When it comes to teaching creatively we use both the heart and the mind in equal measure. ..
It takes a lot of courage to make a change, all the way from personally to globally. Some of us, however, aren’t satisfied with simply exercising more or organizing a charity. These are the ones who make discoveries and forge ideas that alter our entire way of life.
Secretly, it may even be the hope we have for our children—to one day take action in a way that changes the world for the better. But what are the mindsets students need to create change on a worldwide scale if they truly want to?
The Persian poet Rumi once spoke of the real place change begins, which is within. He wrote, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
What this means is that the changes our students might wish to affect have more to do with how they think as opposed to the scale of what they actually do. In other words, real change comes from within.
Moreover, Rumi also might indirectly suggest here that the accomplishments themselves matter less than what one chooses to do with them. After all, the most sweeping transformations seem to have the humblest beginnings.
Exploring the Transformational Mindsets Students Need
However we choose to analyze the poet’s words, the truth remains clear—there are definite mindsets students need to make real change in a real world. Our goal in this post is to suggest ones that have the capacity to impact thought and action the most profoundly, and the most positively.
1. “I Will Share My Genius.”
One of the most important questions we’ve ever asked ourselves as human beings is about what purpose we were meant to serve. Although broad in scope, we can whittle it down into herding questions that lead to the realization of one of the first mindsets students need to create real change, beginning with, “what am I better than anyone else at.”
This isn’t an ego-driven question, but rather one of self-awareness and discovery. Everyone, including our learners, has at least one thing they excel at and that they love doing, even if they don’t realize it fully.
It is within that joyful freedom of expression and that power of accomplishment that our personal genius can be found.
One of the most important questions we’ve ever asked ourselves as human beings is about what purpose we were meant to serve.
For example, maybe a learner of yours is a captivating speaker. Perhaps another one shows promise as a writer or journalist. It may even be that a student you have has a gift for teaching and encouraging a love of learning in others themselves.
Whatever the case, their genius is somewhere in how they think and what they do. The next and most important goal will be for them to determine how they can channel that greatness into something that serves a greater need in the world.
2. “I Always Feel Compassion.”
To be able to feel compassion is to show a strength of character and a connection to the intrinsic suffering of humanity unlike anything else. Compassion is a gift we give to ourselves as well as others, and it is the root of all healing. As far as mindsets students need to affect change, this is one that is seemingly often in high demand but also in relatively short supply.
The word “compassion” derives from the Latin root com and passio, as well as the Greek word patheia. Taken together, this literally translates as, “to suffer with affection.” But how, you may ask, does suffering make for a better world? For that matter, how does our learners’ suffering make for a better world? Ultimately it comes down to the idea of compassion acting as a tool for promoting understanding, and also for fostering leadership.
When we act toward others with compassion, we accept and allow them to be who they are when they are at their most vulnerable. In doing so we provide a sense of security to others by demonstrating that suffering is a part of living, and it need not be experienced alone and in the darkness of believing no one else understands.
Compassion empowers others, and empowerment is something true leaders provide to those who follow them. It may not change the world overnight, but it’s one heck of a great place to start.
3. “I Can Fill a Need in the World.”
There is a spot in the world only your learners can fill. There is a place reserved specifically for them and them alone to grow, blossom, and flourish. It is a place for them to funnel their creative and intellectual passions into actions that are truly transformative in the world around them.
And no matter how long it takes, it will be waiting for them if they want it.
Our world is changing so much and so quickly that it’s impossible to predict what the future will bring, more so than it ever has been. We are looking forward to a future rocked by exponential change, such that our learners will be solving problems that have never been seen before.
As such, humanity will constantly have new challenges to face and new needs that must be filled. Somewhere within this societal matrix, your learners are going to fit in and accomplish wonders if they’re properly prepared to do so.
This is why we foster the skills embedded within the Essential Fluencies and the 10 Shifts of Practice at the classroom level. In these methodologies are the capabilities every student needs to take on the future and solve those unknown problems with ease, both in their professional and their personal lives.
4. “I See Mistakes as Opportunities.
Embracing mistakes and using them as a chance to improve and grow is a hallmark of exceptional learning. It’s called “useful failure” and it takes all the guilt and embarrassment out of failing at something, especially for young kids. It’s one of the most valuable mindsets students need to succeed in both the classroom and in life.
Sometimes when we fail or make an error, it can be seen as a bad thing depending on who is observing. When young kids are constantly exposed to this kind of negativity as they are learning, it can seriously hinder their desire to continue to learn, and sometimes extinguish it completely.
Embracing mistakes and using them as a chance to improve and grow is a hallmark of exceptional learning.
The act of making someone feel inferior when they make a mistake is quite a contradiction in that we all make mistakes. In fact, those who are laughing the loudest are often hiding the fact that they’re the ones screwing up the most.
As a teacher and parent, you’re in a powerful position to model useful failure for your kids and your students. You can teach them that mistakes are not only acceptable, but inevitable. They are opportunities to debrief what brought them to the error, learn a new path, and break new ground with the next pass.
5. “I Put Passion in All I Do.”
Kind of caring or sort of wanting something will get you steamrolled by someone who actually does. The truth is that nothing transformational or revolutionary in the world has ever happened without passion. It’s not the accomplishment but the fire back of it that makes all the difference.
Think of a time when you knew someone who had a real passion for something. What did you see in them when they did it or talked with you about it? How did they change? Could you see the passion made manifest in their words and mannerisms? Chances are you could, and that force of will would likely be guaranteed unstoppable. That's what real passion does.
No matter what, make sure you encourage your students to do the things they are passionate about. Do the same with the work you give them in class, through connecting to what is relevant to them.
6. “I Take My Ideas Seriously.”
In the Dream phase of Solution Fluency we encourage students to imagine without limitations. When solving problems that matter, no ideas are off the table.
This is how they learn to imagine fearlessly and step outside preconceived borders. It’s also how they realize their ideas have meaning, and if they don’t take them seriously then no one will.
Kind of caring or sort of wanting something will get you steamrolled by someone who actually does.
Let’s imagine for a minute that the greatest inventors in history were just phoning it in. Suppose they gave up on their ideas too quickly, either fearing they wouldn’t work or that people would laugh. If they let such trivialities halt their progress, what would the world be like today?
The fact is these people changed the world because they wouldn’t give up, and correctly ignored ridicule and skepticism.
This is how the world changes—through people who are bold and crazy enough to believe they can actually do it.
7. “I Don’t Have to Make It Alone.”
Someone once asked the late great Dr. Wayne W. Dyer why he thought no one would help them with a project they were working on. He incredulously replied, “You mean to tell me there are 7 billion people on the planet and you think no one will help you?” The idea that no one wants to lend a hand warrants rethinking, especially in the age of communication.
Global virtual communication is now a reality, and this is having an enormous impact on daily life. There has never been a time in which distance has meant less than it does today.
Students today can work in virtual partnerships on projects with kids from across town or across the world, and the skills they develop will help them greatly because the working world is being affected by new communication technology as well.
Modern educators firmly believe that today’s learners must possess the ability to collaborate seamlessly in both physical and virtual spaces, with real and virtual partners all over the world.
They’re right, because these skills help them realize that the work they do to really make a difference happens better in numbers. Many hands make light work, and a small committed group of minds can indeed affect great change.
8. “I Deal in Possibility, Not Limitation.”
In the article 40 Positive Lessons Teachers Can Share With Their Kids, number 32 advises, “Train your mind to believe in what’s possible.” This means realizing fully the impact your actions could have on the world, and embracing that possibility with abandon.
Too often in our lives we encounter people who deal in limitations. They complain endlessly of what they don’t like/don’t want/don’t believe/don’t trust, and the list goes on. Ironically, since this is their primary focus, their lives become full of those exact things.
It becomes a downward spiral from which some never recover, but it doesn’t have to be that way for our learners. We can give them the gift of believing in what’s possible and assist them in carrying it forward into every facet of their lives.
Many hands make light work, and a small committed group of minds can indeed affect great change.
One of the stages of Solution Fluency is the Dream stage. When students are facing a problem for which they must design a solution, dreaming becomes an opportunity to think without borders. It takes them on a time machine visit to the future, one in which possibilities exist without limits.
When students are in that state, they visualize all manner of answers completely free of all preconceived hindrance and doubt, guided by the all important question “Why not?”
This is one of the most crucial of the mindsets students need to succeed with making change. Guide them to dream without limits, and believe in the possibilities of what they can achieve when they put their minds to it.
9. “I Make Every Moment Count.”
There’s a saying that reminds us why procrastination is the enemy of success: “You said tomorrow yesterday.”
But don’t feel guilty, and certainly don’t let students feel that way. We all procrastinate from time to time, but when it comes to striving for the kind of success that can make change happen, every moment counts.
When you see your students deeply engaged in the projects they’re working on, you know the signs. They’re animated and committed to their efforts and interactions. All around the classroom excitement buzzes, and the very air seemed charged with the electricity of unquenchable enthusiasm.
Your learners are on a mission to accomplish their goals, and every second is a precious moment to both teach and learn.
Students believe the work they put their hearts into matters, to them and to their audience. In every moment is that heart and that drive to succeed and make a difference.
10. “I Follow Through.”
Plenty of people talk about change, but how many back up their words with actions? In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear makes an interesting case for why we often don’t walk our talk:
“Human beings have been procrastinating for centuries … ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle developed a word to describe this type of behavior: Akrasia. Akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgment …
“When you make plans for yourself — like setting a goal to lose weight or write a book or learn a language — you are actually making plans for your future self … when the time comes to make a decision, however, you are no longer making a choice for your future self.
“Now you are in the moment and your brain is thinking about the present self. And researchers have discovered that the present self really likes instant gratification, not long-term payoff. Your brain values long-term benefits when they are in the future, but it values immediate gratification when it comes to the present moment.”
The idea here is that working toward long-term benefits by setting good work habits and using the growth mindset is key. Another thing that Clear reminds us of is “the guilt and frustration of procrastinating is usually worse than the pain of doing the work.”
The lesson here is that it feels better to be in the middle of the effort than being in the middle of procrastinating or not following through. Following through with our intentions is an act of responsibility and nobility. For a student, it means trust and respect, and eventually a place in the world of positive change of entirely their own making.
These are the mindsets students need to succeed, inspire, and transform their world for the benefit of all. It’s a big bold future out there, but only as bright as we choose to make it. It begins with you, it begins with me, and it begins with our learners.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Mar 13, 2019, updated October 18, 2021