In order to switch to the growth mindset, you must be willing to grow.What If? That’s the question that seemed to enter my head most often as I read Carol Dweck’s Mindset recently. What if students cannot move out of the fixed mindset or refuse to? What if other teachers or parents value grades and the act of being “smart” so much that it prevents students from truly growing? What if parents or others battle you when you refuse to call someone smart or when explaining to them that grades are not as important? What if I have difficulty moving in to the growth mindset myself? What if students fail at something after they put in a lot of effort – will they still see the reward of this hard work? Clearly, I had some concerns.
The fact of the matter is, helping students, parents, other colleagues, and even me start thinking more along the lines of the growth mindset will take a lot of effort. In many ways, many of us – including our students – have come to believe that what matters most of all is the end result – the grade on the test, what college you get into, who wins the game, etc. We might all know that Michael Jordan did not make his high school basketball team at first attempt, but we look at that as a “what was the coach thinking” kind of moment. We forget that he might not have been good enough at that point in his career, and as Dweck notes, that he used his failure as motivation for the player he became. Effort is often not as important as the end result.
But Dweck proves to us that it not just as important, it is more important. In order for our students to fully grow and open them to immense possibilities, we must stop valuing individual performances, stop comparing them to others, and let them know that we care more about the process than the end result. We must let them know that failure is okay, that in fact failure allows us to grow. We must show them the importance of effort, in knowing one’s own shortcomings, what to do when things go wrong. Once these things are valued, once students aren’t afraid to fail and embrace growth, the end result will most often be quite good, and in the process students will become more confident and willing to try new things.
There are a lot of what ifs that could come out of shifting mindsets, but what kind of teachers would we be if we didn’t make this attempt? I know I don’t want my students to submit to cheating because they are afraid of what might happen if they don’t pass the test. Nor do I want to add to the growing anxiety levels and lack of sleep many of my students face because they are so afraid of failure. I know there might be times when it is a battle, where it will take a lot of effort in order for my students and me to grow, and at times it won’t be easy or pretty. But isn’t that what the growth mindset is all about?