Monday, September 2, 2019

A “DEFICIT MINDSET” HAS NO PLACE IN A SCHOOL!


Recently, I had an opportunity to spend a week with the leadership teams of the Cincinnati Public Schools where I spoke to a different cluster of leaders each day. To launch each day, the Deputy Superintendent would open up with a review of the district norms. One of the norms spoke to reframing deficit speech and deficit thinking. On the first day, she reviewed this at 8:30 in the morning but it stayed with me throughout my presentation and into the night. I kept thinking, “deficit speech…deficit thinking…what is the depth of their implication in the classroom?” When I went to sleep that night, it was still on my mind. And as you probably guessed, I woke up with it on my mind as well. In fact, I woke up about a half hour early because those words were still swirling in my head. So instead of getting ready to get to the facility to present, I started playing with those words once again mentally, but additionally, I started writing about them. And as I wrote, I came up with the following:

DEFICIT speech in schools that reflect DEFICIT thinking produce a DEFICIT culture that puts children at a DEFICIT.

Let that one marinate for a moment. In fact, let me repeat it:

DEFICIT speech in schools that reflect DEFICIT thinking produce a DEFICIT culture that puts children at a DEFICIT.

This is why the Deputy Superintendent’s words stayed with me for 24 hours…because I knew there were deeper implications for deficit speech and deficit thinking in the classroom that I hadn’t previously considered, but I needed time to process it and further think it through. Let me elaborate.

The language that is used by the adults in schools matters exponentially. The language used by the adults in the school is a mirror to their thinking (and maybe even a mirror to their humanity). Said differently, the language used by the adults in the school is the evidence of thought. As educators, we have to be ever-so-mindful of the speech we use toward children, around children and about children. Deficit speech is real and it has a way of sabotaging the dreams, ambitions and aspirations of children. For example, the label, “at-risk.” Although, as a professional educator, I fully understand its intent, when directed at or toward children, it falls into the category of “deficit speech.” It literally tells children that the probability for their failure is real. It stigmatizes them. It places them at a deficit. But let’s go deeper…seeing a student as “at risk” not only stigmatizes the student, but it stigmatizes our own thinking about a given student. In other words, instead of seeing this particular youngster as “at-promise,” “at-potential,” or “at-possible,” we are viewing this youngster as a deficit instead of as a surplus…we’re literally putting this student at a deficit in our classrooms via our thought and speech...we are looking at this student through a deficit lens. In this scenario, we must therefore examine our own thinking, beliefs and values relative to children who have more academic, social and emotional need than others. Because the need is greater doesn’t translate into an “at-risk” student. It simply means that we have to examine the level of equity and cultural-responsiveness that exists for our students in our overall learning environment.

Deeper still, is the impact of deficit speech and deficit thinking on school and classroom culture. Imagine a school that is situated in a location where the reality of economic poverty is pervasive which includes all of the social and emotional challenges that are typically associated with poverty. This doesn’t mean that the school has to be a reflection of the challenges exhibited outside of its walls however. The school can be something dramatically different. The school can be a very special place in the neighborhood. It can be an oasis of hope…an institution of possibilities where everything that students see, hear, feel and experience is calculatingly positive. In other words, there’s an intentionality of positivity in the air. There’s an intentionality of positive thinking, positive speech and positive actions. There’s an intentionality of creating a school and classroom culture where all students can check their outside challenges at the front entrance and enter the building with an optimism that they are going to achieve “the impossible, the unthinkable, the unimaginable, yet attainable.”

Deficit speech and deficit thinking have no place in a school. The opposite of deficit is surplus. Children need to be able to enter schools everyday where there is a surplus of positive energy coming from all of the adults in the building….a surplus of optimism, a surplus of enthusiasm, a surplus of excitement, a surplus of compassion, a surplus of equity. Toward getting to this place, I challenge everyone who will read this article to examine your own thinking. Do you bring deficit thinking to your school? Do you bring a “deficit mindset” to your students? Do you realize that deficit thinking translates into a deficit culture that puts children at a deficit. Be sure to bring “surplus thinking” and a “surplus mindset” to your students on a daily basis…because they deserve nothing less from any of us.

For more of Principal Kafele's writings, videos and podcast interviews, visit principalkafele.com.

11 comments:

  1. Just...Pure...Brilliance! The lesson you shared should be taken literally, embraced fully, and implemented immediately everywhere that people care about kids and their future! Thank you, Principal Kafele!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This was so uplifting to read! I am dedicated this year to helping my students do more than pass a test, I want to help them realize the possible in what they may feel are impossible situations in their lives! Thanks Principal Kafele!~Mary Massey, 6th Grade Science, Conway Middle School, Conway, SC

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Mary....I appreciate you! Have a strong 2019-2020 school year!

      Delete
  4. Thank you for this after leaving Friday's training with Cincinnati Public I began to also think on these words. In fact I shared this blog with my staff to read to start the week.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Principal Kafele--another outstanding piece! When adults allow deficit thinking they highlight the negative and suppress the positive! They usually blame kids, their parents, or their condition instead of changing their own behavior and/or mindset. Therefore the adults have an "Attitude Gap" which is the gap between those educators who emit positivity, hope, and a do anything attitude and those who don't!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks Principal Kafele for speaking what many of us are thinking as administrative leaders but not making it our priority to reset the mindset of some of our professional colleagues and staff who are not runners (Move Our Bus by Ron Clark). We often quote you within Georgia's First Start-Up Charter Middle School when we begin a new school year and/or return from a long holiday break. With school cancelations all last week due to Hurricane Dorian, I would like to begin on a positive note in moving our bus forward (Our Charter School's Theme this 2019-2020 school year). Your attitude has always been contagious! May I have permission to share your mindset with those who are wanting to do more to move us forward? Dr. Kolman - AP at Oglethorpe Charter School, Savannah, Ga.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your support and your usage of my material. By all means, please feel free to use any and all of my available resources.

      Delete

“HAVE YOU EVER SPOKEN TO AN AUDIENCE AS WHITE AS THIS ONE?” (Let’s Talk About Unconscious Bias in the Classroom)

As an education speaker, I speak to a wide array of audiences regularly. Because I have spoken to such a variety of audiences a...