This is a phrase I’m hearing more and more around Lake Forest. Our principals have been studying the idea and planting the seeds of the Growth Mindset model with their faculty members. We believe teaching children with a Growth Mindset can make a huge difference in how they see themselves and their ability to do well. It’s really pretty simple.
If you have a fixed mind set, you are likely to believe that you are born with intelligence or talent or special gifts. You are what you are. Although you may have a desire to look good and be smart you avoid challenges. When faced with obstacles you might give up easily. Extending your effort into unknown territory means the potential to make mistakes, and you are afraid mistakes will show others what you don’t know. You feel threatened by the success of others.
If you have a growth mindset, you believe that your abilities can be developed with effort. You embrace challenges. You persist in the face of obstacles. You see mistakes as an opportunity to learn. You learn from criticism. You find the success of others inspiring.
So, how does this play out at the school level? Here's a small example.
We’re going to stop saying things like, “You did really well on that test. You sure are smart.”
Instead we’ll say, “You did really well on that test. It’s clear you worked hard.”
Words like naturally smart, gifted, bright, brainy and talented will not be used as the reason why a student has performed well. Instead, when students are successful, we will draw attention to their effort, the obstacles they overcame and the mistakes they might have learned from that led to a successful final outcome.
But Dan, you ask, what about those who are truly gifted or talented?
They must learn that natural talent is not enough. Even they must learn that it is their effort, their perseverance, their challenges that will strengthen their natural skills and propel them to success.
There are plenty of examples to share with students. I have seem some naturally talented student athletes pass through high school and win college scholarships only to fail at the next level. Often it is because everything at the high school level was easy. Going to the next level meant greater challenges and harder work. They were so accustomed to coasting with their natural ability that they never learned perseverance. They never had a major obstacle. They didn't really know how to work harder or learn from mistakes.
My niece is a fine, talented pianist. She can out play anyone you’ve ever known. She is taking a full load of college classes and practices the piano 25 hours a week. Why? Because she's not good enough. And if she goes pro, she will probably practice even more.
So, it will also be our challenge to challenge the most able of our students to learn that it is not their talent or giftedness that leads to success.
Good grades and college scholarships are within everyone’s grasp - if we can develop in them a Growth Mindset.
For more on this topic I recommend the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck.