The brain handles more than our cognitive functions. Our emotions are lodged there, controlling our thoughts and actions. Whether we are talking about mindfulness or mindset, our minds are the root of it, and anyone in schools today can quickly find themselves in an emotional minefield. Mindfulness has become an integral part of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and it’s being used with trauma-infused learning. With so many of our students (and adults) living with trauma, knowing how to create a climate of mindfulness keeps the library a safe, welcoming space. And knowing what mindset to use at what time can be key.
Students with ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) can act out unpredictably. Since you don’t know the root cause almost anything can set them off, and they go into flight/fight—and sometimes “flee” mode. It’s bad enough when it happens in a class. In the library atmosphere, the effects can be magnified.
While your first reaction may be to tell the individual to calm down, recognize that no one has ever calmed down by being told to do so. You have to be able to connect with the student in order to reach them. As always, it helps if you have developed a positive relationship with them.
This is where to use Mindfulness. Students in this situation need to be brought into the moment and out of the fear and panic that are driving them. One strategy is to re-direct their breathing. When anyone goes into fight or flight, breathing becomes shallow and rapid. By slowing the breathing, calm is more easily restored. Rather than instructing the student to take deep breaths, join them. Say, “Let’s just breathe together for a while. One breath in. Hold. One breath out. Hold.” Do the breathing with the student. It will help calm your jittery nerves as well.
Once the student has settled a bit, ask what they need or offer suggestions. Do they need quiet time or do they want to rejoin the class? By giving some choice and not imposing your will, the episode will likely be shorter, and the student will come to trust you. NOTE: This is in general. Sometimes nothing works, and you need outside help from the administration or security.
Mindset is related to mindfulness. It’s how you view and react to any given situation. As the saying goes, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.” There is much talk about fixed vs. growth mindset, and how to move from the former to the latter. Those with a fixed mindset believe that their traits and abilities are all they have to work with. Believing “I’m not good at math,” puts a limit on how well you will ever be in that subject. A growth mindset, assumes you are able to learn. “With some practice and a little help, I can understand this mathematical concept.” You can find a good explanation (and an infographic) at Carol Dweck: A Summary of the Two Mindsets and the Power and the Power of Believing That You Can Improve.
Most of you are familiar with these different approaches. A growth mindset is incorporated into the AASL National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. The term is specifically used in the Key Commitment for the Shared Foundation Explore: “Discovers and innovates in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection.” (AASL Standards Framework for Learners, p. 4)
We work to have a growth mindset for our students and ourselves. It’s a part of lifelong learning. Our own inner battles with finding a positive way to look at a difficult situation help us understand our students’ struggles to do the same.
A growth mindset always struck me as an excellent way to develop a positive attitude toward life as well as learning, and I recently learned something that takes it to a new level. George Couros started with two columns from Carol Dweck’s work added a third- the Innovative Mindset. His blog post Moving Beyond a Growth Mindset is worth reading.
He got me thinking with the first situation he presents on Challenges. The Growth Mindset (where I was), says “Challenges are embraced, stemming from a desire to learn.” His Innovators’ Mindset states, “Challenges are sought out as an opportunity to learn and grow.” That’s a very different focus. The remaining four: Obstacles, Effort, Criticism, and Success of Others are equally eye-opening. It’s obvious leaders can’t just have a growth mindset. We need an Innovator’s Mindset.
Couros’s perspective throughout the article is compelling and memorable. It gives us another choice, another angle as leaders to make the changes and meet the challenges that can support our programs. I know I am going to be working on developing my Innovators Mindset to the work I do. I hope many of you will join me.