Beauty vs Brains

“Some of us are trained in this mindset from an early age” from Carol Dweck’s Mindsetsmindset

I can clearly recall one day, when I was about 13 and visiting my maternal grandmother. It was in the summer and I was sharing my report card. As the conversation continued, she started reflecting on her children (2 daughters) and grandchildren (3 granddaughters and 1 grandson).  My aunt, who was 5’10” and a stunning beauty was a photographer’s dream and spent a great deal of her youth modeling.  She was extremely artistic and had a great eye for colour and design. She went on to marry a handsome Maltese sailor and needless to say their daughters inherited olive skin, perfect smiles and flawless complexions.  My mom is about 5’4” and in her youth she sported Shirley Temple black curls, dark brown eyes, she excelled at athletics and was academically strong.  She was poised to become a Phys. Ed. Teacher, but fate had other plans and I’m so proud of how extremely well both her and my dad have done.  Teenage parents who went on to successful careers and strong family values.

Now back to that day with my grandmother…. With firm conviction she shared that girls where born with either beauty or brains.  She was thrilled that my cousins had inherited their mother’s beauty and how proud she was of me, because I was the one with the brains.

I recall, as the words left her lips, I quickly caught my reflection in the lovely ornate mirror above the fireplace and convinced myself that she must be right.  I had my report card (filled with A’s) and the certificate for the General Proficiency Award to confirm that I had the “brains” and my gangling 5’9” frame was something less than ideal.

It’s been over 35 years since I heard that comment and yet as soon as I read the above quote in Dweck’s book, the memory and the insecurities attached to that conversation are as fresh as the day my grandmother shared her views.  In a split second, I knew that I had been “labelled” in the eyes of someone who had known me from birth ~ my future had been predetermined.   I know that my grandmother didn’t mean any harm. In fact it was just the opposite ~ in her mind, she was giving me a high compliment.  After all beauty diminishes with age, yet brains will take you further, right??images (7)

As a parent, I continually reinforce with my own daughter that she has been blessed with beauty, brains, brawn and above all the ability to work hard to be anything that will bring her love and joy!

This little walk down memory has reinforced the power of words and labels when we are working with our students and our staff. Even with the best of intentions, our words may have a lasting impact.  We need to be sure that we are not limiting their ability or more importantly how they see themselves.

How do you empower students to see themselves as capable?  How do you create a Growth-Mindset in both yourself and your students?

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