When you think back to your schooldays, what’s the thing that you were “bad” at? Was it almost always the thing you really wished you were “good” at? (Being as how we all, somewhat masochistically, undervalue our own strengths and overvalue those of others.)
For me, it was art. I CAN’T DRAW. That was my opinion from midway through my school days until now (approximately, ahem, 20 years later).
But when I retrained as a primary teacher, I started to draw. I drew things on the board, I modelled drawing as part of activities that I was explaining to the children, and gratifyingly – because they’re 6 – they said ‘You are really good at drawing!” and my favourite response of all time: “That is like a masterpiece! It will be in a museum!”
At the start of this year, I eschewed all of my resolutions about eating less chocolate and taking up running (madness) in favour of changing my own “fixed mindset” about drawing – I would draw every day and see if I could get better.
The first thing I noticed is that it’s really scary doing something that you’ve decided you can’t do – I’d forgotten how scary. It was an immediate and impactful lesson for me about how some children feel every day in school during one activity or another.
It made me think again about just how important those growth-mindset messages are; children develop these ideas about what they can and can’t do so quickly, and hold them so strongly.
The second thing I noticed is that giving something a go is harder on your own than it is alongside others. But at the same time as I resolved to draw every day, the author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre started a daily “shape challenge” on Twitter.
She posts a shape each day, and you make it into whatever you like. A huge range of people engage in this challenge: kids, grown-ups, brilliant artists, nervous artists, the lot. I do this every day, and I’m getting better. Sharing my work with others and getting feedback on how I can improve is making a huge difference – I’m changing my own mindset.
I have my class doing it, too, and even some of the other teachers at school, many of whom also initially responded with, “I can’t do that, I am just not that arty…”
I now feel much more keenly the vital importance of avoiding the development of fixed mindsets and a lack of self-belief in any particular area. No one should decide they “can’t do maths” or they “aren’t arty” – especially not when they’re only wee. After all, if I can learn to draw a satisfactory penguin in my mid-30s, then anything is possible.
Susannah Jeffries is a recently-qualified primary teacher in Fife @MrsJTeaches