The Most Important Ingredient for Change in Education Part 1
At the start of the new year people are filled with hope of something better and resolve to make changes. It takes more than mere hope to make a life altering change though. All improvement, in life and in the classroom, begins first with your state of mind…
I read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset The New Psychology of Success in 2009 and her main points have stuck with me ever since---and changed the way I approach my teaching. She argues that people have either one of two mindsets that can help you reach your fullest potential or keep you stuck where you are. A “Fixed Mindset” is the belief that intelligence and talent is fixed, or unchanging---we are just born with it. A “Growh Mindset” is the belief that you can grow your intelligence and improve your talents.
In her book, Dweck blends brain science with stories of familiar heroes that are examples of what she calls a Growth Mindset as well as infamous characters who exemplify the Fixed Mindset. Her work applies to sports, the workplace, family life, and of course education. I highly recommend that you read her book. What follows is my explanation of Mindset Theory that I give to my middle school students at the beginning of the school year. I call it “Learn How to Fail!” and it is in big bold letters on the board the very first day of school---and I reboot the lesson in various iterations each quarter or so. The
Yes, most teachers tell you how to be successful in their class the first day, not me! I am going to teach you how to fail! We all have moments where things don’t go our way and we fail to achieve what we wanted and sometimes even have “epic fail” (video game term to draw them in) moments. It is the way that we respond to failure that determines how successful we become. A famous psychologist, Carol Dweck, studied responses to failure, and determined that there are two ways to approach it, or two different mindsets One way will help you reach your fullest potential and the other will hold you back no matter how smart or talented you are. Wouldn’t it be good to know which one you are? That is what we are going to find out today. The good news: Just as it is easy to change your mind, you can change your mindset to be more successful.
I share two stories of my “fails” from my childhood. One, from when I was in 5th grade. I was so excited to show my Dad my report card—All A’s and 1 A-. My sister’s report card consisted of B’c and C’s. My plan was to have her go first and then shock my Dad with my amazing grades---but as you know, this is a fail moment and it did not go that way. “Wow, look at how much you improved in Math. From a D to a C!” he tells my sister. I go next. Can you guess what he said to me? “What is the minus for?” That made me so mad!
The other was in high school…I was walking down the hall with one of the cutest basketball players in school and couldn’t help looking into his big green eyes. For some reason my school had these railings that came up to about here (up to my stomach). And here I was walking, looking up into those dreamy green eyes. Can you see where this is going? You guessed it! Not only did I hit right into the railing, but I gave out a big “Ahhh” as I hit it, in the middle of the crowded hallway. My friend was extremely polite and he didn’t even laugh like everyone else did. He just switched sides with me, allowing me to look back into his eyes. The whole time I was thinking about those stupid railings! So what if handicapped kids might need them, didn’t they know who I was walking down the hall with!?!
I give the class time to think of their own “fails” and they write them down before we share them with the class. This serves several purposes. One, it gets them reflecting and we return to these moments to analyze their response to failure. Two, they introduce themselves to the class. Three, it gives me an informal assessment of their writing and speaking skills. AND four, these are often very funny and it gives us a positive bonding experience as a class.
In the next installment I go through the different facets of Growth versus Fixed Mindset and how I explain them to my middle schoolers, plus share some resources!
The infographic below from Dewck’s website summarizes them nicely.