MCPS administrators hold psychology of success discussion

A panel of MCPS administrators, including principal Alan Goodwin and Pyle principal Jennifer Webster, spoke in the cafeteria April 26 about Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” The discussion, which was organized by the Stressbusters Committee, focused on the need to encourage students to grow academically by emphasizing work ethic rather than fixed traits like intelligence.

Moderator Anne Hollander, staff development specialist Karen Scharff, Whitman principal Alan Goodwin, Pyle principal Jennifer Webster, child development specialist Barbara Strom Thompson, and MCPS Board of Education president Shirley Brandman discuss Mindset: The New Psychology of Success April 26. Photo by Nate Rabner.

One recurrent theme of the discussion was the danger praise can pose to students if used incorrectly. If a parent congratulates a student too frequently or for no reason, the student can become dependent on praise and lose sight of the importance of learning for learning’s sake, staff development specialist Karen Scharff said.

“The children who are hooked on praise will go to adults and say ‘look at this! Do you like it?’” Scharff said.  “But the children who have this work ethic, this ‘I’m gonna keep going’–you can just tell the difference.”

The panel also discussed how students should respond constructively to failure.  Goodwin said he always stresses to students that mistakes are learning opportunities.

“Usually when a child comes in, we’re wrestling with something he or she has done wrong.  I immediately say that we all make mistakes,” Goodwin said.  “It’s how you handle the situation after making the mistake that makes the difference.  What do you learn from it?  What could you have done differently?”

About 50 people, mostly parents of high schoolers or middle schoolers, attended the event.  A short question-answer session at the end of the evening let a few listeners ask panelists about how gender differences affect mindset, whether AP overload is a good idea, and other topics.

“I think it’s very helpful,” one Whitman parent said.  “It provides a new perspective.  It’s good to join in the discussion.”

Goodwin said he was pleased by the turnout at the event and was glad for the opportunity to discuss views on educational practices.

“Education is ever evolving, and it’s important to try to find ways to help teachers improve their instruction and for students to find new ways of learning,” he said.  “It’s important to continually expand and keep looking for new ideas.”

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