Carol Dweck, a researcher in the field of motivation has devoted years of research into seeing how/why people succeed and how they cope with failure. I found Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success strikingly similar to another book I read years ago that our school administrators recommended that we read, called Nurture Shock by Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson. Just as Dweck’s book, Nurture Shock is full of research and studies on parenting and child development, specifically how constant praise from parents “backfires and actually undermines their confidence” instead of building it (Sundberg, 2016). Over the years, Dweck took note that a person’s mindset greatly affects whether they are successful in reaching their goals or not and how one’s mindset continues to influence the outcome of their life.
In short, Dweck’s work outlines two different thought processes- one being that intelligence and ability are traits that you are either born with or without. It’s either one or the other. I was born with artistic ability, but singing is not one of my God given talents. These are traits that are “carved in stone” and not worth practicing towards improvement, because I either have it or I don’t. There is another line of thinking that says despite whatever talents a person is born with, those talents need to be continuously honed through practice. So maybe I have a natural artistic talent, but in order for me to use that talent to its fullest potential, I need to continue to practice my technical skills, because just like any other hobby, sport or ability, if not put to use… it may get a little rusty. Now, that’s not to say that I cannot improve my singing, if that is what I choose to focus on. I may not have been born with natural singing ability, but if I put my mind to it, and invest in voice lessons and practice for hours a week there could be great improvement in my singing.
Dweck has coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” when referring to the two thought processes. Those with the fixed mindset believe that a person is either born with intelligence or ability or not, and there’s no improving the hand you are dealt. In addition, those with the fixed mindset constantly need validation that they are smart, or worthy. The below graphic sums it up well. Which mindset do you prefer to model?
I can relate a lot to the idea of having a growth mindset from an athletic point of view. I come from a competitive soccer family and played soccer and volleyball throughout my schooling. Growing up, I embraced the challenges that the coaches and the sport presented me. My injuries were setbacks, for sure, but they didn’t stop me. I could have quit countless of times, but frankly, that’s not how I was raised. Now that we are parents to two children, we have tried to make it a point to give the kids the opportunity to play whatever they’d like, and to give them the time to find something that they really love to do…. and to always encourage and praise their effort.
A point that Dweck continuously makes in her book, is that a person CAN change their mindset. On her website, she has laid out 4 steps for us to take to steer away from a fixed mindset and instead, develop the thinking processes of that of a growth mindset.
As an Early Childhood teacher, part of my job is instilling a growth mindset into our little ones. We are learning so many gross motor, fine motor and academic things that I feel like many of my most used phrases are “It’s ok, let’s try it again” or “Keep trying, you can do it!”. I once had a student tell me that their older sibling had just recently learned how to tie their shoes and why didn’t they know how to tie their shoes? I explained to them that they soon would learn how to tie their shoes just like their big brother, and that it might take some time. They may not know how to tie their shoes yet, but they will learn soon with some time and practice.
In my opinion, it isn’t hard instilling a growth mindset in 3-4 year olds, because they are so curious and open to learning already. In fact, we aren’t instilling a growth mindset in them… we are maintaining it. They don’t view asking questions as a weakness, but a way of finding things out. It’s the only way they know how to learn. The challenge for me comes in my middle school photography class. For some reason, the older we get, our desire for learning slightly diminishes. Why is that? I think many things can contribute to this for many students, whether it be family finances, self consciousness, peer pressure, grades, etc, but it is important for us to continue to model and encourage a growth mindset in our students so that they can push themselves to be the best version of themselves as possible.
As I look back at my learning philosophy I posted a few weeks ago, I realize that I am already embracing the growth mindset. I know my purpose is to lead by example, to exhibit respect, to spark curiosity, to foster imagination, to encourage play, to promote risk taking, and to be a constant reminder that if we fall down, we get back up. If we don’t do something right the first time, we try again.
As an fine art teacher, I get many students that walk through my door who have never picked up a camera in their life… and I’m talking about a real camera, not an iPhone! But that’s ok, my job is to work with them and to let it be known that everyone has a voice and that voice can be heard through art and through photographs. There are no right and wrong answers in my classroom. They may not be photographers yet, but by the end of the course, they will have experienced and learned through practice alongside myself and their peers. At the beginning of the course, I always like to expose my students to photographers before and during our time that have made an impact on the art world. Many of these artists have had countless struggles and setbacks throughout their life and I can promise you that none of them were just handed a God given photographic talent. They worked to get where they were/are. I love the graphic I posted above that breaks down the fixed and growth mindset and I plan to have it displayed in my classroom. It is a visual to show them that you have a choice in reaching your goals. It may not be easy, but you have a choice.
I have set goals for myself as both an Early Childhood teacher and a middle school Fine Art teacher, including my plan to implement student ePortfolios in middle school and my Beta Storytelling project. With both of these endeavors, I realize that I may not get it right the first time, but I welcome the challenge. My goal isn’t to just come up with ideas and receive a “check mark”, instead, I want my organization to climb up the ladder in educating our students with the purposeful use of technology. The only way to do that is to model my own learning philosophy and to take “growth mindset action”.
Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset. Retrieved June 29, 2016, from http://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/index.html
Sundberg, K. (2016). The Welby Way Beeline. Retrieved June 30, 2016, from http://welbyway.org/newletters/March16Beeline.pdf