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Tell-Tale Symptoms of Success

by: Jillian Smart, M.Ed.

Watching clients confidently transition into more challenging environments is bittersweet. K-12 students experienced unprecedented academic gains, and adult learners earned college and career credentials. Emphasis on character development and cognitive development make these successes possible.

Success looks and feels amazing; it’s rare to find someone with this same perspective about failure. Inevitably, our altitude - the distance between where we are and where we want to be - aligns with our approach to failure. Success is borne out of the grit and growth mindset we cultivate by tackling academic failures, career pitfalls, and social hiccups.

By connecting with educators and entrepreneurs I peg as successful, tell-tale symptoms of success become evident. This month’s post highlights a few: facing failure, remaining hopeful, and thinking critically. Growing in these areas helps us navigate no matter the path. Children are watching us, so they benefit when we’re intentional about personal growth as well.

Facing Failure

Learners pay attention to how we make mistakes. They pay attention to how we fail.

· Do we admit our failures or try to cover them up?

· Do we make our thoughts explicit?

· Are we modeling the right ways to recover from mistakes, to fail forward?

When we value mistakes and model healthy responses to failure, we nurture the same in those around us. One way I model a healthy response to failure for clients involves marking out wrong answers rather than erasing them.

Erasing a mistake makes it easier to forget, which is often the goal. But, this approach can be counterproductive. Clients are discouraged from erasing mistakes on the whiteboard and on notebook paper. The reason: seeing the mistake encourages us to make different mistakes until we succeed.

Remaining Hopeful

Shifting to a hopeful mindset (or growth mindset) following failure is challenging. This process requires grit, a concept I enjoy exploring with clients. So often we're sure the world is coming to an end following a mistake, only to forget the details of said mistake mere months later.

We promote a growth mindset (the opposite of a fixed mindset) by encouraging learners to focus on what they can do. Help learners transition...

· from "I don't know" to "Let's try this";

· from "I can't" to "I can";

· from "I'm not good at _____" to "I can learn _____ with effort".

Model this. Make it a habit. Becoming gritty about adopting a growth mindset makes it easier to move from failure to failure without losing momentum. Explore more grit and growth mindset affirmations by creating your very own grit fish independently or as a group. The craft activity requires minimal prep time and is fun for all ages.

Thinking Critically

Asking people to do something they don't know how to do is one of the quickest ways to earn an introduction to their 'not-so-fun' alter egos. Without the proper resources, having the desire to complete a task may not be enough to get the job done. What are we to do when we don't know what we don't know?

To help clients clear their paths during the learning process, we use a strategy called "wait time" (or "thinking time"). The goal is to match the pace of learners. We want to wait while they think... but not too long. We want to check nonverbal cues like body language to discern appropriate times we should...

· listen,

· wait quietly, or

· instruct.

Allowing learners enough time to get uncomfortable without inciting frustration helps identify gaps in understanding.


Jillian Smart, M.Ed. is an award-winning CEO, master educator,

and trainer, and published author. Ms. Smart serves educators, learners and their families. She launched Jackson Education Support in 2012 to develop more independent learners of all ages. You're invited to order her book “Cultivating Grit: An approach to increasing confidence” and schedule a grit and growth mindset training for your staff or parent group.

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