By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
We all change our minds from time to time. We believe one thing until we get new persuasive data and then we change our mind. We debate with a friend, learn something we didn't know, and change our mind. We make a judgment about someone, spend more time with that person, and discover what we originally thought was untrue. So we change our mind about them.
Changing our mind often occurs because we obtained new information, had new experiences, discovered other examples, or saw or felt the undesirable results of our beliefs. Armed with that new data, we change our minds.
One not-so-common alternative to changing our minds after receiving new insights is to change our minds before we obtain that information. Does that sound crazy to you? Does it seem backwards? How can you change your mind without any new information? And why would anyone want to do that?
Instead of operating under the notion "I'll believe it when I see it," perhaps there are times when it would be beneficial to activate the opposite notion: "I'll see it when I believe it." It just might be that, by changing our mind first, we alter what we see, affecting what data we allow to enter our awareness. Consider the following.
Have you ever noticed there are two kinds of people in the world: those who look for the doughnut and those who look for the hole? People who look for holes notice things to criticize, see flaws, perceive problems and reasons why something might not work. Since they believe there are holes, they unconsciously look for holes. Guess what they see. Yep, holes.
Others look for the doughnut. They see possibilities, reasons to praise, and things that are working well. You know what they see. Pieces of the doughnut.
What are you looking for as you read these words? If you are looking for holes, you will find them. You might see how this material is impractical for the grade level you teach. You could notice that it is not in your curriculum guide. You might think it is too general and needs more detail. If you are looking for the doughnut, you will already have noticed a strategy you can use in your professional or personal life. You will be eagerly anticipating what comes next.
Here's the point. What you hold in your mind—your beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes—affects what you see. Yes, if what you see changed, you would probably change your mind. But why not change your mind first? Perhaps that would alter what you see.
1. That problem you see, the one you have been struggling with, what if you changed your mind about it? What if you saw it as an opportunity instead of a problem? Maybe spilled paint in your classroom is not awful. What if you saw it as a chance to help students learn about cleanup, be more careful in the paint area, or perceive mistakes as learning opportunities? Change your mind about spilled paint and other "problems" and see what happens.
2. You know that kid who talks too much? What if you changed your mind about that character flaw and saw it as a strength instead? What might happen if you perceived his talking ability as a positive attribute? Could you help him see it as a real strength if used in appropriate situations? You could if you changed your mind first instead of waiting for proof.
3. Being right feels good. It feeds the ego. What if you changed your mind about that? What if you believed instead that being right doesn't work? Perhaps you don't like the theme of "Kindness" your principal selected for the month of November and judge it as trite and nonspecific. You can be right about that. You can prove to yourself every day of the month how general the topic is. So what? Does it help your students learn about kindness? Do you get anything other than the satisfaction of proving to yourself that you are right? Change your mind about being right and notice the results you produce.
4. Are you convinced there is a best way to teach reading? Your way? What if you operated from a different belief system? What if you changed your mind and believed that there is no one best way for all children to learn? Do you want to reduce stress in your professional life? Then change your mind about there being a best way.
5. When a student takes a step backward it seems to suggest a step in the wrong direction. Change your mind about that. That child may be gathering forces to make a big jump forward. Sometimes the fastest way to go north is to go south for a few miles. Get the GPS of your mind going in a helpful direction on this one.
6. A repeated problematic behavior from a student is easy to see as distracting and unnecessary. Could you change your mind about that? What if you believed that behavior was a cry for help—a call for a positive and loving intervention? You can develop a belief that the behavior is distracting and unnecessary or a cry for help. Which one of those is it really? Whichever one you decide to believe.
7. You might believe someone should have. Kindergarten teachers should have taught students interpersonal skills. Elementary teachers should have. Middle school teachers should have. The administration should have. Parents should have. We agree with you that somebody should have. Guess what? Nobody did. Can you change your mind about "shoulding" on others? Can you accept that what is, is? What is, in this case, is that nobody did. OK, somebody should have. Guess what again? You're somebody. Change your mind about "shoulding" and get busy doing something about it.
The seven items above are examples of situations where it could be helpful to change your mind first. If you are waiting for proof, you missed the point. Change your mind first and the proof will follow.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for their newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com.