Resiliency, Growth Perspective, and Failing Forward: A Q&A with Associate Superintendent Jeff McCoy

Giving educators the tools to help students navigate stress, uncertainty, adversity, and trauma is the first step toward cultivating emotional resiliency and a healthy sense of self in students. Our new product, Teaching Resiliency & Growth for Educators, provides proven communication techniques, interactive conversation practice, and classroom strategies so educators can help students thrive.

We recently spoke with Jeff McCoy, Associate Superintendent for Academics at Greenville County Schools in South Carolina, who is a subject matter expert in the development of Teaching Resiliency & Growth for Educators. Jeff began his career at Greenville County Schools as a middle school teacher and moved into roles in instructional technology before becoming Associate Superintendent.

Learn more about the development of Teaching Resiliency & Growth for Educators and hear first-hand from Jeff about the importance of teaching these skills to students for their academic success as well as their long-term success to meet their potential.

How do you define a growth perspective?

“A lot of the work that educators have done, not just in Greenville but also around the nation, is to look at growth perspective as setting goals, particularly educational goals for students. However, educational goals don’t always have to be about their grades, but can also be about other things that they want to achieve in school. We encourage students to think about all the goals they can achieve, both short and long term, when appropriate.

Setting short-term goals is a little easier for students in younger grades since their focus is on their learning at that moment. For older students, we encourage them to not just set immediate goals for their current courses, but also their ultimate goals for their careers, continuing their education in college, and more. This allows us to make sure students have the right access to the courses, materials, and resources they need to help reach those goals.”

Why is it important for educators to teach resilience and growth perspective in students?

“Those two skills are critically important. It doesn’t matter if you go to college or if you start your career straight out of high school, that resiliency piece will always be important. I think this is particularly valuable in today’s job market because things change rapidly. We have been taught that it’s important to train and help students understand that things can change quickly, and to teach them the mindset of being resilient when things get hard. In the future, if they’re having a difficult time at work, they shouldn’t give up and find something else. It’s about teaching them how to work through that problem. For us, we’re building on those kinds of experiences for our students so that they can face roadblocks and then we help them with the coping skills on how to get through that difficult problem or how to get around the obstacle. This will help them later in life to be more successful in their careers when they come across challenges.”

What impact does growth perspective have on a student’s mental health and well-being?

“I think that so many mental health challenges have to do with people having a lower or diminished view of what they can do or what they are capable of. In particular, when students can set low-risk goals and meet them, I think it provides a profound sense of self and helps to build a student’s self-esteem. Giving those life lessons in school is important because ultimately when they become adults, and the problems become much more severe, students will have learned coping mechanisms on how to work through a problem or a difficult time in life. We all know that difficult times and work life can impact mental health. Teaching students coping strategies to be able to do get through difficult times, which we’re teaching in school nowadays, is critical for students to be successful in their adult life.”

Do you think having conversations about mental health improves resiliency overtime?

“I certainly think so. Recently we met with a large group of our high school students on student council, and they had a frank conversation about mental health and the benefits of having someone to talk to. They recognized that there was still a stigma around conversations about mental health, maybe not so much in their generation, but mostly among their parents’ generation. They saw great value in having these conversations one-on-one and in a group. It brought a sense of community to these students when they would find out that they shared similar feelings with others. This also brought a sense of hope because they weren’t alone in their feelings and there are people who can help them through it.”

How has employing a growth perspective helped you professionally and personally?

“Personally, especially in my high school experience, it wasn’t an option to fail and quit, but rather ‘fail forward.’ That was how I was raised, knowing that it was okay to fail but I had to figure out a way to get through failure. I think that mindset is critical today in both my personal and professional life. Having coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills that we also teach to our students really helps in situations when they need to overcome a challenge or failure.

As educators, the more we can build experiences for elementary, middle, and high school students to set low-risk goals for themselves where they may fail, the more we can use it as a learning opportunity to teach them how to ‘fail forward.’ This skill and mindset should not only be applied to academic difficulties but should stick with them as they face life’s challenges.”

Can you explain the term ‘fail forward’?

“Fail forward means that if you come across a failure or challenge, you are not dwelling on it, giving up, or quitting. We tell our students that there are going to be failures in the classroom, but we’re going to fail and move forward while problem solving. It is a way to navigate that failure and turn it into a successful situation. Even from an early age, this is something important to instill in the minds of students. Instead of saying ‘failure is not an option,’ we say, ‘failure is not an option—permanently.’ We’re always going to fail, but the critical piece is that we don’t stop at that failure. We work around it and make it a success.”

Can you describe the behaviors students exhibit when they demonstrate resiliency?

We discuss with our teachers the differences between productive struggle and destructive struggle. Recently, I was in a math class where a student was struggling with an assignment. When a student asks a question, we don’t just want to give them the answer but rather answer them with a question that allows the student to better understand or figure out the answer themselves. It’s questioning the students to go past that roadblock and help them build resiliency. Watching this scenario play out in that math class where the student was struggling and the teacher sat beside them and questioned them, it really showed the student not to give up and they eventually worked through that problem on their own.

In another example, if a student gives up quickly after facing a roadblock, they enter a destructive struggle where they shut down and they don’t want to continue working. This would be a sign that we need to work with that student more with some strategies on how to build resiliency.”

How does resiliency affect a student’s grades and overall mindset when it comes to school?

“In the last couple of years, we’ve had some changes in education particularly around grades. We try to focus on the mindset of learning being the end goal. Now, we have a lot more teachers considering grades not as the final, but more like the first attempt at success. For example, if a student gets a D, teachers will work with the student and give them an alternative assignment so they can ‘redo’ their grade. This process shows they are learning and as a result they earn the better grade.

It’s important to teach the life skill of failing forward. They can acknowledge that an assignment was a failure, but they can go back and learn from a mistake, and it’ll have a better impact on their grade. Grades don’t need to be the end point of learning, but more so the beginning of learning.”

How can educators and parents come together to teach students resilience and growth perspective?

“This is a parent and teacher partnership. There are opportunities for parents and teachers to come together, whether at parent/teacher conferences or school meetings, to discuss some of the strategies that help build a growth mindset. Some parents naturally know the strategies, but others may struggle on what language to use when it comes to students failing at home. It’s great for parents to see what we teach at school so they can also reinforce that growth mindset at home.”

How does Teaching Resiliency & Growth for Educators differ from other products in the market?

“Any product that can build goal-setting skills for students is a big step toward building resiliency. When it comes to Teaching Resiliency & Growth for Educators, the video game mechanics and the constant feedback keeps your attention. I think this product helps to teach resiliency by giving teachers feedback and being able to change or undo their actions to receive even more feedback and then move forward with new knowledge based on what they learned.

I think it’s more difficult to work through something for 45 minutes, and then receive feedback at the end. Getting that feedback immediately as they work through the product helps to build skills to teach resiliency and prevent destructive struggles in students. The interactive nature of the product keeps them engaged, and that helps to retain the skills they are learning. The scenarios are also similar to real-world situations, which we want to teach our students whenever we can. It shows they can take the skills they learned and apply them in their real life.”

Learn More about Teaching Resiliency & Growth for Educators

Research shows that having a growth perspective is key to a student’s academic success. Teaching Resiliency & Growth for Educators is a model for education partnership with parents, caregivers, and students to encourage resilience and perseverance that leads to success for each student. Learn more about this new product by contacting us or requesting an interactive demo to experience the power of virtual simulation.

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