For the first time, the full interview with Iolani’s Val Iwashita, who lets us in on a fascinating approach to education and living.
What I’m Reading | Val Iwashita
Headmaster, Iolani School
Q&A with Christine Thomas
short version published March ’08
Q. What are you reading?
A. The last book I read was “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford professor and has done 20 years of mindsets research and has come up with two: a growth mindset, about learning and being responsible for what you learn and what your success is or isn’t, and a fixed mindset, which is ability-based, not wanting to take risks for fear you might undermine the perception that you’re successful and competent. I found it very engaging and relevant to educators and parents, to anyone working with other people, to anyone looking at him or herself related to self-perception and well being. I found it a very good read.
The other book I just finished was “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” by Elizabeth Gilbert. That was a wonderful tale. She’s obviously a very good writer, and it’s an easy read. It brought to life some of the emotion—the difficulties as well as joys—of all of our lives. I could relate to what she was talking about because she’s a very good writer, but also because it’s a very human story. She goes on a trek to find peace and happiness and feel good about herself. There’s a happy ending to the story but one that continues to be written. It’s one year in the life of a woman.
Q. How did you discover them?
A. Both books were recommended to me by friends. “Mindset” more because I’m the chair of the National Association of Independent Schools board, so the CEO of the organization recommended it to all of us as board members, and then we had a conversation with Carol Dweck on one occasion. It was everything it was purported to be and more.
Q. What did you take from Mindset?
A. I think it had relevance for anybody who is trying to develop young people and or work with adults in terms of trying to develop productive and positive mindsets for life. Again it’s never 100%–the two mindsets, fixed and growth, are two ends of a continuum so there’s a lot of grey area between the two. But it gives one a hook or benchmark in terms of how to react to life situations. For instance, when you’re talking with your child and say the child gets an A—it’s better to say ‘wow, congratulations, you did everything you needed to do to get a high mark—you earned it,’ rather than ‘wow, you’re smart.’ Both reactions to the same success have a different meaning for the child. One says it was caused by my work and I take full responsibility for the actions that led to that success, and the other was I was born into this situation and circumstance.
Q. How does reading about reacting to life’s challenges influence how you prepare students for the future?
“Mindset” is obvious but you know the other one was just enjoyable. I like books that are well written and engaging, so I do look to bestseller lists and recommendations from friends. But I also like books that open up worlds and experiences that I’ve never had. So things like “Eat, Pray, Love” was essentially—I can relate to this, though I’ve never gone to an ashram and contemplated [done what she did]. I like books that open up new worlds or new segments or slices of life. I find real value in that and I guess evolved to where I don’t read fiction anymore simply because I like nonfiction.
Q. So do you focus most on exposing students to different experiences, like with Iolani’s new online eSchool?
A. Professionally it’s important to continue to look for ways to benefit Iolani kids as well as the broader community. The stature of the institution in the community obligates us to look for ways to serve the broader community in different ways and not just be insular and serve our students. Something like the eSchool was intended to break out and expand our constituency and leverage the expertise that we’ve developed, so others could benefit from it. It’s important that we look at not only improving Iolani School, and that requires us to do things differently. So that’s some of what attracts me in my reading.