Limitation and Liberation

Down here in Atlanta the 2012-2013 school year is well underway, even though it’s only mid August. The yearning for summer endures, but it’s balanced by the incredible surge of energy that comes with the beginning of a new school year, especially at The Davis Academy. One of the things I appreciate most about being part of The Davis Academy is that it’s truly a community of learners. Obviously student learning comes first, but there’s a healthy recognition that authentic teaching requires authentic learning. At Davis I’m surrounded by adults who are modelling what “lifelong learning” is all about.

One of the ways we promote a community of learning amidst the frenzied schedules we all keep is through our commitment to professional development. Without delving into the depths of PD here at Davis, I want to share a personal takewaway from a session we had during our preplanning days when we were lucky enough to host John D’Auria, noted educational author, researcher, and president of Teachers 21.

During our time with D’Auria he engaged us in thinking through several of the key points in his excellent, accessible, and provocative book, Ten Lessons in Leadership and Learning: An Educator’s Journey. The lesson I want to highlight has to do with different beliefs about intelligence: limiting and liberating.

Limiting beliefs about intelligence center around the idea that intelligence is essentially determined at birth. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Each of us has a fixed amount of intelligence. Mistakes, errors, and failures show us the limits of our intelligence and let us know when we’ve reached our intellectual capacity. Pretty dreary stuff, but unfortunately these limiting beliefs are alive and well.

Liberating beliefs about intelligence suggest that intelligence can be acquired, molded, and developed over time. Rather than being an elusive quality granted to the lucky few, intelligence is available to all, assuming we’re willing to work to achieve it. The same mistakes, errors, and failures that are so devastating in the world of limiting beliefs about intelligence become the very tools that drive learning in a liberation mindset. Simply stated, we learn from our mistakes, and our failures help us rise again.

Our time with D’Auria coincided with the London Olympics. As I was fast-forwarding through my DVR one evening I inadvertently stumbled upon a commerical that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a Nike ad that was speaking directly to the point that D’Auria had made earlier that day. The ad has stirred a bit of controversy because some viewers think it’s poking fun at the child featured in the ad.  But I think it’s a remarkable commercial that espouses liberating beliefs about intelligence, and about the capacity for growth more generally. On the first day of school we had a chance to share it with our middle school students and drive home the point that greatness isn’t granted at birth, rather it’s achieved through effort and strategy. Fellow educators who are concerned with imparting liberating beliefs about education may want to use this commercial as well.

Wishing us all, Northerners, Southerners, Jewish Educators, Independent School Educators, Public School Educators and champions of intellectual liberation, a great 2012-2013 school year.

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