By Cindy Chiem, AmeriCorps Member serving on the MFS Investment Management team at Dever-McCormack Middle School
“Climb away!” a voice behind me called.
I hesitated. Our team was at Thompson Island Outward Bound for a day of team building and I was now faced with climbing the Giant’s Ladder. I stared at the ladder, shrinking in fear. It seemed a lot bigger up close and, while I initially thought I might want to try climbing with a harness, I was beginning to feel very anxious about my decision. My goal was to climb at least one wrung, maybe even just get to the second wrung. That seemed like a pretty safe, manageable goal for me.
“Cindy, you've got this! I’ll be right here with you!” one of my teammates from the other side of the ladder said. He grabbed my shoulder and I felt a little better about the whole situation.
“Climbing!” I took a deep breath and began to tackle the ladder. My teammate climbed the first rung with ease. Every part of my body was shaking and I could barely get a grip of the rung to pull myself up. My teammate grabbed my arm with the “Spartan Grip” technique we just learned and helped pull me up. When I got enough leverage, I pulled myself up and clung on the rung for dear life, shaking uncontrollably.
“Come on, Cindy, you've got this! We made it one rung up!”
We repeated the technique again. When we got to the second rung, I looked down. Suddenly my self-doubt and fear of heights consumed me.
“I can’t do it.” I whispered.
“What?” asked my teammate.
“I said, ‘I can’t do it.’”
“Cindy, you can do it! We already made it two rungs up. What’s another one? I’m here to help you.”
“I just can’t do it.”
“That’s not very ‘growth mind set’ of you!” laughed my teammate, trying to ease the tension.
I instantly thought of one of the students I served. Devin* was a smart but quiet 7th grade student, stuck between doing well and being cool. He never volunteered any of his answers even though he had some pretty good things to say. When I asked him to volunteer an answer once, he quickly declined and put his head down.
“Because I’m not good at sharing answers.”
“Well that’s not very ‘growth mindset’ of you. Right or wrong, you have important things to say. It might be scary at first, but I think the whole class would like to hear them. I know I would.” He smiled sheepishly at me.
I felt like a hypocrite on that ladder. How could I tell a student to face his fears and challenge himself when here I was, ready to give up? I had challenged students to reach outside their comfort zones and here was my teammate, pushing me out of mine.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“Ok, one more.” I said as I started to climb the last rung.
*Name changed to protect student privacy