growth mindset · language · writers

Have you ever said this?

Earlier this month, I was on a Zoom call with Robert Kaplinsky, author of Open Middle Math. Early in the conversation, I said, “I’m not a math person.” He pushed back on my statement. Robert encouraged me to rethink my not-being-a-math-person identity and invited me to consider that perhaps math wasn’t taught in the way that I understood it. (There’s a truth.) Upon further conversation, I told him that I didn’t feel even moderately comfortable with math until I discovered Investigations as a teacher, which helped me think about math-related situations in a different way. After our conversation, I vowed not to utter the words “I’m not a math person” again since it is such a fixed mindset way of viewing myself in relation to mathematics.

This conversation made me think about something many teachers I’ve consulted with through the years have told me, “I’m not a writer.” Once I point out the ways in which they already write in their daily lives and provide them with strategies to generate notebook writing, they come to realize that they are writers.

The language we use — when we speak to ourselves and about ourselves in front of others — matters. We have to be careful how we talk to ourselves. We are listening. When we say things like, “I’m not a writer” or “I’m not a math person” we are providing ourselves with little room to grow. In order to be the best version of ourselves, we have to remember that we’re constantly learning, growing, and changing.

So let’s say you’re firmly in the camp of “I’m not good at writing,” “I don’t like to write,” or “I’m not a writer.” Here are some suggestions to move you forward:

  • Make attempts & take risks.
    • You’re going to do things as a writer that won’t go well. It can feel good to tear pages out of a notebook, ball them up, and toss them into the trash. However, I don’t recommend this. Honor the bad writing you do because a bad piece of writing is better than not writing at all. Reflect on what went wrong and endeavor to do something differently the next time you write.
    • Take risks by trying out new things as a writer. Sometimes it will work and sometimes it won’t. Either way, you had an experience that you can reflect on and share with students.
  • Talk about the hard parts.
    • And there will be hard parts especially if you’ve had something bad happen to you as a writer in your life. (By bad, I mean anything from a peer giving you their hot take on what was wrong with your writing to a paper loaded with your teacher’s critiques in red ink to a publication rejection.) Find someone who you can chat with, openly and honestly, to help you on the road to being a writer.
  • Live a writerly life.
  • Be part of your classroom writing community.
    • You’re probably reading this blog post because you teach writing. I want to encourage you to write alongside your students. Do the same writing you’re asking them to do — just a few days ahead of them. This will help you have more clout when you show demonstration texts (which will now be yours!) and when you confer with students writer-to-writer.

I think about all of the times when writing has been hard for students I’ve worked with. They’ve said, “I’m a terrible writer!” and “I don’t like writing!” I’ve never once — NOT ONCE — allowed a child to speak to themself like this. Instead, I’ve always reframed their words by saying things like, “I’m becoming a stronger writer,” “I don’t like writing yet,” and “I’m working hard to become a better writer.” I’ll bet you’ve said similar things to the children you teach. So, if you won’t let kids put themselves down, then why do you do it to yourself and/or about yourself?

Let’s make a deal. I’ll stop saying that I’m not a math person and you’ll quit any kind of negative self-talk about writing. Consider gentle self-talk as a gift to yourself for the holiday season — and beyond.

6 thoughts on “Have you ever said this?

  1. This is such a fabulous post, Stacey! I love the connections between the words we say to ourselves and the mindset we bring to the classroom. Your tips for working on writing are also spot on. Here’s to being the kind of educators who see the potential for growth in all subjects and spaces!


  2. Stacey, I vividly remember YOUR support in helping me change my own mindset when several years ago you gave me the privilege of submitting a guest post for the amazing TWT blog. Right out of the gate I wrote that I was not worthy of the honor, yet I truly was! Thank you for setting me straight on that, I’ll never forget your kind words and your bit of a push to see myself as a worthy contributor!


  3. I like that you discussed how fixed mindsets are limiting and provide little wiggle room to grow. Growth mindsets will help you overcome these limiting beliefs and get you to improve as a person.


Comments are closed.