On one of my trips back to Omaha to visit family, I heard my sister tell my niece Nina (pictured) “she was smart.” You would have thought that my sister had committed a felony crime by my snapback at her “don’t just tell her she’s smart.” I quickly followed up that she should praise Nina’s ability to think through the situation, put in effort, or to use her resources to figure out a solution. I had begun my spreading of the gospel of Dweck’s mindset, and my sister was my first receipient. If you couple mindset with my personal crusade that no niece, or young woman that I know, will grow up not aware that she is just as able as the boys to hack it in today’s world, well you will get a formidable Mighty Girl. Thankfully, my sister responded kindly to my snap and she’s gotten a head start on fostering a growth mindset with Nina, who you see wanting to help put her bed together at age 3 ½ (yea, she’s a tall one for her age, unlike her Aunt Mary). It’s impressive the stories that my sister shares with me about Nina talking to herself using positive effort words or refusing help because she wants to…and more importantly knows…that she can do it if she just keeps trying.
Here’s the imperative: we need more Ninas in this world, especially as we meet what most are calling our new challenging standards of Common Core. We need students, and frankly adults, who believe that if they can’t do something right now, they do have the ability to eventually accomplish it with perseverance and effort.
At a recent National Board conference that Lindsey wrote about in her post on the CSTP Teacher Leadership Framework I had the privilege of attending a Mindset and Grit workshop by Jen Brotherton (of Tumwater School District) and Casey Wyatt (of Steilacoom School District). Not only did it refresh my energy around the importance of building both staff and students’ capacities for growth mindset, but also they gave me some great practical tools to start a discussion at school and with students.
So, what is a Growth Mindset and what is a Fixed Mindset?
Watch the video or read on to find out the difference.
Put simply, growth mindset is the belief that one has the ability to grow through personal effort and perseverance. In contrast, someone with a fixed mindset will believe that his or her ability has a cap on it, or an impenetrable wall/ceiling of ability. The common example is the student who always does well in a math class until say 9th grade when the student suddenly receives a “C” on their report card. With a growth mindset, this student will realize that he/she needs to put in a different level of effort and change something about their learning process. With a fixed mindset, this student will think that he/she has just reached a plateau in ability; and that’s just the level of math that they are “good” at.
How does praise affect mindset development?
Now this is what I was trying to educate my sister about with my niece. To develop a growth mindset does not mean to eliminate praise from a child’s life. It does mean, however, to eliminate praise that attributes success with some intangible, fixed descriptor like smartness. Actually, Jen and Casey shared an awesome handout “Feedback Starters” on how to have conversations with students that help them see how their effort, and to a larger extent their “grit”, shapes their conversations. As fate would have it, Nathan’s recent post relates to these ideas of conversations. And, it got me thinking about how we talk about learning programs, traits and parental decisions with parents who are wanting the best for their students. If you haven’t already read his post, you’ll want to. I equally find intriguing that Nathan mentioned, in the comments, the recent report about parents’ help with homework having a possible negative effect on student success. I think I read that report about the same time I attended this presentation, which is why I really enjoyed Casey and Jen’s handout on Helping Your Children with Homework. By relating the help to questions about effort, grit, and perseverance, the parent gets to have a conversation that fosters student growth. And, for parents who feel uncomfortable with the topic in class, the actual content can be left for classroom follow-up. These pointers have actually helped me in my library reference role because students come to me for help on geometry, biology, digital class…you name the class, and I guarantee a student has asked me if I know anything and if I can help. I can definitely answer “yes” to helping, but I no longer feel that I need to specifically “know” something. There are days when I actually hope that the student asks me something outside my content knowledge so they can see that we are all learners and thinkers.
If you are interested on more specifics or to hear from Dweck herself, check out this video on the role of praise and growth mindset.
Guess what? This stuff can work with teachers and adults, too.
Just as worthy a conversation is the conversation that we as staff need to begin. While I didn’t talk about grit so much in this post, grit is an important piece to the growth mindset puzzle. As we embark on these new initiatives and define today’s educational arena, we must build our personal grit and foster a growth mindset.
Once you’re ready to delve more into growth mindset and grit, I suggest reading Dweck’s book Mindset and Perserverance and Grit by Rick Wormeli that was handed out at the presentation. And, then determine what you stand for as an educator and how that relates to your current school vision and your learning community.
And if you excuse me, I’m going to go watch Searching for Bobby Fisher, which features Joshua Waitzkin, whom Jen and Casey informed me of at their presentation, is a strong believer in the growth mindset. With just a quick search, I can already tell that watching this movie for commentary on mindset and motivation will be a nice reflection to set some goals for my summer work. Given my sister and I’s repeated viewings, it’s no wonder we both were quick to jump on and foster growth mindset in our lives.