My mantra of the summer: let’s look at that through a “growth mindset”.
I have to thank my sister for recommending Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck. As a parent and a teacher, I wish I had come across this book 25 years ago! Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This is definitely my WOW book of the summer. I have already begun to give it out as a gift.
The book’s premise is that we tend to fall into one of two categories in how we view the world and our place in it: with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. The fixed mindset person believes things like talent is innate, and intelligence is pre-determined in an individual. In contrast, a growth mindset person will believe that with work and effort, talent can develop and intelligence can grow. Fixed looks at the end product, while Growth doesn’t see an end product, but instead a process to work towards end products.
One key difference in these mindsets is how a person handles the inevitable setbacks or failures in life. Imagine a fixed mindset person who believes himself to be very bright, inherently smart. A test grade in the 80s will send this person reeling. “I’m supposed to be very smart. If I did that poorly, I must be a failure.” The simple utterance to a child or student “you’re so smart” sets that person up to fall into a fixed mindset. Over time, this person will learn to avoid challenges, because they may expose the sad reality that they are not as smart as touted.
How do you praise someone, then, in a growth mindset? You focus on the hard work and effort that has paid off. “Wow! You really worked hard on your math facts, and your test grade shows just how much time you put in! Great job!” The lesson learned? What matters is the effort, not some genetic and unchangeable characteristic.
Another key difference in these mindsets is the realistic expectations you can have for people. Unfortunately, many teachers believe kids more or less match up to their test scores. I admit to having believed this too, as a person for whom learning came easier. But when you switch things up and start to believe that ANYONE can learn, teaching becomes much more dynamic! My sister, the same one who recommended this book, does not allow her high school math students to say “I suck at math.” Instead, they have to rephrase that, and say “I used to suck at math.” Or “I sucked at math last year.” She believes in the capability of all of her students to learn math, and she is willing to meet them where they are, and get them where they need to go.
In retrospect, I was fortunate to be raised by parents with a growth mindset. There was a weird genetic
mutation confluence in our family, and learning came easy to all 7 of us little Cichellos. Accolades were piled on throughout our combined elementary and high school education, but our parents never ever muttered anything close to “you’re so smart!” Instead, they let us know they were proud of the work we had done. If they knew we had put minimal effort into a project or an exam, they were not very phased by a good grade. If they had seen us dig in and get some hard work done, praise was extended. That slight change allowed us all to feel proud of the learning, and not that we were infallible little intellects. We also saw that effort was what mattered most.
I now also understand that for over 10 years I had the good fortune to work for a boss with a growth mindset. I need to send that man a personal thank you note. I bet most of us go through our working years never experiencing a boss with a growth mindset. Growth minded leaders “start with a belief in human potential and development – both their own and other people’s. Instead of using the company as a vehicle for their greatness, they use it as an engine of growth – for themselves, the employees, and the company as a whole.” (p. 125) The result is a work atmosphere that celebrates individuals, allowing them to develop in creative and unexpected ways. Hierarchy still exists, but matters little.
In what remains of the summer, I will be applying this growth mindset to my own parenting, to my lesson planning for the fall semester, and maybe even to my still developing ability to understand undertones in wine. Tonight’s selection: 2011 Chakalaka Spice Route red wine from South Africa. It is a blend of grapes that will challenge the palate. Worst case scenario: I find no nuances of pepper or berries, but instead remember how we hollered out “BOOM!” before every sip!