Almost 10 years ago, when I first started visiting successful schools with substantial populations of children of color and children from low-income families, I was startled at how openly the teachers and children talked about their performance. Data on how kids were doing were often posted on classroom walls, and kids talked about their reading and math levels. Similarly, teachers talked about how the kids in their classrooms did in comparison with other classrooms and what they were doing to improve their students’ performance.
This way of talking represented a very different culture from what I was used to, both in the schools I attended and those my children attended. In those schools, such information was treated either as causes of secret pride or secret shame — but it was always secret.
Gradually I realized that the openness I was seeing in successful schools was part of an attitude that all kids would get to where they needed to be and that failure simply meant more work needed to be done.
It took me a long time to understand the important role that this kind of dispassionate optimism played in the success of these schools, but in many ways I think these schools are living examples of the “growth mindset” that psychologist Carol Dweck talks about.
To read about how that process seems to play out in testing — an issue that many parents and teachers care about — see my column in Huffington Post this week.