The “I / We Can’t….” Mindset.

” If  you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem. ”  – Eldridge Cleaver.

One of the most frustrating and limiting attitudes I have encountered during my years as a school administrator is a strong tendency for many teachers and students to exhibit an “I / we can’t….” mindset towards problem solving.  This is very common in schools and manifests itself in many ways.

From staff and students alike, we hear statements such as: “Our students can’t do this,” or “This is too difficult for us,” or “We are not as good as school X or Y,” or “We don’t have the resources to do that.”  This self-defeatist mindset inhibits student achievement, creative teaching, and school effectiveness.  There are too many persons saying “I can’t….” and giving up without a fight.  Critical thinking, initiative and perseverance become casualties of this negative mindset.

Too many of us develop the unfortunate habit of immediately seeing many reasons why something cannot be done, rather than focusing on what can make it doable.  This is nothing more than a search for excuses.

We need to teach staff and students how to welcome problems and see them as interesting challenges, and opportunities to excel, rather than as insurmountable roadblocks.  Success comes from the ability to think creatively, solve problems and make wise decisions. Even if we failed in the past, we have to look at the situation or problem again and again in a different light.  We have to determine where we failed before and why.  What were the reasons for the failure?  What do we need to do this time to ensure success?  We must brainstorm collectively and select the best solutions that emerge from the discussion.  Then we apply and evaluate these solutions one by one until the problem is solved or the undesirable situation is rectified.  It may also be useful to find out what other schools did when they were facing similar difficulties.

The way forward entails shifting from the “I / we can’t….” mindset to an “I / we can….” mindset.  This fosters the necessary positive attitude which will empower staff and students to solve the inevitable teaching and learning problems.  It is always good policy to publicly recognize and reward those who think up the best solutions for school problems.  We must create a climate of capability and high expectations for everyone in our schools.  Today’s world belongs to those who approach problems without fear and who design and produce solutions which enhance and enrich our lives.



2 thoughts on “The “I / We Can’t….” Mindset.

  1. This is great Trevor. ‘I can’t’ leads to inaction. ‘How can I/we?’ is empowering as it leads to creative, and often, collective ways of solving problems. Any advancements and innovations have only occurred because someone was willing to step into the unknown.


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