Every Child is a Genius, and Why That is Important

Every Child is a Genius: Photo of a girl sitting and dreaming and having ideas. Behind her is a board with sketches of ideas on it.

Written by Lisa Bean

Lisa is the founder and head of school for IGNITE: An Acton Academy. She is a Mom of two boys, an entrepreneur, and a coach for high-performance businesses, leaders, and parents. She is passionate about re-defining education for the 21st century, and is adamant that learning be a fun and engaging experience that honours a child's unique strengths and passions.

December 28, 2022

One of the Acton Academy tenets that I often get questions about is the statement that every child, in fact every person, who enters our door is a genius. At IGNITE we’ve re-written that statement to clarify it’s meaning:

We believe that every child has the potential to change the world.

Regardless of which way you choose to say it, we mean the same thing – every person in this world, and certainly every child, has a ton of potential to do good in our world. We at IGNITE, commit to hold true to that belief.

We believe in the potential of each child.

This belief is sacred to us. As a parent, if I could choose one thing to surround my children with it is people who believe in them. People who see the good things they bring to this world; their strengths, and their possibilities.

What does Every Child is a Genius Mean?

We often use “genius” to describe someone who has a particularly high IQ, but there’s a second definition. In the context we use it, it means that the person referred to has a strongly marked capacity or aptitude for something. Here’s an example presented by Marriam-Webster: “… had a genius for getting along with boys…”

As synonyms we could use the words “strength,” or “superpower.”

Our program is built to help our learners explore what their genius might be, and to learn how to wield it effectively.

Like Luke, Rey and Baby Grogo learn to use the force…

Like Harry Potter learns to use his bravery, and Hermione uses her intellect…

Like any child at IGNITE may learn to use their ability to tell stories, or ability to negotiate to a peaceful conclusion, or do complex math problems to make a difference in their world.

Why is this a core belief at IGNITE.

The research is strong and compelling as to why this belief is important.

Over and over again, studies have shown how beliefs, spoken and unspoken, have an incredible impact on results. Perhaps most related to the school setting are studies conducted in schools. From these studies the Pygmalion Effect was observed: “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” (Rosenthal and Babad, 1985)

The studies showed that when teachers were inaccurately told a group of students had exceptional abilities, those students became what they were expected to be. The beliefs of the teachers impacted the results the students achieved at the end of their time together.

In a podcast from This American Life a couple of additional examples are discussed. It’s an entertaining podcast to listen to and is almost beyond belief.

In the first example, they discuss research with rats. On some cages they hung a sign that said the rat was incredibly smart, and other cages the sign said the rat was incredibly dumb. These signs were randomly placed.

One group of researchers worked with the smart labelled rats for one week, and another group worked with the dumb labelled rats. The goal was to run the rat through a maze and time it.

Guess what happened? It wasn’t even close! At the end of the week, the rats labelled smart did twice as well as the rats labelled dumb!

The podcast moves onto the real story, that of Batman, Daniel Kish. Daniel lost his eyesight at a young age and remarkably has taught himself to see by using echolocation (just like a bat). He makes small clicks as he moves that help his brain compute, and see, his surroundings. He can climb trees, navigate while hiking along steep cliffs, travel on his own, and even ride a bike.

The secret to his seeming superpowers? His mother never let anyone tell him he couldn’t. She committed, really committed, to not letting fear control their lives.

Daniel discussed in the podcast how love, a perfectly natural and normal feeling for parents, can create a culture of fear. We naturally want to protect our children from hurt and failure and we step in a half second too soon. As Daniel says: “Running into a pole is a drag. But never being allowed to run into a pole is a disaster.”

While this is a remarkable story of possibility for the blind community, I can’t help but see it as an analogy for so much more.

If we trust and believe in someone, and we find a way to stop protecting a child from life’s lessons, the potential is limitless.

Carol Dweck, psychologist, author of the book Mindset, and researcher at Stanford had this to say: “You may be standing farther away from someone you have lower expectations for. You may not be making as much eye contact. And it’s not something you can put your finger on. We are not usually aware of how we are conveying our expectations to other people. But it’s there.”

And so we choose to protect and covet this mindset of unlimited potential. Of strengths-based learning. Of belief that everyone who crosses our threshold is genius, and is going to change the world.

Is it too much pressure to put on a child?

The critics of the statement every child is a genius wonder if it means that too much pressure will be put on a child as a result. If we’re in a rush for a child to grow up and find their purpose in the world, that’s a lot of pressure.

I can only respond that anything, including this, if taken to its extreme, can be dangerous. We would be folly if we lost sight of the joy of childhood, and the value of play. That’s not the intention behind the statement.

I encourage you, reader, to think back on your own childhood. Do you remember the people that were your champions? The people who believed in you?

We all have them in our past, and they shaped us in a positive way. If the people you’re thinking of are similar to mine – they let me lead, they weren’t overly attached to the way I chose to use their encouragement, and they always let me be in the drivers seat.

Keep that balance in mind – every good intention can have a shadow side, if overdone.

Every Child is a Genius at IGNITE

At IGNITE, we fiercely protect our culture and our core beliefs. As with any thing that relates to culture and values of an organization, community, or team, it becomes hard to put your finger on any one thing that’s done. Posts like this, conversations amongst our community as we reference our learners, hiring team members that get it and reflect it in their day-to-day, and who are willing to challenge each other all help us in honouring our beliefs.

As a team, we live the beliefs that we want our learners to embody, as well. The belief in their potential not only comes from the guides and staff, but they hold this belief in themselves and each other. Continuous conversation keeps it at the forefront, and we can’t wait to see those ripples out into the wider world one day.

As Mother Theresa said “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

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