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Discriminating Teaching (and Practices)

Hey friends! I am back with another soulful post AKA one from the heart, chalked full of honesty, and vulnerability. I'm linking up with my blogging buddies Mrs. Labrasciano and Amna Baig who are putting themselves out there, and sharing their personal opinions.

True Grit and Growth Mindset
I'm reading Multiplication is for White People along with some other bloggers. The first chapter obliterates the myth that ability is determined at birth (read this post for a better summary). After the reading the book, I've reflected on my own practice of emphasizing grit and the growth mindset with my students. In particular, I'm revisiting how I have embraced these concepts in my classroom, without full attention to the nuances that are important to my classroom of learners. The growth mindset is fairly straight forward; intelligence is dynamic. Therefore, working hard, learning from mistakes, and persevering through tough times leads to growth and change. Grit (as defined by me) is the toughness that leverages passion and perseverance to achieve goals. I've always taught in urban communities with a high percentage of students from low income backgrounds and students of color. Growth mindset and grit are staple concepts in my classroom. For my students, I talk about the growth mindset because many of them come to me believing that there are smart kids out there... and they aren't them. Additionally many of my students have experienced repeated failure, low expectations, and/or racism in their young lives. My intent with talking about and celebrating these concepts is to assist my students in cultivating their greatness and working relentlessly through tough times... MUCH EASIER in theory than practice.

So what's that big deal?  After a decade in education, I'm stepping back and wondering about the unspoken feelings I have about growth mindset and grit. In my heart when I see my students, I've always believed they needed to fully embrace growth mindset and be "gritty" because of the hand they've been dealt. Being a person of color and/or from a low income background (generally) is difficult, and presents obstacles because of societal norms. More specifically, I believe that my success of my students rests in their belief that they can, and a strong work ethic that pushes forward in the face of discrimination, racism, low expectations, stereotypes, ect. ect...

 I've never been honest with the fact that growth mindset and grit (especially) is something that their white peers do not need in the same way as them as they navigate the world. Truth be told, the world we live in has barriers that students of color and/or from low income backgrounds have to overcome that their white peers don't because of white privilege, and other systems that are built to the advantage of them. Note: I'm not saying that white students and/or students for upper class backgrounds do not need a dynamic mindframe and grit. I am saying that I believe that the extent to which they need it looks different than that of students of color and and/or from low income backgrounds. You might be wondering, "how does this connect to teaching?"

As a teacher, I am convinced that talking about grit and growth mindset has to be done as a part of a REAL conversation that raises student consciousness about the world we live in SO THAT they can be change agents. In my humble opinion I feel like steering away from that conversation can lead to the assumption that many of the situations my students face is a result of the lack of grit within their family structure. This is the part of my practice where I need to get better. I teach middle school so having real(er) conversations is something my students can handle, and in my experience appreciate. In the past, I think the way I've messaged thoughts on grit and growth mindset may have led my students to think I was blaming their family and/or other factors on their lack of success. I would say things like "successful people... and have..." or "the only way to attain your goals is to..." In hindsight, I needed to douse some realness into those statements to illuminate the societal obstacles. My greatest aspiration is that my students will not work to assimilate, but rather think about injustice in the world and work to make it more just for all. As a class, we just read The Watson Go to Birmingham - 1963, and the ironically my students were most engaged with the epilogue, which reads:  
Many heroic people died in the struggle for civil rights. Many others were injured or arrested or lost their homes or businesses. It is almost impossible to imagine the courage of the first African American children who walked into segregated schools or the strength of the parents who permitted them to face the hatred and violence that awaited them.They did it in the name of the movement, in the quest for freedom.
These people are the true American heroes.They are the boys and girls, the women and men who have seen that things are wrong and have not been afraid to ask “Why can’t we change this?”They are the people who believe that as long as one person is being treated unfairly, we all are.These are our heroes, and they still walk among us today. One of them may be sitting next to you as you read this, or standing in the next room making your dinner, or waiting for you to come outside and play.
One of them may be you.
I want my students to own their power to change, but this can only come if they understand the issues. If you read my blog, this is a topic that I revisit often, which is not easy. I am willing to put myself out there for my students, and myself. I don't have "the answers," but I want to link up with other educators to find them, and have conversations that will challenge my practice, and (hopefully) lead to better outcomes for my students. As another school year starts, I will continue to reflect, learn, grow, be brave, honest, and open to anything that will make me, and my students better people...even when it's hard! #teamgrit  Please.Share.Your.Thoughts... and read Amna and Amy's posts too! Struggle, and Progress...



  1. Hi Tanesha, Thank you for working with me on these posts. I was just talking to another colleague about growth mindset and how some of my students really need some help in this area. This is especially important for my students who are foster children regardless of their skin color. I think I know what you mean about "gritty", but I'm going to look up your book so that I don't make the wrong assumption. That would definitely defeat the purpose of this whole post.
    Take care, Amy

  2. This was super informative ... terms I have not come across before. I agree with you that these topics need to be talked about head on and not brushed under the rug, because they DO exist. Pretending they don't doesn't make them go away.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I could not tear my eyes away from what you had to say, even though I really need to finish getting ready for my day. I am looking forward to reading more of your blog and I will be ordering Multiplication is for White People later today. Thank you again for opening this conversation.
    --Susan G.