Sunday, April 22, 2018

Growth mindset is something I have been studying for awhile.  The term was coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, and the idea has taken the educational world by storm.  The idea is fairly simple, but as I've learned, life is made up of simple rules with complex consequences.  This idea enables us to find the simplicity in things but allows for complexity and beauty. This idea can also make things more complicated.
Growth mindset, simply stated, divides how we react to and learn from situations into two categories: fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.  Carol Dweck relates these ideas to learning. Someone with a fixed mindset believes they are not able to grow, they don't have the mental capacity to do so.  Their intelligence is fixed, so their learning is fixed. If someone with a fixed mindset makes a mistake, their inner voice (or the actual voice of others around them) reminds them of their fixed state, and that failure means learning and growing is futile. Growth mindset is just the opposite.  Failure is expected, but instead, it is seen as part of the growth process.  The expectation then is to learn from the failure and let that learning inform future decisions.
This is great for me in the classroom, and I have found that growth mindset is transformational not only for my high achieving and gifted students, who tend to be perfectionists, but also with low achieving students.  Those who are low achieving very often have higher ability, but are crippled by the fear of failure.  They have voices around them that look forward to failure, or tell them, "See, I told you you'd fail." Additionally, lower achieving students have been put in a box, and are expected not to achieve, so they conform because it is too exhausting to fight. 
Enter my epiphany as a teacher.  I need to be careful not to put and keep students in a box. I have conceded that I might have a fixed mindset about them!  In taking Carol Dweck's idea of fixed mindset a step further, I came to the realization that our fixed mindsets about others may be preventing growth in them.  My influence on some students may be fixed, and it may be stifling their growth.  That's a weighty thing.
When students are frustrated, a lot of their energy is placed in something they can't control.  They are angry about things outside of their realm of control: other's thoughts, other's actions, other's words.  It is quite possible that students are also frustrated by the mindsets teachers have about them.  That also is out of their control.  What if we used a little empathy, and worked to understand the motivations of our students' frustrations. What if we identified our role, and worked to change that?  We might open up a whole new world of possibilities for our students.