Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is away from the office.
I was working with my daughter recently on her homework, and she was frustrated because she didn’t understand the topic (borrowing in subtraction). Not understanding is almost an everyday occurrence for young students, of course, and not unusual for adults throughout our lives. Being good at not understanding is an interesting life skill to acquire.
Not understanding is stressful. At the simplest level it requires deeper concentration and effort. For many it’s threatening (why don’t I understand? I’m not smart enough!). It can also be frustrating if it was explained in a way that didn’t work for that student, ranging from poor presentation or examples to a distracting learning environment. My daughter is handling the stress by being a little bit angry – essentially saying make it stop.
That’s a reminder for me to try to take a step back, let her have some room, and try to find a different way to coach her to understanding on the topic. Some days I succeed at that more than others! But the lesson I teach her every time this happens is “not understanding means you’re about to learn something”. It hasn’t sunk in all the way yet, but I’m convinced it’s a game winning mindset. Once you acknowledge that it’s an opportunity to grow, then you feel better about the investment you’re making and the stress level goes down. It doesn’t go away entirely. Learning can be a frustrating task.
Maybe some of us are born with that kind of outlook, but the rest of us have to decide if we want to be more effective, less stressed out learners. Getting to that decision though, that requires either self-awareness or a great friend/mentor that can lead us to it. Many life lessons are like that of course, and many are lessons we wish we had learned sooner. We get frustrated about that too! What matters is that we learn and grow, and the more we see that not understanding is opportunity instead of failure the more we can focus on the harder stuff.