The power of YET
I recently facilitated a day-long engagement on unconscious bias, equity, and sparking courageous conversations at a school. It was a powerful day.
Afterward, while the leadership team and I debriefed and planned our next session, I shared that a natural next step would be to talk about how biases impact our mindsets (growth/fixed) and the language we use, both of which have a ripple effect on our experiences.
Someone quickly said “YES! Now that we have a common language and understand the research and science behind all this work, what we really need to talk about is how we (both adults and students) talk about our challenges. We need to work on not labeling kids, especially if they’ve been identified as a “struggling student” the year prior. Sometimes teachers say “oh watch out for ___…(student) is going to be a handful” OR “oh (student) is so smart. You’re going to love__” to the next grade teacher. I’m realizing that doesn’t really give the kid much room to change or to get better. I’ll admit, I do it too. I accidently put people in boxes without even thinking of it…”
I thanked him for his transparency, shared my own example that connected with him, and asked if he could think of some examples of what people say.
Someone offered some hypothetical examples like:
- “(student) doesn’t know how to____ so he/she can’t____”
- “(adult) won’t do____so I doubt he/she’ll ____”
- “(student) always____so he/she will not____”
- “(student/teacher) doesn’t understand____”
I said, “Oh, so people speak in binaries a lot? That’s common”
“Exactly. There’s a lot of “good/bad, right/wrong, can/can’t, easy/difficult, etc. It’s surprising how much it happens–all with the best of intentions.”
I asked them if they know about the power of YET. They looked at me like…”ummm, what on earth are you talking about and why are you so excited?”
I first heard about the power of YET from my brilliant partner, Lia, who’s worked in schools for 10+ years and is a masterful relationship-builder with students.
Channeling her energy, I said, “think about it…add a ‘YET’ to one of comments you mentioned earlier, and the meaning changes entirely. Here’s an example: “(student) doesn’t know how to____YET so he/she can’t____YET.” The statement shifts from reinforcing a fixed-mindset to a growth-mindset.”
It works in profoundly powerful ways–with adults and students.
- When someone says “I can’t,” I say “you can’t YET, but you’ll get there if you keep persevering and working hard”
- When they say “I won’t get it right. I never have before…” I say…”you haven’t gotten it right YET.”
- When they say “I don’t know how to…” I say…”you don’t know how YET.”
- When they say “I don’t understand…” I say…”you don’t understand YET.”
- When they say “I’m not good at…” I say…”you’re not good at…YET.”
- When they say “That won’t work for me…” I say…”It won’t work for you…YET.”
- When they say “(student) isn’t successful” I say…”(student) isn’t successful…YET.”
You get the point. That teeny tiny word makes the WORLD of a difference when it comes to our mindset and our ability to persevere. I’ve seen kids’ entire demeanors change. I’ve watched frowns literally turn upside-down. I even noticed adults take themselves less seriously when they were reminded that discomfort is a part of the growth process. I’ve seen the word YET change experiences. And it’s especially important when having conversations about equity and identity.
All that said, I know what it’s like to unintentionally be trapped in a fixed mindset. In fact, I remember when, just ten years ago, I had a fixed mindset about a lot of things in life. I thought “I’ll never get into ___ grad-school.” or “I don’t know how to teach/lead____ so why would they hire me?” or “I haven’t figured out ___yet so why even try?” or “that colleague will never understand” (the list goes on). When I first started teaching (I’m not proud to say) I even labeled students as “trouble-makers”, “lazy”, “class-clowns”, etc. It was commonplace. I didn’t have exposure to another way.
Looking back, I can see that all those statements impacted me in subtle, significant ways, because language architects our experiences. At the time though, they were a part of the air I breathed.
I didn’t see what I didn’t know how to look for.
It took me having a coach (who held up a metaphorical mirror for me) to realize what I was doing and learn how to reframe my thoughts before speaking. Carol Dweck’s book and work on mindsets was game-changing for me too.
Now that I’ve studied brain science extensively, I know that our brains are meaning-making machines wired to protect us. Part of our brain protecting us involves assigning positive/negative meaning to things in our unconscious mind.
So we have to pay extra attention to the words we use before we make blanket statements and generalizations about human beings. Labeling people doesn’t leave room for them to develop as multidimensional, multifaceted, multilayered human beings (as we all are).
We need to get more practiced at pausing and thinking before categorizing, because when it comes to learning and developing, we all deserve multiple chances. The S.P.A.R.K. acronym helps with that.
In all seriousness, imagine how different the world would be if people thought before they talked, used YET more, and chose to show curiosity rather than certainty…
Imagine if we truly believed that we can accomplish any goal with consistent hard work and community support.
Imagine if we also put ourselves in other people’s’ shoes before making snap judgements about their identities.
Those who know me know I’m a relentless optimist and not a fan of boxes, labels, and categories…because they can trap us. Learning, like much of life, is on a spectrum. If you remember nothing else from this blog, I hope you walk away reflecting on the fact that binaries box people in + spectrums (and “YET”s) open up possibilities.
I’ll always be a work in progress in communicating with intentionality, but the power of “YET” is a tool that will always be in my toolkit. I think we could all benefit from getting more practiced at using “YET” when we hear a fixed-mindset statements–with ourselves, with our communities, and especially with young people…don’t you?
Wanna join me? Next time you hear someone say “I can’t” or use fixed statements toward others’/their own abilities, add a YET and see what happens. Together we can spread the power of YET and foster more growth-mindsets–one conversation and one community at a time.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to growth-mindset tools/resources out there. I’ll be reflecting more on this in September, so I would love to hear about your favorite resources and any questions/ideas you have! Message me here or comment below.
Rachel Rosen is on a mission to spark a global conversation about inclusion, racial equity, and courageous leadership. The Founder of S.P.A.R.K., an inclusive community card-game, and S.P.A.R.K. Leadership, she helps leaders uncover their blindspots and take their diverse team to the next level with intentionality and integrity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice.