That One Big Thing I Got From These Six Things

A month ago I identified six books that I simply have to read this summer. Since that point I’ve read 5 of 6 (Circe; There, There, These Six Things, Grit, andThey Say, I Say, ), and I’m happy to report that all five have absolutely lived up to my expectations. Out of the five though, Dave Stuart Jr.’s These Six Things is the one that has stuck with me the most. Not only is it the most comprehensive, polished, and practical compilation of Stuart’s work (which regular readers of the blog know I love) to date and loaded to the brim with brilliant suggestions about teaching reading, writing, arguing, speaking/listening, and content, but it begins with a section called “Start With the Heart” that absolutely blew me away. Stuart prefaces it as follows:

All of our work in and out of the classroom ought to be informed by a fundamental, internal layer: the layer of key beliefs. The best kinds of classrooms rely on inside-out learning.

What Stuart so succinctly says here is that in the same way that a vegetable garden bears more fruit in carefully prepared soil, our students will learn and grow best when we cultivate in them a handful of key beliefs about learning, the classroom, and themselves. The beliefs that Stuart recommends we focus on building are the following:

1. I believe in my teacher.
2. I belong in this classroom.
3. I can improve through my effort.
4. I can succeed at this.
5. This work has value for me.

As I read through these, I found myself nodding along. These core beliefs have wide and deep support in research. They all have been found to have very high effect scores by John Hattie, tie to the work done by education heavy-hitters like Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck, and appear prominently in major meta-studies of best practices like this one from Camille Farrington and the University of Chicago and this one from the U.S. Dept. of Education.

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But along with my nodding I also began to realize that what Stuart is suggesting here is actually something remarkable, unique, and deeply important. While others before him have argued that we should be teaching our students growth mindsets or striving for credibility, he differs in that he makes the case that we need to start with these beliefs and make them the foundation of the work we do in our classes (see model from These Six Things on the right).

The idea that that we nudge content aside as the main goal during those first days of the year and instead focus our learning objectives on key beliefs is a novel one. Even champions of grit and growth mindsets haven’t exactly said that we need to put them as the starting line and geographic center of what we do in our classes, but if you think about it, that is exactly where they belong. If the research is believed, students who have purpose, believe in their teachers, feel accepted in a classroom, and know that they can succeed learn at nearly exponential rates and are primed for what Stuart calls “Long-Term Flourishing.” So why not try get them there as fast as possible with a concerted push in the first few weeks? A bootcamp of key beliefs, if you will.

So this year, I plan to jettison what I admit was a more ad hoc, by-the-way approach to building key beliefs that I used in previous years and instead take the “inside-out” approach. Like Stuart, my focus in the first few weeks will be cultivating key beliefs. That’s it.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t still teach lots of content, but at the center of every lesson design, assignment given, early piece of feedback, and short conversation in the hall will be the goal of helping my students to develop the right core of beliefs, so they are ready for all of the reading, writing, arguing, speaking/listening, and content that will be coming their way!

As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Teaching,

Matt

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