Back at It. & Photos

I’ve had a packed and busy school year, so for these last few weeks, I took a hiatus from all matters education—and news and social media in general—to visit Ireland and Scotland. I greatly enjoyed the architecture, green and blue expanses, non-humidity, whisky, beer, haggis, and blood pudding. Here’s some pictures:

DSCN5058 IMG_20150710_112918~2 IMG_20150709_172736~2 DSCN5031 DSCN5024 DSCN5019 IMG_20150708_212336~2 DSCN5010 DSCN4975 DSCN5123 IMG_20150713_211639 IMG_20150713_145119 DSCN5134 DSCN5128 IMG_20150712_174048 DSCN5081 DSCN5072 DSCN5251 DSCN5240 DSCN5218 DSCN5209 IMG_20150715_205033 DSCN5205 IMG_20150715_164511 IMG_20150715_160407 IMG_20150715_130044 IMG_20150714_185043 IMG_20150714_155225-EFFECTS IMG_20150714_115943-PANO IMG_20150714_122444 DSCN5398 DSCN5390 DSCN5370 DSCN5356 DSCN5353 DSCN5333 DSCN5324 IMG_20150717_164902 DSCN5318 DSCN5316 DSCN5308 DSCN5306 DSCN5302 DSCN5300 IMG_20150716_183243 DSCN5275

Now I’m back to work, doing a summer residency with one education organization and virtual contracting with another. I’ll be posting more as I shed the sweet remnants of Britannia from my soul. . .

How Are We Using NYC School Survey Data?

Match Education’s Mike Goldstein asks some important questions about NYC School Surveys:

Unfortunately, my sense is: this wonderful NYC data [on school climate] is too buried to drive the policy conversation.  Maybe I’m wrong.

Is anyone aware of scholars and reporters digging deep into this data set?  Is there any other data set in the USA just as good?

I think it’d be hugely productive to identify NYC schools which have made progress in “Total Climate” — and then study why.  Sometimes you’ll just find good old-fashioned leadership and teamwork, without any fancy new policies.

And to study the “low tail” as well — which NYC schools have culture which plummeted.  I suspect sometimes you’d find that a few key staff departed, and it turned out “They were the glue that held it all together.”

–Mike Goldstein, “Lost at School” on Puzzl_ED  (read the whole piece also for an insightful critique of Ross Greene’s Lost at School approach (which I’m a big fan of))

Poverty and Perception

Text Analysis: Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sundhil Mullainathan  and Eldar Shafir

Relevance to Schools & Ecosystems: Impact of mindset, context, and poverty on behavior; compare especially against recent posts, “How Can We Mitigate the Errors in Our Minds?” and “QBism and Subjective Experience

Thanks to a review, which I posted an excerpt from here in May, I discovered an interesting little book called Scarcity. I subsequently checked it out from the library (♡ NYPL) and gave it a read through. I find the author’s concept of “scarcity” to be a useful lens to view the effect of mindset and subjective perception on behavior.

The authors broaden the concept of “scarcity” beyond that of a physical shortage to that of a psychological construct, and they introduce some terms to help explain this: scarcity trapbandwidth, and tunneling.

Life in the Scarcity Trap

Life in the scarcity trap is about having even less than you could have. It is about playing catch-up, dealing with each ball just before it lands and the messy patchwork that emerges as a result.

By Boris van Hoytema from Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Barren Wasteland) [CC BY 2.0]

When we’re living in a scarcity trap, whether financial or mental, we’re juggling too many things, entangled in the overwhelming urgency of now. And somehow just when we’ve seemed to achieve some semblance of stability, yet another ball inevitably gets dropped in on us. A bill comes up, an emergency room visit needs to be made, a family member passes away.

In schools, educators watch students get caught in these kinds of traps in an endless loop, defined by marking periods. Many are continually one step behind, always scrambling to get “caught up” at the last minute before report cards are due and causing their teachers consternation.

After failing for too long, some students give up trying altogether. Somehow, they continue to get passed on to the next grade anyway.

Poverty Taxes Bandwidth

Anyone who has been taxed with too many tasks and deadlines knows what it means to have limited bandwidth. Teachers especially know this well—during the school year, we’re so overwhelmed we have to schedule in time to speak to our spouses.

In one of the many catch-22s of poverty, those most in need of more bandwidth never seem to have enough.

In the moment, faced with a particularly appealing project or purchase, we often can’t resist saying yes. Following through on a plan requires bandwidth and cognitive control, and scarcity leaves us with less of both.

Nearly every advanced cognitive function relies on bandwidth. . . . So if you want to understand the poor, imagine yourself with your mind elsewhere. You did not sleep much the night before. You find it hard to think clearly. Self-control feels like a challenge. You are distracted and easily perturbed. And this happens every day. On top of the other material challenges poverty brings, it also brings a mental one. [Bold added]

This is a mental state we all can relate with, whether or not we are poor. The book provides examples of studies that place subjects into a momentary state of scarcity, irregardless of their actual socio-economic standing, and they find that subjects act in the same manner.

And this is, for me, the greatest insight that this book provides. The mindset of scarcity is something anybody can relate to. This is critical. Mullainathan and Shafir make it clear that any of us would make similar decisions if we were in a state of poverty.


In a great variety of circumstances, poverty appears to correlate with failure. . . 

The failures of the poor are part and parcel of the misfortune of being poor in the first place. Under these conditions, we all would have (and have) failed.

. . . myopia is not a personal failure. Tunneling is not a personal trait. . . . it is the context of scarcity that makes us all act that way.

Tunnels limit everyone’s vision. [Bold added]

When we tunnel, we effectively delimit our sphere of thought to what lies immediately before us. As the authors point out, this can be a positive thing in certain instances, such as while working under a deadline. But for many living in poverty, tunneling can become a devastating handicap. When your decision-making is defined primarily by what you want or need each moment, you tend to neglect the future. You may, for example, take out loans for quick cash that places you further into debt. And the scarcity trap thus perpetuates.

Authors Mullainathan and Shafir also point to the influence of context and environment on perception and mindset. When we perceive ourselves to be in a position of scarcity, we evaluate and make judgments that are different than when we are flush with options.

Perceived color, much like perceived distance, depends on surrounding cues. And as it turns out, so does perceived value.

We are dramatically influenced by incidental stimuli and contexts around us. Studies have shown that IQ scores are significantly impacted by a murder in the student’s neighborhood, for example, or by reminders of stereotypes.

Any teacher who has taught a student experiencing divorce, domestic violence, a death in the family, or any other trauma, knows intimately the burden that student is operating under. You can see the struggle visibly in the student’s work and scores.

According to Scarcity‘s authors, poverty itself has a similarly significant impact on behavior and cognitive functioning. Unsurprisingly, this is something teachers have been pointing out since public education’s inception. Poverty affects performance because it affects the mind. This impact is irregardless of nutrition and health—but it goes without saying that lead paint, noise pollution, and gasoline fumes don’t aid the situation.

So What Can We Do?

It is not merely that the shocks hurt us but that they put us in a position for the psychology of scarcity to kick in. We begin to tunnel and to borrow, and soon we are one step behind and perpetually playing catch-up. Yet despite this, it is striking how often we fail to build a buffer stock. While direct research on this question is scant, there are some good hints. For one, the data suggest that we tend to underappreciate the likelihood of many low-probability events. That’s why we underinsure for floods and earthquakes. When everything is going smoothly, we can, of course, imagine dark clouds, but we undervalue their possibility and thus do not prepare properly. . . . What could interfere with your plans are not just floods or earthquakes, but you may get sick, or a family member could get sick, or there could be a break in, or a car theft, or a war, or the loss of a job, or a surprise wedding, or an unexpected birth. All of these, of course, are possible but highly unlikely. But the problem is that any one of these is enough to count as a shock, for which you should have built some buffer stock. And that buffer stock needs to be built during times of abundance. [Bold added]

The author’s suggestions for how to tackle scarcity mindsets unsurprisingly has a lot to do with design. I say unsurprisingly, because if we know that context has a big influence on perception and behavior, then we’ll take steps to design tools and environments for success.

When we encounter programs that have had limited success, we may be tempted to infer that they deliver something people do not want or do not consider important. But perhaps the problem is not in what these programs are trying to deliver but with the actual delivery. Like the bomber cockpits of World War II, these programs might achieve greater success through better design.

So what are some principles of design that we can use to assist those who are tunneling, dealing with limited bandwidth, and caught in a scarcity trap?

1) Automate Opt-Ins

Savings can be a foreign concept when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. But when those checks do come in, there can be brief periods of abundance. Unfortunately, due to the mindset of scarcity, periods of abundance all too swiftly subside back into scarcity, and once again, we are caught in the trap—oftentimes even further in debt.

When I get my paycheck, I have it set up so that 10% of the check is automatically deducted to be put towards my retirement. If I had to do this manually each pay period, the odds that I would do so are pretty slim. I can always use that extra cash. But because the deduction is automatic, I don’t have to think about it. Someday, that surplus will be essential for me and my family.

The authors suggest that automating deductions in this way is critical to assisting those in scarcity in creating savings. Opting-out should require deliberation, rather than opting-in.

There would be no new sacrifices now; only later, in that fuzzy future. The results [of programs using this method] have been stunning. In one firm, more than 75 percent of those offered the plan chose it over trying to save on their own, and only a minority ever opted back out.

Note that this isn’t simply a financial problem—it’s also a cognitive one. Educators know this well when we try—and all too often, fail—to connect a student’s behavior and decisions to future goals. How are you going to get into a good [middle school, high school, college, career] if you don’t do [x, y, or z]? The future is abstract for many children, let alone adults.

In schools, we can design for this principle in our systems of behavior management. I visited a middle school in Brooklyn, MS 442 Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, that has a strong program of PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports). Each student begins the year with a set level of “points.” A disciplinary referral deducts points. In other words, all children are automatically opted in to the system—students are responsible for any loss in points. Points can only be “made up” by approaching the individual teacher and working out how to rectify the infraction with them—in other words, a student can’t go to their favorite “nice” teacher and acquire extra points. They have to negotiate with the teacher who got them into trouble in the first place.

Set levels of points are required to participate in school activities that are motivating to the students, such as to attend field trips, prom, or to walk down the aisle at graduation. Now think about the kind of conversation you can have with a student:

You’re now at [X] points because you didn’t take off your cap in class. In 3 months, if you are still at this point level, you won’t be able to go to prom. What would have been a better decision to have made? How can you make a different decision next time?

That’s powerful, because you’re able to make an abstract future goal concrete and tangible for a student. And that leads us to our next related principle of design.

2) Make Better Choices More Immediately Accessible

In a world of tunneling and neglect, a lot depends on timing. Some of our biggest mistakes happen when deciding for the future, when things far removed from any tunnel look distant and fuzzy.

One insight of the psychology of scarcity is the need to prepare for tunneling and to insulate against neglect: navigate so that bad choices are harder to make in a single moment of tunneling, and arrange it so that good behaviors require little vigilance yet are occasionally reevaluated.

This principle is so similar to our last one that it’s questionable whether I should have distinguished them, but I think it’s worth juxtaposing just to look at it from a fresh angle.

If you want to lose weight, and you have chocolate cake sitting on your counter and soda in your fridge, guess what? You’re going to have a hard time losing weight. But if you have fruits, juice, and healthier snacks immediately accessible, and less healthy snacks tucked away (or not available at all), making poor dietary choices becomes more difficult. When it requires more effort to make a poor decision, you are less likely to make that decision.

Similarly, in a school, we want to make success more readily achievable, not more difficult. That doesn’t mean making tasks and assignments “easier”—it means providing a structure or environment where better choices are more immediately accessible. For example, how many teachers have you heard complain because when a deadline for an essay comes around, a lot students haven’t done a thing? But I kept telling them, the essay is due Monday! We can help our students with bigger projects by breaking up the tasks into deadlines that lead up to the final product.

In graduate school at City College while I was a NYC Teaching Fellow, I had a professor who structured our thesis paper into mini-deadlines for each component. The first deadline was generating the problem statement, the next was the literature review, and so on. She knew that we were in over our heads, overwhelmed with urgent daily demands of teaching, and that we needed help with structuring our time. If she had just set one big deadline at the end of the term, she knew—from experience—that many papers would not be ready, and quality would suffer. By setting deadlines throughout the term, she helped us conduct our research and complete our paper.

And if we want our kids to make healthier eating choices, similarly, we’d design our lunchrooms and plating and options differently.

3) Build a Buffer by Becoming a Self-Directed Learner

This wasn’t a suggestion of the authors, but one worth mentioning in relation to the notion of building a “buffer stock” as mentioned in the quote above. We build cognitive buffers when we establish interconnectedness and redundancy within our brains—this can be achieved through mastery of learning, the sort of mastery that mostly requires self-directed learning, such as that of a jazz musician, a tennis champion, or an entrepreneur.

There’s a tension here that I want to acknowledge, given that the concept of “designing” environments and choice architecture can be viewed as paternalistic or manipulative. We want to design positive environments where better choices can readily be made, while at the same time building greater autonomy and independence over time. Achieving the proper developmental balance certainly will not be easy. But I think it is clear that either leaving people living in poverty, or kids in a school, to go it alone is not an option, any more than providing extensive support with no expectations of improvement is an option.

So if we want to help support self-directed learners, beyond that of the happenstance Bill Gates or Peter Thiels of the world, then we’ll need to consider how to design the proper balance of choice and structure to achieve this.

I’ll leave it there, as I’m trying to get ready for a trip to Ireland and Scotland, wherein I will do my very best to avoid thinking any more about education, news, or otherwise keeping current whatsoever, and will instead attempt to enjoy the here and now of my temporal existence, a good Scotch, conversation, green hills, and a wee bit of literature, so that I can come back to my school afresh. Would love to hear your thinking about Scarcity or Schemas or QBism in the meantime. Over and out.

Mullainathan, Sendhil, and Eldar Sharif. Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means so Much. London: Allen Lane, 2013. Print.

QBism and Subjective Experience

Text Analysis: “A Private View of Quantum Reality” by Amanda Gefter in Quanta Magazine

Relevance to Schools & Ecosystems: Connects to our prior analysis of schema and the limitations in human perception

In our last post (an analysis of Richard Nisbett’s article, “The Bugs in Our Minds“) we discussed how our perceptions of reality are heavily subjective, based on mental models called schemas, and all too readily misled by stereotypes or heuristics triggered by seemingly inconsequential factors.

There’s an interesting parallel here to a theory of quantum mechanics from Christopher Fuchs called QBism. QBism challenges the notion of an “objective reality,” suggesting instead that reality lies in the eye of the beholder.

The Collapse of a Wave Function Lies in the Eye of the Beholder

By BrentHFoster (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In terms of quantum theory, QBism interprets a “wave function’s probabilities as Bayesian probabilities — that is, as subjective degrees of belief about the system.” The act of perceiving is thus akin to that of gambling. “The wave function’s “collapse” is simply the observer updating his or her beliefs after making a measurement.”

We assess and predict each event based upon prior events, and thus our understanding of probability, as suggested by Nisbett’s article, can be easily misled by the “representativeness heuristic”: that events are judged as more likely to occur if they are similar to prior types of events: think of the gambler’s “hot hand.”

As we gain more information, we can update our “bets,” or our schemas, to better reflect that information. But we’re still making a grand bet against the wider chaos of the unknown. Fuchs describes the situation as thus:

“Since the wavefunction doesn’t belong to the system itself, each observer has her own. My wavefunction doesn’t have to align with yours. . . .

Quantum mechanics is not about how the world is without us; instead it’s precisely about us in the world. The subject matter of the theory is not the world or us but us-within-the-world, the interface between the two.”

I wonder, then, if we can hedge our bets when we make a greater effort to understand the subjective experiences of others, as well as the us-within-the-world?

Hedging Our Bets by Assuming Responsibility

What I like about the perspective of QBism is that probability is framed “as a description of uncertainty and ignorance,” rather than as objective certainty. This certainly aligns with our lived experience. Our frail, emotional human existence, defined by our feeble daily fumblings to communicate, can more accurately be described as shots in the dark, rather than that of rational actors responding to and acting upon objective information. While that sounds like a belittling of the human experience, in other ways it is empowering: it means that the greatest of power lies within:

“Usually we think of the universe as this rigid thing that can’t be changed. Instead, methodologically we should assume just the opposite: that the universe is before us so that we can shape it, that it can be changed, and that it will push back on us. We’ll understand our limits by noticing how much it pushes back on us. . . . 

Now there’s a spectrum of positions you could take. . . . there’s no reason whatsoever for my probabilities and yours to match, because mine are based on my experience and yours are based on your experience. The best we can do, in that case, if we think of probabilities as gambling attitudes, is try to make all of our personal gambling attitudes internally consistent. I should do that with mine, and you with yours, but that’s the best we can do. . . .

The best you can do is gamble on the consequences of your actions.”

In other words, be true to your subjective experience and understanding of the world, and take ownership of the actions you take—because just as you are shaped by the world, you too are shaping it likewise within each moment that you exist. There’s poetry here:

“. . . the stuff of the world is in the character of what each of us encounters every living moment — stuff that is neither inside nor outside, but prior to the very notion of a cut between the two at all.

If you have it in your heart — and not everyone does — that the real message of quantum mechanics is that the world is loose at the joints, that there really is contingency in the world, that there really can be novelty in the world, then the world is about possibilities all the time, and quantum mechanics ties them together.”

We are the Happenstance Music Makers of our Universe

This touches on a strange dichotomy in our human experience: we are on the one hand mere products of chance and fortune, while on the other hand, we are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams. We would do well, then, to heed Nisbett’s advice on how to mitigate the errors in our perspectives.

Gefter, A. (2015, June 4). A Private View of Quantum Reality | Quanta Magazine. Retrieved June 29, 2015, from

Social-Psychological Intervention Presentations

To follow up on my last post on how we are incorporating social-psychological interventions at my school, here’s a few sessions I developed based off the research that I will provide my colleagues. These lessons can be used as is or modified and adapted for specific needs.

Growth Mindset Session 1

Growth Mindset Session 2

Value Affirmation

WOOP Goal-setting

The More We Compete, The Less We Gain

“More than anything else, competition is an ideology—the ideology—that pervades our society and distorts our thinking. We preach competition, internalize its necessity, and enact its commandments; and as a result, we trap ourselves within it—even though the more we compete, the less we gain.

This is a simple truth, but we’ve all been trained to ignore it. Our educational system both drives and reflects our obsession with competition.”

—Peter Thiel, Zero to One

More Research on Impact of Green Space on Learning

colombia 197

NEW YORK — Putting more green space around an elementary school may help students develop some mental abilities, a study suggests. . . .

Green space may help mental development in part by reducing air pollution from vehicles, according to an analysis by the researchers that included pollution data from the schools.

It may also help by reducing noise and encouraging physical activity, researchers said in a paper released Monday by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Policy makers should know that “more green around the school is better for cognitive development and that they should make sure that kids can see and play in green areas,” one author, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, said in an email. . . .

Their analysis indicated that differences in socio-economic factors between schools did not account for the study outcome.

“Study: Green Space Around Schools May Boost Mental Abilities.” The NY Times, 15 June 2015. Web. <>.

Other posts from Schools & Ecosystems on this topic:

How Can We Mitigate the Errors in Our Minds?

Text Analysis: “The Bugs in Our Minds,” written by Richard E. Nisbett for Nautilus.

Relevance to Schools & Ecosystems: an exploration of socio-ecological constructs, the impact of context on perception, and the mitigating power of knowledge, humility, and self-awareness

In this article, author Richard Nisbett explores the fallibility of our puny human minds. He outlines the power and import of schemas, alongside the dangers and pitfalls in an over-reliance on often faulty stereotypes and heuristics.

The Power of Schemas

Schemas “refers to cognitive frameworks, templates, or rule systems that we apply to the world to make sense of it.” They “affect our behavior as well as 
our judgments.”

Schemas organize and simplify our understanding of the world around us, providing us with models and maps we can be guided unconsciously by. As further explained on a website, Changing Minds, “Schemas help us fill in the gaps. When we classify something we have observed, the schema will tell us much about its meaning and how it will behave, hence enabling threat assessment and other forecasting.”

The Allure of Stereotypes

While schemas are necessary for us to operate and interact successfully in a complex world without being overwhelmed at every moment, there are inherent dangers in the use and application of schemas, such as in the form of stereotypes.

According to Nisbett, there are “two problems with stereotypes: They can be mistaken in some or all respects, and they can exert undue influence on our judgments about people.”

And as most educators know so well, stereotypes can exert a tremendous psychological burden on children. The stereotype effect is well-documented by research in its impact on African American children and females in STEM subjects, for example, and I have witnessed the impact of labels such as “special education” or the impact of placement such as “12:1″ on student behavior and mindset.

Schemas and stereotypes are easily triggered without our conscious awareness. “A serious problem with our reliance on schemas and stereotypes is that they can get triggered by incidental facts that are irrelevant or misleading. The stimulus radiates from the initially activated concept to the concepts that are linked to it in memory.”

The Dangers of Context, Environment, and Incidental Stimuli

“Incidental stimuli that drift into the cognitive stream can affect what we think and what we do, including even stimuli that are completely unrelated to the cognitive task at hand. Words, sights, sounds, feelings, and even smells can influence our understanding of objects and direct our behavior toward them. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending.”

By Ernest Martin (Fotofundus Ernest Martin) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

This influence of context and environment has been a recurrent and major theme on this blog for this reason. We significantly underestimate the impact of seemingly irrelevant factors such as where a school is located, the acoustic environment created by the floor tiling, the structure of its hallways, or the color of paint on its walls, despite a growth in research demonstrating the tremendous power such factors can wield over performance and behavior. We overestimate, instead, the influence of abstract political decisions rendered at the state-level or the very visible and direct influence of what teacher happens to be placed in front of students.

But as Nisbett points out, “(1) The effect of incidental stimuli can be huge, and (2) you want to know as much as you possibly can about what kinds of stimuli produce what kinds of effects.” We should be doing everything we can to determine what kinds of school designs produce the outcomes we seek.

The Fault Often Lies in Our Heuristics

Similar to the problem with knee-jerk stereotypes, “we often arrive at judgments or solve problems by use of heuristics—rules of thumb that suggest a solution to a problem, and can introduce errors in judgment.”

One of the biggest errors in heuristics is what Nisbett terms “the representativeness heuristic”: “This rule of thumb leans heavily on judgments of similarity. Events are judged as more likely if they’re similar to the prototype of the event than if they’re less similar.”

Representativeness judgments can influence all kinds of estimates about probability.”

I also happen to be reading Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness at the moment, and one of his basic premises, as indicated by the title, is that most people—including supposed experts in their field—are taken in by the mere appearance of a short-term pattern in what is really chaotic noise on a cosmic scale.

As Nisbett states in his article,”Simply put, we see patterns in the world where there are none because we don’t understand just how un-random-looking random sequences can be.”

Nisbett suggests that the most reliable heuristic you can wield is the the following: “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” Teachers and principals, take note.

6 Ways to Mitigate the Limitations of Our Puny Minds

So, what can we do? We’re fallible human beings, subconsciously influenced by cosmic signals from in extremis stars. Even when we think we’re rational, intellectually driven experts, we’re being steered by the room we’re sitting in, the clothes we’re wearing, the framing engendered by our immediate and historic situations.

One thing in Nisbett’s testimony that stood out to me on this: “Whenever the direct evidence about a person or object is ambiguous, background knowledge in the form of a schema or stereotype can increase accuracy of judgments to the extent that the stereotype has some genuine basis in reality.”

1) BUILD WORLD KNOWLEDGE: In other words, accurate and broad world knowledge and understanding can better inform our mental models and schemas. We’ve discussed this here on this blog before, in terms of a need to better equip “children with the knowledge and understanding of the world necessary to buffer them from forces that seek to exploit their ignorance.” By building a broader understanding and knowledge of the world, we can better understand and dialogue with different people, rather than falling back on malformed prejudice.

2) DESIGN YOUR ENVIRONMENT FOR SUCCESS: Another lesson from Nisbett’s account, in regards to the power of environment and incidental stimuli, “is that you want to rig environments so that they include stimuli that will make you or your product or your policy goals attractive.” In considering schools, we want to “rig” and design them so that learning and positive life outcomes are attractive. Schools shouldn’t be places that children nor adults fear to step into—they should be places that inspire eagerness and joy.

3) DEVELOP JUDGMENTS OVER TIME BY EXPERIENCING DIVERSITY: “A less obvious implication of our susceptibility to “incidental” stimuli is the importance of encountering objects—and especially people—in a number of different settings if a judgment about them is to be of any consequence.” This implication is also interesting to consider in relation to a school. The segregation of our schools, both racially and socioeconomically, has further contributed to the increasingly polarized mental and geographical realms that our society lives segregated within. How can we create an accurate judgement of a wealthy or poor person if our only exposure has been through what we see on the news? By regulating and promoting diversity within our schools, we can cultivate opportunities for children to interact with and relate to many different perspectives. We need to build in time to engage with a diverse range of people and ideas.

4) BE HUMBLE: Nisbett’s other suggestions relate to having humility, and thus, open-mindedness. How can we ever be certain about our judgments in a world ruled by uncertainty? We should operate with the “recognition that the views of other people that differ from our own may have more validity than our intuitions tell us they do.”

5) CULTIVATE SELF-AWARENESS OF YOUR OWN BIASES: Furthermore, Nisbett advises that we develop our self-awareness, and know our own biases and schemas. “We can try to recognize our own stereotype-driven judgments as well as recognize those of others.”

6) RESIST SNAP JUDGMENTS BASED ON SUPERFICIAL FACTORS: Finally, Nisbett also suggests that we “Remember that the similarity of objects and events to their prototypes can be a misleading basis for judgments. Remember that causes need not resemble effects in any way. And remember that assessments of the likelihood or frequency of events can be influenced simply by the readiness with which they come to mind.”

Nisbett, Richard E. “The Bugs in Our Mindware – Issue 24: Error “Nautilus, 7 May 2015. <>.

How My School is Designing Stealthy Interventions

I’ve written about the idea for “stealthy” interventions that I was introduced to at the ResearchED conference by Carl Hendrick. I recently was able to present some of that research, along with other ideas about growth mindset and WOOP goal-setting, to my staff last week. I’m sharing the presentation I used in the hopes that it might give you ideas for your school! Share and share-alike.

Stealthy Interventions in Action

We recently examined “stealthy”— or social-psychological—interventions: the idea that you can have a tremendous and long-lasting effect on student academic success via small interventions that target a student’s subject experiences at school.

Here’s a high school in San Bernadino, California, doing these interventions effectively, despite significant challenges:

“For some of the most troubled students, creative holistic solutions are there; the Ladies Club asks its girls to commit to graduate, with the promise of a pink sash draping the commencement robe waiting for those who succeed. The program is shaped around a butterfly concept, helping girls through “I am wonderful” classes to emerge with self-esteem. An “angel closet” provides clothing for the girls; snacks provide enticement to show up as well as nutrition; old-fashioned-seeming teas and a Thanksgiving dinner provide a backdrop of social graces.

Some programs are run by the students themselves: Best Buddies for students helping mentally disabled students; the Link Crew, for mentorships between upperclassmen and entering 9th graders; University Prep Club for older students to work with younger ones on college-prep skills and calendars.”