory of personality-similar to the fixed mindset in Dweck work.

They hypothesize that this type of  implicit theory (entity) is an explanation for why certain treatments or social/emotional skills training are less likely to result in significant changes in adolescent behavior towards peers.

They also suggest that feelings of depression are associated with the belief in the entity theory of personality.  If people are think that they can’t change they are more likely to become depressed.
This research focused on students who could be considered bully/victims who would seek to get revenge either on those who bullied them or  would find others to bully.

The experimental group was given a series of lessons that taught an incremental theory of personality-that people have the potential and capacity for change.  They were also exposed to examples of people who demonstrated this capacity for change.

The students taught about the incremental theory were told that changing personality is not easy and can take a long time.  Changing requires a great deal of help but is always possible.  They were told about various mechanisms of change: maturity, motivation, situations, new experiences, learning from mistakes etc.  This learning and changing actually reorganized people’s brains.  They were given actual testimonials from students who did change.

At the end of this series of lessons, the students trained in incremental theory were asked to write letters to incoming ninth graders advising them on how to respond to bullying without seeking revenge.
Some sessions also told stories about famous people who encountered and overcame social rejection.

There was another control  group given a similar number of training sessions that the incremental group but the content of the sessions were about coping skills.  There was also a third group with no treatment given.

The results showed that the group taught the incremental theory were significantly less aggressive, more pro social, showed fewer conduct problems and were absent less from school than the other groups.

The researchers point out in the article that many adults have entity theory/fixed mindset towards adolescents-that they aren’t likely to change.  Adults can make the entity/fixed mindset in adolescents become more set and less likely to change leading to more aggressive and inappropriate behavior.

The more schools use a legal approach to bullying prevention and view the problem as being the “student transgressors” rather than the circumstances/environment of the school culture and climate, the more the problem of bullying will just fester.  If schools believed in “change” not just as possibility but  also as a reality (or as I stated in previous posts – acted on the Y assumption not the x assumption), then the students would be follow and act on what is truly in their hearts and experience the intrinsic joys that are possible with being a member of a caring community of people.  The adults would also like being in that type of environment.  The first step is believing it is possible. Imagine!