Limiting Beliefs

I listen to several podcasts throughout the week. Some, like Brené Brown, just bring me joy and help me know that I’m not nuts. Others, lift me up and remind me I’m not alone. And still others are more focused, such as task completion, leadership, or ideas that cater to my business-world mind. The one today was a “best of” because the hosts are taking time off (as they should). A common theme was that of limiting beliefs, and the hosts have no problem reminding one another that something they’ve said is a limiting belief…holding each other accountable.

A limiting belief is one in which you have determined you can’t see possibility beyond a particular situation.

Statements I hear a lot come from kids:

I’m bad at math.

I’ll never be a writer.

I don’t get along with so-and-so.

I don’t do <activity>.

But some come from teachers (myself included) and other colleagues too:

I never have enough time.

All I do is go to meetings that are pointless.

I shouldn’t have to <insert task or duty here> because I’m too busy with <something else>.

I only have <set amount of time> to get <task> done.

The only (or best) way to do <task> is this way, because that is the way I’ve always done it.

I can’t teach <subject> because it’s not my thing.

I teach best when I am not collaboration with others. I know my students best.

What’s interesting about limiting beliefs is that they all come from the same root.


Fear of failure, fear of being seen as a non-expert, fear of asking for help, fear of needing clarification, fear of what others will think…fear is what drives limiting beliefs. And the more we say them, the more we believe them and the harder it is to see a way past them.

Because COVID19 continues to run rampant, with more and more cases being diagnosed every day and schools trying to make the “right” decision, limiting beliefs seem to be louder than usual.

School has always looked a certain way and we’re in a position to innovate a bit right now which makes everyone very uncomfortable. There are no right ways to do online learning, hybrid learning, or cohort-focused learning. We haven’t done them before in a situation where the stakes are this high. Even schools that have been around a long time and focused on online learning only use different models.

The most important action steps of the work we will do this school year are the following:

Serve the kids. However school might end up looking, the kids need to be the focus. This goes beyond making up for “lost time,” academics, and test scores. The kids need to know that they are part of a true community of learners and that we are all learning how to do this together. Own your mistakes and model healthy self-talk when you screw up. Ask probing questions when a child is frustrated to get at the root of what’s going on–this is just as hard for them as it is for you. Honor their big feelings and check on them later on in the day to see how things changed. Plan well, but don’t be married to your plans. Don’t be afraid to ask the kids what they need a lesson or assignment to look like if you see things are going south.

Be flexible. Flexibility is the key to succeeding in all of this. Schools will surely provide guidelines as to the non-negotiables in whatever situation we find ourselves in, everything from how many times kids need to wash their hands to how assignments are to be evaluated at each level. Your go-to might be to get incredibly rigid in the name of Holy Accountability, getting frustrated that not everyone is doing it your way, giving kids lower scores, more complicated rubrics, or shorter timeframes to complete work than you would if they were in the classroom, and getting upset when work isn’t completed at all, instead of going back to what you can do to serve the kids and asking what you can do to help. Think outside the box and see how you can make “what you’ve always done” work in another way that works better for the kids.

Communicate. With everyone. Often. More often than you feel comfortable with and in ways that go beyond your comfort zone.

Reach out to families often, sharing wins, asking for support, and asking for honest feedback about how things are going with an open mind and listening to understand, not respond. Ask about how the family is doing–your relationship with them hinges on the personal part…we’re more than teachers and they’re more than customers. If you do this from the beginning, difficult conversations end up being much easier later. Take criticism, which will certainly be a part of conversations because everyone is worried and stressed, and let families know you hear what they’re saying and will consider what they’ve said…and then actually think about how you could implement what they’re asking and how it might impact the greater community.

Reach out to colleagues and check on them. Ask them for ideas. Ask them for help or support with something. Give them an opportunity to share their expertise and collaborate. Surely their imposter syndrome is as loud as your own and having an opportunity to feel good about something would help. Ask them to check on you. Make regular check in dates.

Reach out to kids and ask how they are in ways that have nothing to do with academics, classwork, or homework. Ask about books they’ve read, games they’ve played, movies or music that makes them happy. Let them talk your ear off for a little while about the things that matter most to them.

When there’s conflict, talk to the other person or people as soon as you can to clarify the situation and fix it. This is not the time to let things fester.

Remember your WHY. You chose to become a teacher. You chose it. It wasn’t just something to pay the bills or get by–you chose this life. It’s not always easy and it’s definitely not perfect, but you need to remember why you chose to be a teacher. Why did you choose to work with this particular population of students? What brings you the most joy when you think about a day that’s gone well? What do you work on that makes you happy or feel accomplished? Write it on a sticky note and put it where you can see it.

Limiting beliefs are more difficult to cultivate when you think about these four action steps. There’s no particular order really–every situation will require one be considered before another, but take time to think about all four when you find yourself replaying limiting beliefs in your head.

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