When I was cleaning sticks off my sidewalk this weekend, a car pulled up, rolled down the window, and the driver asked me which direction he needed to go to get to Cleveland Avenue. I told him, he thanked me, and went on his way. At no point in our brief conversation did I think the driver was STUPID for asking for directions. I can’t say whether he felt STUPID to have to ask for directions, but regardless, I thought nothing of it as it was a natural and normal experience.

However, there are many times humans experience something (asking for directions, not understanding a joke, being confused in a class, etc.) and feel STUPID. This very natural, normal, and necessary part of learning is called CONFUSION. If we don’t see the moment of confusion as beneficial, we may see that moment as “I’m Stupid!”

Mr. Bowlin’s letter this week offers great insights and tactics into battling the notion of STUPID! This letter is #16 in a series of weekly communications he sends home to the parents/guardians of his 4th grade students at Saint Mark’s School in St. Paul, MN. Read, learn, and enjoy.

Top 20: Responses to “Stupid”

Learning new content is difficult. It’s normal to be frustrated when trying or learning something new or unfamiliar. It’s not necessarily what we understand however that indicates our potential as a learner. This month we continue to recall the ways in which we are smart as well as reflect on the importance of maximizing our capacity to learn.

Our group of fourth graders came up with the following as typical reactions to making a mistake: feeling not good enough, being frustrated, feeling disappointed, and comparing or hoping someone else made a similar mistake. These feelings are a very normal reaction, and it would be inaccurate to say that when mistakes occur these feelings don’t exist. When posed with the question, “How are these reactions helpful for our learning?” the class had no answer. These reactions are certainly natural but hold us back from our potential if we allow them to do so. The difference in our ability to grow lies in our response. When mistakes happen, we are challenged to move on quickly from our natural reaction to mistakes and respond by putting our Star Qualities to the test. We reviewed the importance of perseverance, persistence, resiliency, and grit and noted that when we are challenged as learners, we must maintain the belief in a growth mindset that we will improve.

We used the following quote to guide our discussion on how we should avoid negative responses and replace them with positive ones: “We are human. We are not perfect. We are alive. We try things. We make mistakes. We stumble. We fall. We get hurt. We rise again. We try again. We keep learning. We keep growing. And we are thankful for this priceless opportunity called life.” When we come to accept that as humans we are always learning, we know that we have our strengths and weaknesses. The best thing we can do is use our strengths to give us confidence, and use our weaknesses as a reminder that we have the potential to get better. It all comes back to the desire to constantly improve.

When we believe that our brain is a muscle and has the ability to grow, we understand that our growth is dependent on our willingness to push ourselves. However, it also takes an understanding that learning and growing take time. It is a combination of both belief in our abilities and the action to display a desire to work hard.

The word yet is a very important aspect of a growth mindset. Just by simply adding this word to end of a statement, it makes learning a lifelong, ongoing process. I don’t understand this… yet. I’m not good at this… yet. I can’t do this… yet. It’s easy to feel “stupid,” especially when we are called, compared, confused, or use the word can’t. However, just a simple change in the dialogue we are having within ourselves can help remind us that our potential is limitless if we have the courage to challenge our limits.