The book is an educational resource book I was handed this past summer from a leader in my district who works in the district office. She had a couple dozen copies of this one specific title and was sharing them with select teachers throughout the district. I happened into the right meeting at the right time and ended up with “Loaner Copy #7.”
In the past few months since receiving the book, I’ve picked it up a couple of times and read bits and pieces when I run across references to its concepts in the news, educational circles, the Washington Post and throughout social media. And those references are appearing more and more frequently. Guess the universe is trying to tell me something. So with the start of the new year and happening upon the book yet again, I decided it’s time to finish it cover-to-cover. The book is titled “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.
Based on my limited knowledge, let me share just a few initial thoughts about the fixed versus growth mindset as I understand it today, because, as not only an educator, but a parent of school-aged children, I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to encourage, support and cultivate success in our kids.
The fixed mindset as defined by Dweck’s research suggests that people with a fixed mindset believe “that your qualities are carved in stone.” Those with a fixed mindset believe they have “only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character.” In the classroom, these students might say things like “I’m not good at this,” “I give up,” “This is too hard,” and “I just can’t do math.” Teachers who embrace this mindset in children judge children’s abilities based solely on IQ, treating kids differently based on the expectation of that particular IQ score.
The growth mindset as defined by Dweck’s research suggests that people with a growth mindset believe “that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way -- in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments -- everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” In the classroom, these children might say things like “What am I missing,” “I’ll use some of the strategies I’ve learned to figure this out,” “I can always improve, so I’ll keep trying,” “I’m going to train my brain how to do math,” and “Mistakes help me learn.” Teachers who embrace this mindset in children believe the true potential of a child is unknown. These teachers encourage children to find passion, toil in their work, seek out training and strive for knowledge.
As parents, what can we do to help our children embrace the growth mindset -- the mindset we are all born with, the mindset based in the love of learning? The book I’m going to finish reading spends 246 pages outlining just this. For the sake of space in this week’s column, however, I’ll share just one tip for how we can help our children as we head into the new year.
Dweick writes that mindsets are certainly piece of our personalities, but we can change them simply by recognizing both and reacting and thinking in new ways when we catch ourselves mired in fixed tendencies. Granted, this new way of thinking is scary. For adults, it shows vulnerability and the truth that we aren’t all perfect in our knowledge. For kids, this feeling of inadequacy can be overwhelming and debilitating.
Our job as parents and educators lies, to start, in rephrasing kids’ statements. They say, “This is too hard.” We respond with, “This may take some time and effort,” or “Let’s try another approach.”
Our kids need to know that skills are learned. No one is born with the ability to do Algebra, for example; we all work at it until we get it. Let’s remind our kids that learning is continuous; no one is a ready-made genius. It is perseverance that promotes learning and future success. Just because you don’t understand something today doesn’t mean you won’t understand it tomorrow. That’s growth. When our kids are buried in frustration, it’s our gentle nudge and simply re-phrasing that will remind them to keep at it and not give up.
Amidst all the holiday gifts and the newest book on my nightstand, let’s all remember that helping our kids realize that they wield the power to transform themselves is the greatest gift we can give.