In Memoriam to Richard J. Coppa – my father, my mentor, and the ultimate teacher.

Long before Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset, there was my father’s mindset – study, work hard, think creatively, tackle hard problems, stick with it, if you fail, try again… this is the record that plays in my mind. This message is the legacy of my father . Both as a child and as an adult, the counsel of my father was priceless. He assured me repeatedly, that it was through the struggle to solve a problem that I would find success.

My father, Richard Coppa, passed away on September 1, 2015, and was a truly brilliant man. Raised by first generation Italian parents whose education ended in junior high school, he learned that the combination of struggle and knowledge was the ticket to success. My father far surpassed any limitations that would have been imposed on him – if you Google his name, you’ll find words like inventor and engineer.

As educators, we have the distinctive honor of being able to inspire learners, and sometimes to move them beyond what they actually thought was possible. As we settle into this school year, it is important to consider  any limitations we might subconsciously or overtly place on our students. What preconceived notions do we have about particular learners in front of us? What messages do we convey?

Jo Boaler gives us a list of 7 positive messages to be sure to convey to our students:

  1. Everyone can learn math at the highest levels.
  2. Mistakes are Valuable
  3. Questions are really important
  4. Math is about creativity and making sense.
  5. Math is about connections and communicating.
  6. Depth is more important than speed.
  7. Math class is about learning, not performing.

Bulletin board displays can be powerful, placed where not just students, but visitors to the school can see your commitment to this mindset.

change your words - change your mindset bulletin board

From Carol Dweck’s The Secret to Raising Smart Kids (January 2015), ” more than 35 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings ….. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on “process”—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life.” 

My father Richard Coppa knew this, lived this, and proved this to be true. Let’s make sure those we encounter this year know this, too!