Revisiting the Growth Mindset

I stand by my earlier assertion that almost by definition, the teachers participating in this program have a Growth Mindset. However, as I have learned more about this mindset, I realize that my biggest personal growth has been shifting from the Fixed mindset to my current growth mindset.

As with many changes, it took a seismic shock. My shock was taking Chemistry, Calculus, and Physics all at the same time my first year of college. I who had never studied two days in a row before in my life. My performance in these classes was abysmal and I was drowning in an ocean during a hurricane. As the video explained, this wasn’t just a performance failure, it was a personal failure revealing me to be a fraud. My achievements to get to that point were ground to nonexistence by my struggles. Perhaps it was that I did not have a holistic view of self that saved me – by this I mean that I viewed intelligence as static but had been imbued with a “push though it” mentality in all other aspects of life. So, with nothing else to guide me, I just kept pushing forward.

No signposts informed me of my nearing, or crossing into a Growth Mindset, but I do know that in my thirties I was far more willing to take risks and be wrong and not to worry about what others thought when it happened.

I have made a point to emphasize my academic troubles and growth through them with my students. This strikes me as very odd and uncomfortable because it is far different from how teachers interacted with students in my day. They were the authority figures, the sage on the stage. However, I do believe that students need to know that hard times are coming – earlier for some than others – but nobody will go through life without a challenge unless they live far below their potential. Perhaps knowing that this is normal will help them to understand that they are not alone when it happens, and that it is not a flaw within them.

Another way I demonstrate this is to make a joke and ask for help when some technology issue happens. While I am good with computers, it is the phone shortcuts and apps etc. that are a big black box of confusion most times. I believe that seeing the teacher, who demonstrates mastery on the difficult subject they are learning, struggling with something they already learned, lowers the barrier to learning for them.

Finally, I shared my excitement at learning new skills as I developed them this year. My videos grew in sophistication and I would make a joke, like pausing the video, looking at the kids and asking “Did you see THAT? I can do that now.” Stupid, silly, but humanizing and emphasizing that learning is a lifetime process.

A great way to transition students from a fixed to a growth mindset is simply to remind them of how much they learned. Remind them that “this used to be hard.” It really emphasizes that they are smarter than they used to be, and therefore difficult things can eventually be mastered. I have done this when I showed them a new video I’d created too – talking about how much quicker I was able to do them now. The combination of sharing my own growth with them, and reminding them of their own growth seems to work pretty well – though of course I have no way of measuring how much change, if any, it is making with them. Perhaps it won’t make a change until they, too, are drowning in a hurricane, and then it might make it a little easier for them to adjust.

Finally, I believe that my discussions with them when they are caught cheating also reinforces a Growth Mindset. My go-to has always been Neuroplasticity of the brain, and I just point out that, okay, you just cheated, and your brain didn’t grow. You had an opportunity to challenge your brain, create new neuron connections, and instead you cheated. I have liked this method because it removes the morality and emotion – because if kids think the assignment is stupid they aren’t going to believe cheating on it is a moral issue and aren’t going to be too bothered about it. Instead, this approach moves it from the ethereal and “the teacher’s opinion” to a physical consequence that only they suffer because of their choices. Now, I’m no brain scientist and I don’t know how much effect a few instances of cheating have on brain development – and if I remain ignorant then I can keep claiming that this is a significant choice for the student. (Ignorance is, indeed, bliss here.) But, yet again, this approach I take is based upon a Growth Mindset, and it takes it as fact that intelligence can grow – which might be news to some of these students.

The above does highlight one key thing about this past year – that simply by becoming more aware of the Growth and Fixed Mindsets, I am better prepared to identify and help students become better lifetime learners who aren’t afraid to fail. That is a change I have noticed in my behavior and responses this year in interactions with students.