One of the Biggest Mistakes We can Make

By Charley Cass posted 02-01-2019 11:10

I recently was given the chance to give my first full day workshop.  In front of a raucous crowd of four, I presented on students living in poverty and how to best reach and teach them.  I want to send a huge thank you to the attendees and ROE #13 for the opportunity.  When the day was done and I drove home, I began to reflect on my message and my presentation.  A talking point stuck out and it has been resonating with me since that day.

That talking point was the idea of deficit mindset and how that can be damaging to teachers as they try to connect with their free lunch kids. Having a deficit mindset causes us to set a low bar for kids we feel sorry for or are convinced that they will not ever be successful in life.  Daniel Booth has told us about setting the bar too low.  If you have not seen his Ignite session for the IPA, please do.  He often says that he would rather set the bar high and miss it all the time than to set the bar low and hit it every time.  He's right.  I feel like we should be applying this thinking not just with our free lunch kids but with all of our kids.

When we set the bar low or excuse the behavior or effort of our free lunch kids, we are simply ignoring the fact that our job is to help them experience social mobility.  We should be setting the bar high so we will communicate that just because their family might be disadvantaged, they do not have to be.  Isn't this why we all became educators?  We want to help students grow right?  This entails much more than raising test scores and skill deficits.  For these kids we have to teach them a growth mindset so raising a test score will actually mean something to them.

I was very careful to tell my workshop attendees that I am not a formally trained poverty trainer/presenter.  I am actually a poverty practitioner in life and profession.  I have been influenced by great people that ignored my deficit of generational poverty and helped me to use my own strengths to get out of poverty.  They set a high bar for me and never let me off the hook.  I do this everyday no matter how frustrating it can be. 

I ran into a former student not long ago and he asked if I remembered him.  I absolutely did.  It seemed like we fought with each other just about every day.  He told me that he had to be the worst kid that I had ever had and I disagreed with him.  "Sure we butted heads, but I never personally dislike kids that I am trying to work with." I told him.  He went on to say that I was always his favorite because I never quit on him and I always reminded him that I expected more out of him.  He went on further to say that he could never tell me that because he enjoyed arguing with me and didn't want that to go away.  It's funny how you might be making a difference even though you feel like you are spinning your wheels.

Let go of your deficit mindset and set a consistently high bar for your students.  One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to think that their future is set and they we, in the greatest profession of all, have no way to change it.  If you would like some inspiration, watch Daniel Booth's Ignite session and remember your why.