Hey there goal achievers. Recently, I sat down with Anna VanNostrand after being inspired by a recent tutoring session with my daughter that I overheard. During the session, my daughter was excited and engaged, even though it was a virtual learning structure. I became curious. What was her tutor doing to inspire Scarlett to drop her toys and jump on a Zoom after being in virtual school for several hours already? Why were there no tears or feelings of frustration in this tutoring session like there are during other virtual school lessons? And, how are they making so much progress together in a short time after almost an entire year of virtual learning?
The day I sat down with Anna signifies almost a year of virtual learning for my daughter. Scarlett has not stepped foot into a classroom since March of 2020.
I invited Anna, Scarlett’s tutor, to talk about helping parents raise lifelong learners. For those of you who aren’t parents, you’ll enjoy hearing Anna’s story of launching her tutoring practice and how principles like a growth mindset and confidence show up beyond our business goals and show up in education.
Anna VanNostrand served as an elementary educator and academic coach for over 18 years and believes that passionate teachers create passionate learners. Her background in mindset coaching helps her embed strategies within sessions to unlock individual potential. I start our time together by welcoming her.
I tell her how eager I am to learn from her, and I know that her advice and insight will benefit the goal achievement community. I ask her to begin with information on her tutoring business and what inspired her to start Stronger Than Yesterday Tutoring.
“Teaching and children have always been my passion and my heart,” says Anna. “So, at the end of the last school year, and the shifting to e-learning, I was really inspired to start this business. I called it Stronger Than Yesterday Tutoring for a reason. I want to truly provide quality and online support to students to help them become stronger and more capable than before. I focus on progress, not perfection, and I want to teach specific skills and confidence that lead to independence. When this started, it was after 18 years of working in elementary education, even serving as an academic coach. Seeing many other teachers and visiting their classrooms to help coach them provided so much knowledge. I had the ability to see not only what other teachers experienced, but also a multitude of students. I wanted to be able to overcome a lot of the struggles with the shifting to e-learning.”
Anna continues, “After working with my nephew online, I realized there was a major need for one-on-one mindset coaching and academic instruction with students. I saw that before we could even work on reading, we had to first adjust his mindset because he was going through many changes in his life, and the day was just a big blur for him. We had to stop. We had to discuss what was going on. And I realized that’s what I did in the classroom when I worked with students to really make that connection. So, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness,’ with what students are dealing with right now, I could do this online.”
Anna explains that her process involves tailoring curriculum with interest and skill levels, which allows that extra bump of motivation students need when they are in a slump or lacking motivation.
I notice that Anna’s tutoring company was born out of a need to help students adjust to this online learning environment and grow their mindset. I ask her to share more on recognizing when students are truly in a slump versus maybe not wanting to do their homework.
“Sometimes the signs aren’t 100% clear,” Anna says. “You know your own child, so pay attention when you start to see that they are losing the interest that they usually have or losing interest in things that bring them joy. I think sometimes it’s the lack of interaction that some students don’t get to have that they really thrived with before, or maybe it’s that they can’t go to gymnastics every day. When you can tell something’s off, it’s more than just not wanting to do their homework or not wanting to complete an online lesson. It’s a lack of joy or a lack of wanting to make the most of the day. And, it’s not just one day, it’s a multitude of days over and over again that we see this pattern.”
What Anna is saying is a great reminder to parents. I know I have a hard time remembering that Scarlett is human just like me, and she’s allowed to have an off day just like I’m allowed to have an off day. Sometimes, I falsely assume she’s going to have it all together all the time. I like how Anna points out we should be more aware when our children lose joy over the course of multiple days.
In Anna’s work, like mine, I know it’s very important that she help students develop a growth mindset, and I ask her to share her definition.
“I feel that a growth mindset is a belief that our intelligence and abilities can be improved with effort and the right strategies. I truly believe that we have incredible brains that can strengthen in the direction that we choose, based on our beliefs about our own abilities. Potential shapes our mindset, and our mindset is so powerful, it fuels our behavior and predicts our success. Our mindset even shapes our everyday lives. So that’s what I was talking about with the students. When we see mindsets so off that you see a pattern or slump day after day after day, that’s when we need to have that growth mindset. Even as adults, we can confront challenges with a passion for learning, and use failures as a springboard for growth. It changes the trajectory of life. And it’s truly linked to greater happiness and achievement in life.”
I’m a huge advocate of a growth mindset and achievement mindset, as well as the value of learning from our failures. I’ve talked about those concepts often, and I’m thrilled that Anna has pointed out the significance of helping shape our children’s minds at such a young age in a positive way. I am curious what parents like me can do to instill a growth mindset in their kids.
Anna begins, “I think even beginning with the whole concept of rewiring the brain, in thoughts and experiences with a positive view – whether it’s schoolwork or homework – is powerful. With expectations, we can begin thinking about what success looks like to you, then asking your child ‘What does success look like? What are you pursuing or working toward and creating specific goals for?’ whether it’s the daily schoolwork expected, or the homework given, and being realistic. As I said earlier, progress, not perfection. I think some students expect perfection in themselves. And then, sometimes, we expect perfection. But really, the goal is making sure that the student knows his progress each day can help build self-confidence. Take time to make those goals and reflect and celebrate as a family. And encourage taking pride in that steady progress. I know, as a teacher, when the students knew that I cared, they cared more. It’s easy to get busy and forget about doing this, but it makes such a difference in your child’s life when you do. Take the time to think forward, even asking them what kind of person they want to be in a month, in a year, ten years from now – it is very powerful. It might sound different with a first-grader than a sixth-grader. But how cute would that be to hear what their dreams are because that’s their blueprint vision of where they want to go? And then, help them make those smaller goals to where they are in life, and make that blueprint come to life as a family. They do need guidance in this. They don’t know how to do this completely on their own. So, whether they move fast and furious, or they’re moving slow and steady, take time to pause and reflect and celebrate that growth. It could even be a reward, like watching a particular movie together as a family with popcorn whenever they achieve this goal. Because that’s what they chose that was important to them to celebrate, or just having non-negotiable consequences together – not as a punishment. But if we make this progress, then we’ll get to do this together and celebrate, and if not, we’ll just continue to work toward these goals to achieve your dream.”
I have seen Anna execute this advice. Just this week, a package showed up, and it was a unicorn headband. Scarlett was so excited, and she told Joe it was even more beautiful in person. Come to find out, the headband was from Anna because Scarlett progressed to a certain level in a phonics game. And now, she’s really improved her skills in phonics. As parents, we should remember many of the things that we do to develop our own growth mindset applies to our kids. I love a good vision conversation, and I am a vision advocate. We need a long-term vision, a short-term vision. But, I’ve never once paused and asked Scarlett what kind of person she wants to be a year from now. Or two years from now. I’ve never even thought to ask her those questions, so I really appreciate Anna’s perspective.
Anna says she really discovered this when she was teaching fifth grade, two years in a row. “It wasn’t something that I planned on doing. But I gained so much insight. I was teaching younger students, and I didn’t realize that they were thinking as much as they were. I realized they are literally smaller adults that deal with the same emotions and the same mindsets as us. And when I say mindsets, I mean, you can fall into the same patterns of, ‘Hey, I want to sleep in today, and, I would rather just not go to school.’ And so, we would have those real conversations of, you know what, ‘I feel that way too sometimes.’ That’s when I started to build character education into my classroom schedule. Things like, let’s think about a quote, and let’s keep each other motivated and talk about what we struggle with and what keeps us going. Part of that was the long term goals we made, vision boards, and things like that. It reminded me of what we did in our 20s and started to get me motivated, like, ‘Whoa, they can think like this now, too.’ That’s guided me through this business as well.”
I remember going to Target with Scarlett to buy magazines, so I could update my own vision board. And she wanted to make one too. It was one of my favorite memories together sitting in my office cutting out pictures. And I was so inspired by the images. She chose all these beautiful colors and hamburgers and things that were significant and important to her. And I think that it’s a solid reminder; we, as parents, as educators, can start to build a growth mindset from a very early age.
I ask Anna to share more ideas, in addition to adding character curriculum to a schedule, that may help educators develop a growth mindset.
“I speak from this with emotion,” Anna says. “Because my husband can attest to this – being a teacher, you can fall into a slump. I can think of nights where you can get truly obsessed with reaching your goals to the point where it’s not balanced. And you even see me right now; I get teary-eyed talking about it. Because, you could put your all into it to the point where it’s unhealthy for you, or you could give up. I saw coaching teachers, and it broke my heart because so many were so discouraged and ready to quit and then so many were giving their all that it was an imbalance in their life. I really, really have been thinking about this lately, and it’s a continuous journey. It requires pivoting, thinking outside the box, finding that balance. You have to take care of yourself with positive thinking and self-talk for your daily events and goals. It is truly progress, not perfection, or you will never get everything done as a teacher. You have to keep your joy. Because if you don’t have joy, the kids will see it. Like whether it’s face to face or online, they’re going to know, so remember your purpose.”
Anna also reminds us that our ability and talents can improve over time and talks about the first time she was getting on Zoom during quarantine. She watched YouTube videos to learn about the settings and found herself getting frustrated. It required a willingness to try new strategies and not take shortcuts. “Even when you fail as a teacher,” Anna says. “Be open with students and know that failure is viewed as a learning experience, not just for students, but for teachers as well. It’s okay if you make a mistake in front of them, even with parents. Take it easy on yourself as a teacher because it’s hard and when things don’t go right, and someone’s hard on you, whether it’s administration or another parent, don’t take it personally – learn from it.”
Many of Anna’s strategies are direct parallels with the business world. Anyone who’s on a journey to achieve goals will be challenged to think outside of the box from time to time. The element of negative self-talk is one I want to learn more from Anna about. I ask her for the recommendations she has shared with her fellow teachers, coaches, and even herself to rewrite negative mental narratives and stop the self-doubt storytelling.
“I think being able to forgive yourself for mistakes that you made,” Anna says confidently. She talks about how we can turn mistakes into lessons, but it’s more than that. When we think about the mistakes, have we forgiven ourselves? Have we truly learned from them and moved on?
“Knowing who you are as a person is such a valuable thing,” Anna says. “And I think whether or not you’re teaching, or you’re working with others, when people know that you value yourself, they recognize that, and they respect that. When you value yourself, you know how to not necessarily react but to respond. I had to rewire my own brain, just in life in general, because you can find yourself almost spiraling. Like when you’re off with work, then you become off balance with the way you cope with things. So even recognizing your own patterns, rewriting those patterns, and knowing which patterns benefit you and which ones don’t, I think that’s part of the journey of life. Ask ‘Where do you want to be in life? What serves you and what doesn’t?’ You value yourself so much that what doesn’t serve you can stop. And not to listen to that, whether it’s negative self-talk or it’s letting someone get to you, you really can control that stuff.”
One of the things that I learned in my end of the year reflection is I can get off track with mindless social media scrolling. It’s important – I want a social media presence. I want to build a community of goal achievers and I want to engage with that community. But I noticed, if I scrolled too much, I could go down this rabbit hole and fall victim to comparison and that would start the negative self-talk, that would start the ruminating, that would start the beating myself up. When you recognize your triggers and recognize how you start to cope with negative situations or disappointing situations, you can then rewrite how you want to handle them. And this goes back to our growth mindset. If we have that growth mindset, we believe that we can make changes, grow, and focus on the things that we can control.
Anna shares how she had a similar experience with social media, noticing that she did the same thing every morning when she woke up. She realized that didn’t serve her well or prepare her for the day and decided to do something different. “I would much rather write down my goals for the day, listen to music, journal, meditate,” she says. And so even making that small shift to change one pattern can make a big difference. What’s one pattern that you’re noticing? If you change one thing at a time, you’re going to notice that you’re completely going down a different path. And it’s one where you’re a better version of yourself.”
I agree with Anna wholeheartedly. Many times, a client has a laundry list of items to change about himself or herself or her business. It’s this list of all these things. And I start thinking, wow, this is overwhelming. What’s one thing that gives you energy that’s going to move the ball forward? Let’s start there. Because I know that once you start to build that momentum, those other items on the list start happening a bit more naturally.
With so many teachers still teaching virtually today, I ask Anna what advice she has for those teachers to engage their students in the online learning environment successfully.
“I’m learning more about this each day because I get a lot of insight with each student I work with,” says Anna. “I get to see their online classroom and also discuss this with a lot of other teachers. I think fostering a community is critical even if they can’t see each other physically face to face. Fostering that community as a classroom is really important, but also keeping in mind the individual learning plans. The explicit modeling of instruction, even when we think about writing and reading, is important because there can be gaps in learning when it comes to students writing out certain sounds. I say this because I’ve seen this firsthand. I also know as a coach that modeling the writing live, even recording a quick five-minute video of yourself, is so powerful. Write out handwriting or sound out certain words through a quick video or live with your students. It is powerful. Also, keep lessons short. The content needs to be a lot less than it would be in the classroom. Keep it five to ten minutes long and keep your audience in mind. I’ve learned this, even creating content thinking, what might they get confused with? These are all things that I’ve had to really think about. Because the frustration could keep a student from becoming engaged at all. Help them learn by doing. You can vary the listening to instruction and offer multiple choices. Find creative ways to solve problems like finding an object to measure in the house or describing the texture. Here’s an example. If you’re studying adjectives, find objects in the house to describe the object’s texture. Or, you can use interactions with a family member to gather information for a biography or a different point of view on a specific topic. Find different ways to complete assignments where it’s not monotonous. These are things that I’ve specifically learned because I can tell when my students are bored. You have to create different types of flexible curriculum or even give a choice on how students can complete assignments. Not every student will want to do an essay or a book report. So, giving them options that appeal to the power of choice is awesome. You could be surprised with the ingenuity that a student can show.”
Anna also talks about collaboration and working in groups, even though students are online. Teamwork is so important, as is communication between parents and students. Because so many things are different and can be confusing, communication is critical.
I recognize that the strategies Anna shared for e-learning can also apply in the corporate setting. For leaders, take a look at how you’re delivering content to your teams. Are you fostering a sense of community? Recognizing the need for individual development plans? Recognizing how frustration can prevent engagement?
Shifting back to students, I ask Anna if the advice she shared for teachers engaging virtually might change for special needs students.
“I’m glad you brought that up,” starts Anna. “I have some insight on that. Personally, I’m not specialized in special education, but I’ve had many students that are serviced within my classroom. And I’m fortunate to have a neighbor who is very specialized and very talented, and I’ve had many conversations with him as well. Awareness of the individualized education program for each of these children is really important. Updating the IEP and making sure that the student’s parents agreed to any changes can be a struggle, but is so important. Larger fonts, high contrast lighting during online classes, and turning on closed captions when showing videos – all of these things could help these students with the amount of work, or the type of work given the expectations. This goes for all students, but the expectations need to be even more clear for the special needs students. I’m even thinking how I can provide the parents training on how to actually show the students – with independence as the goal – to navigate the computer and be online, so the parent doesn’t have to be beside the student all the time because that can be very stressful. If a parent isn’t familiar with Google Classroom, it might be best to give them training, so they don’t have to wonder what to do when the student asks. And then also working as a team, daily communication with parents and students, providing training and offering that support. There needs to be a lot of communication and realistic expectations with individualized plans in mind. Teamwork would be the key with that, for sure.”
I’m picking up on themes from Anna around the power of communication, expectations, and adjusting. It is helping me reflect on how I can continue to encourage Scarlett to engage in education and enjoy education by leaning on this team of people here to help her. I lean in for some additional ideas Anna might have for parents like me to keep their kids engaged in learning, whether it’s online or offline.
Anna jumps in with an example. “I was super impressed with a student yesterday. We were working two full hours online after she finished working in class earlier that day. That’s a lot of work for a first grader! And she says, ‘I didn’t get the breaks that my brain needs, and we’re running out of time.’ So, we had a discussion. We had two more problems and she shifted her mindset completely and read these problems. You could even tell she solved them faster than she usually would so we could have our few minute break at the end. And then, she wanted to play a short and long vowel game, which was still educational, but that was her choice of reward. So that even shows she had a goal. She was getting frustrated but just being able to talk through that when you’re not engaged is helpful. She was able to communicate that, and I think that’s so important.”
Anna continues, “So, going back to creating the specific goals for the learning process throughout the day, whether you’re in school or working online, start by having that conversation and thinking, ‘What goals do we want to make as a family?’ and then choose a weekly checkup, a monthly checkup, whatever you as a family feel comfortable with. Decide how, in a healthy way, you can keep your child accountable so that they know where they’re going, and then have those quick discussions. Did you meet your goal? Are you successful this week in school? Did you pay attention? Because let’s be honest, online, they can’t tell you ‘Oh, I went on YouTube and watched another video.’ I’m just being real because I’ve worked with students, and they’ve been honest with me. So, I ask, ‘Do you feel like looking at something else when you’re on a meet? Are you really paying attention?’ No. ‘So, do we feel that is maybe why you don’t know how to divide fractions the right way? So, is that helping you towards your goal?’ No. ‘So, maybe we’re not going to meet the reward for that goal this week, how can we meet the reward next week?’ Instead of a punishment, it’s ‘I’m just going to work toward that goal next week.’ How are we going to come back and reflect on this progress, and are we consistent? If we met our goal, we will celebrate. If not, let’s just work toward it a little bit more. Acknowledging when your child or when your student does well and encouraging them is important. Positive reinforcement is more important than the punishment, in the same way that I would want someone to speak to me if I wasn’t making progress in life, and I made those decisions on my own. I wouldn’t want somebody putting me down. I would want them asking me maybe why I didn’t make progress and what I could change.”
Anna articulates how the power of goals impacts our children’s educational experience, and we share a lot of similar thoughts around the power of tracking progress. Accountability can be a really good thing and a very helpful tool on our goal achievement journey. I know consistency is one of the characteristics of goal achievers, and I share that same belief that positive reinforcement is so much stronger than negative consequences.
With that goal achievers, keep focusing on your wins, learning from your lessons and identifying those key priorities so you can consistently progress in the direction of your goals.