In Carol Dweck’s quest to change our mindsets from fixed to growth, she lists four steps to enlist positive self-talk that will train us to stop labeling ourselves and start growing:
Step 1: “Learn to hear your fixed mindset ‘voice’”. Look at how you approach challenges, setbacks, and criticism. When you face a challenge, do you worry that you’ll be “a failure” if you fail? Do you quit easily when you hit a setback because you want to keep your dignity? Do you get angry when people give you criticism; do you hear them saying “you’re not capable” when they’re actually offering constructive criticism that could make your work better?
Step 2: “Recognize that you have a choice. How you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice”. Instead of focusing on your beliefs that you either have talent, or you don’t, interpret these things as opportunities for growth.
Step 3: “Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice”. Change your fixed mindset by rephrasing how you approach a challenge, setback, or criticism. Instead of saying “Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent”, say “I’m not sure I can do it now, but I think I can learn with time and effort”.
Step 4: “Take the growth mindset action”. Accept challenges, learn from mistakes, and think of criticism as a tool for growth.
This growth mindset is important if we want to reach our full potential. In “The Power of Belief- Mindset and Success”, Eduardo Briceno argues that the way we think influences our efforts. I can relate to this argument by looking at biology. All traits have a genetic and an environmental component. Oftentimes, the environmental component is just as strong or stronger than the genetic component. Take for instance, height: it isn’t a set characteristic. Children will grow taller if given the best nutrition; conversely, a poor diet can stunt growth. Even love and affection from others influences how well a baby thrives. We can’t change the genetic component, but we can set up the right conditions for growth. This is why we need to stop focusing on intrinsic talents or our perceived intelligence because they are not fixed, as some would think. They can be influenced and developed. Dweck and Briceno aren’t saying that anyone can become president if they just put their minds to it. That would be an oversimplification- like saying that if I feed my 2-year old enough vegetables, he’ll be 7 feet tall- not likely with both parents under 5’9”. This isn’t some cliché “just-adopt-a-positive-attitude…I think I can I think I can” self-help idea, as Alfie Kohn asserts in his article, “The ‘Mindset’ Mindset”. Carol Dweck is saying that the growth mindset is the right environment for success, for reaching our own potential.
In my Learning Philosophy, I make a statement that seems obvious: “The whole point of education should be to help the students learn- and learn deeply”. Unfortunately, many schools and teachers fail to create an environment where learning reaches its full potential. Kids who are praised for being “smart” are actually hindered in the learning process because they develop a fixed mindset and feel like they have to maintain that perception. They challenge themselves less to ensure that they will succeed. They give up easily and think that because they’re smart, they shouldn’t need to put effort into their work. They don’t like criticism and feel threatened by the success of others. This is counterintuitive in a culture that tells us we have to praise our kids so they’ll have good self-esteem. The key is in praising effort and not labeling kids- even if it’s positive labeling. It leads to wanting to look smart, and it actually hinders learning. When we praise efforts, we’re encouraging a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and talents can be developed. They embrace challenges, don’t give up, see effort as a pathway to mastery, and learn from criticism because it helps them grow. One of the things I can do to encourage a growth mindset is to be careful with my criticism: if a student hasn’t done a good job on an assignment, or doesn’t “get it”, I will let them know that they’re not there yet. The simple word, yet, implies that it’s possible to get there; it just requires more effort.
Our current educational system focuses heavily on what students know (standardized testing) instead of what they can do with what they know. The latter requires a need to know how to learn because information is constantly changing and growing in breadth. This is why it’s critical to cultivate a growth mindset in the digital age. In my article, Creating a Significant Learning Environment, I touch on ways to create the conditions for deeper learning. Imagination, play, and questioning are central to cultivating a passion for learning. In combination with encouraging a growth mindset, I want students to realize their potential is way beyond what they may imagine.
Encouraging a growth mindset in adult learners is going to require more than simply praising their efforts. They’ve had too many other outside influences that shape how they see themselves and how much they think they can do. Shifting their coursework away from a solitary focus on foundational knowledge that includes application, integration, human dimensions and caring, and learning how to learn is going to help create that significant learning environment. I outline my ideas for implementing authentic learning in my BHAG and also in Understanding by Design; they’re slightly different approaches to designing a course, but both are useful. I also plan on introducing my students to Carol Dweck’s work so they can understand what kind of mindset they dwell in, and hopefully make changes if necessary.
Creating the right environment for learning is no easy task. It flips traditional ideas of classroom learning on its head and turns it into something different- something far better. Many people don’t like change, so knowing that there will be opposition will require perseverance, something that can’t be done with a fixed mindset. I realize that my innovation plan is a huge goal. I have told myself that it might be too big to pull off. That kind of thinking is giving up before I have even begun because I don’t want to be seen as a failure- even if it’s only in my own mind. I need to change my thinking and say to myself “I have this huge dream that will only be successful if I’m willing to try. I may not be ready now, but I can progressively work towards success.” That kind of thinking will drive effort and ultimately, success.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. ISBN 978-0-345-47232-8. New York: Random House Publishing Group.
Dweck, C. (2010). How can you change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset? Retrieved from http://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/index.html
Harapnuik, D. (2013). Fixed Vs Growth Mindset= Print Vs Digital Information Age. Retrieved from http://www.harapnuik.org/?p=3627
Kohn, A. (2015). The “Mindset” Mindset. Retrieved from http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/mindset/
TEDx. (2012). Eduardo Briceno: The Power of belief- mindset and success. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN34FNbOKXc&feature=youtu.be
Tucker, C. (2014). Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets: Activity 7.4. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-x6WeupKgVE