Everyday at school is harder than the next

Every day at school is harder than the previous.

What a frustrating concept for our children! Every day at school they encounter a landscape of struggles and difficulties, alongside glimpses of mastery and proficiency.

This is done by design. Our intention is to present your child with increasingly complex challenges at every interaction. Our classrooms, curriculum, and pedagogy are designed with the belief that our children need to enter a “growth mindset.”  This is a term coined by Carol Dweck, a psychology professor and researcher who has worked at Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford. She asserts that learners are properly motivated not by striving to preform skills, but by struggling to master them.  She has conducted numerous surveys with infants, children, and adults that converge on this theory.

If we create an environment in which joy and pride is found in the struggle, then we are creating learners who are always looking for a new challenge, learners who are never settled with what they already know but seek to push their own boundaries.

Jerome Bruner, a psychologist whose seven decades of writing and research into cognitive processes has largely set the foundation for how we understand developmental cognition from the youngest of ages, explains that “it is worth the effort to provide the growing child with problems that tempt him into the next stages of development.” This then is the role of teacher: creating problems and challenges for our children to struggle with.  This stands in stark contrast to the image of a teacher who provides opportunities for children to preform skills they have already mastered.

Lev Vygotsky, a developmental psychologist whose work has profoundly shaped American early childhood theory, asserts that, “what a child can do with assistance today she will be able to do by herself tomorrow.”  During these moments of difficulty and struggle, the teacher or parent provides the child with specific and targeted support.  Vygotsky termed this “scaffolding,” a term which has since proliferated throughout the field.  The image of scaffolding on the side of a building as it goes up reminds us that our support must minimal and removable; the child is responsible for the construction and our supports will soon be taken down.

While these 20th century psychologists have developed unique ways in which to apply this theory to childhood development, the concept itself is not new. Pirkei Avot, a 2,000 year old collection of Jewish wisdom sayings, tells us, “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.”  Let us seek out people and experiences from which to learn, and dig deeper than the comfort found in preforming skills we know we have mastered. 

Let us be models for our children, and create a community in which joy and pride are found in the struggle.

Shabbat shalom,