Time to grow!

Do you believe that you are born with your inherent intelligence? Have you ever backed down from a challenge? Have you ever made mistakes? Have you ever been afraid to fail or take a risk? Do you make excuses or blame others when things don’t go your way?

I’ve been thinking about these questions quite a bit lately, and I have been asking my students the same thing in connection with their learning. The growth mindset is one of those buzzwords that keeps cropping up all over the place for me. My cousin, a yoga instructor in California, even posted a Growth Mindset classroom bulletin on Facebook this week which was similar to the one below.

I’ve been teaching for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of buzzwords. But the idea behind the growth mindset really fascinates me, so much that I took a six credit class about it last spring.  In a nutshell, the growth mindset means that you embrace challenge. You realize that mistakes are how you learn. You take risks, and sometimes, you fail. You take responsibility for your own mistakes and your failures, and you move on.  You celebrate other people’s successes instead of becoming jealous. And..it’s not always easy. That’s the point.

When Pete Carroll made that fated call during the Super Bowl last February, and the Seahawks lost to the Patriots during the last seconds of the game, he said that he thought about the game for a morning, and then he let it go. That’s right. One morning to mull over a crushing defeat viewed by billions. That is the growth mindset at work. You keep on moving. You keep on learning. You keep trying. And you realize that how smart you are comes from your hard work and your effort. When I mentioned this anecdote to a colleague of mine, she said, “I couldn’t even let go of the fact that my bike gear was broken for a whole day, let alone one morning!” It’s HARD to shift your thinking, right? But possible.

Carol Dweck, the author of the book

Mindset performed an experiment where she told some kids that they were smart-in other words, she praised their intelligence. Dweck told other kids that they were hard workers. She specifically praised their effort. Then, each group was given a puzzle to solve. Then they were given more difficult puzzles. When it came to solving the harder puzzle, guess who gave up first?

The kids who were praised for their intelligence.

When you tell someone that he or she is smart, it can sound like this. “Oh..I’m smart. That means I don’t have to work for it.”

This also includes athletes. When you tell someone how naturally talented they are, maybe then they think, “Oh..I’m so good at this. I don’t have to work as hard at it.”

So, at the beginning of the year, I gave my students a survey about the growth mindset. I taught them some language to use. We watched some videos about famous failures and one about LeBron James who asks us, “Do you think I was BORN this way? I worked for this my whole life.”

My students are also finding quotes about the growth mindset and coming up with a symbol to represent the quote in some way, and when we’re done, our quotes will hang from the ceiling in the classroom all year. I am teaching them strategies to face their challenges and keep pushing through. Tomorrow, I have some other things in mind for them, which I also may write about here.

And I am working on my own growth mindset. I keep thinking about where I start making excuses or where I am afraid to take risks. I keep thinking about challenges and walking into them rather than running away. I want my students to know that we are all  vulnerable. We struggle. We are human. But if we shut down and stay fixed, our learning shuts down, and this affects a whole lot more than our English grades.

I think about the growth mindset even more as a parent. I want my own children to get where they are going and know it is because they knew that mistakes and failure are  a huge and necessary part of learning, and that ‘smart’ will only get you so far.

No matter who you are, Mindset is a thought-provoking read, and it’s not just about learning.