Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Teaching A Growth Mindset

I have the above Growth Mindset image posted in the front of my classroom and it reflects the current brain research on best teaching practice and learning.  Successful students need to have what is called a "growth mindset."  There has been a great deal written about growth mindset, but in a nutshell, it's about learning from challenges and mistakes.  It's about figuring out what you don't know and seeing those challenges as an opportunity to learn and discover.  This mindset means that education is not about perfection or IQ; rather it's about working on things that are hard and knowing that there is a great deal that we still don't know and can learn.  A growth mindset is what makes us smarter and more productive.  Most of us have been around long enough to know that we learn from mistakes and that when we overcome challenges we grow.  It's logical that having a growth mindset leads to learning.  The real question is, how do we impart this frame of mind to our students?  We have students who come to school expecting learning to be easy, because they have been told they are brilliant.  And at the other extreme,  we have students who believe that they can't possible learn.  They think that anything that requires thinking is somehow beyond their ability.  They feel stupid even before they know what the challenge or lesson is.  How does a teacher proceed?

I suppose if I am honest, I have been both those types of students myself.  There have been times when I've felt like I knew it all and other times when I was sure I was totally incapable of learning anything about the subject matter at hand.  And I'm pretty sure that in the future, there will be more times such as those.  How do I proceed?  I think that teaching a growth mindset requires having a growth mindset.  Having a growth mindset as a teacher means being vulnerable in front of your students.  It's about sharing your lack of knowledge as well as your knowledge.  It means we are never done learning.  It's about teaching that the process of learning is more important than the product.  The irony is that, when you focus on the process, the product usually improves (although sometimes it takes a lifetime or more).  If I want my students to have a growth mindset, I need to remind myself that I need to have a growth mindset.  I need to always be learning and growing and becoming a better student as well as a better teacher.

I suspect that developing a growth mindset will be a lifetime struggle and adventure for me on this journey called life, but I know that it is worth striving for.  In fact, I think we all started with a growth mindset.  Have you ever seen a baby stop babbling because he/she couldn't pronounce the words properly?  Or have you ever seen a toddler stop trying to walk, because he/she toddled into a fall?  We come into this world already hardwired with a growth mindset. Somewhere along the way, it can slip away from us and I think that's when we start growing old.

Developing a growth mindset is not simply an academic pursuit; it's a life pursuit and it requires action to be meaningful.  Can you image if our culture embraced a growth mindset . . .? What if the criminal justice system operated from a growth mindset?  It would no longer be about punishment; it would be about restorative justice and forgiveness.  We would try to help people become better citizens and to learn from their mistakes so that they could live productive lives.  (If you have ever met a person who has spent time in jail and has had a second chance to redeem his/her life, you know what a gift that person is to the community).  What if politicians embraced a growth mindset?  Can you imagine?!  They would admit mistakes and share areas of growth instead of the negative attack mode that was so rampant this election year.  And more importantly, can you imagine if the Senate and Congress had a growth mindset instead of a partisan mindset?  Discussions and actions wouldn't focus on party lines; rather, they would focus on learning from mistakes and from each other and then getting down to work.

In the end, I think that having a growth mindset is about the positive actions that we take from wherever we are.  It's humility and hard work and a belief that we can make this world a better place.  And isn't it wonderful, that we are born into this quest?  It gives me hope for our future.  In the words of Mohandas Gandhi . . .        

"It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important.  You have to do the right thing.  It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit.  But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing.  You may never know what results come from your action.  But if you do nothing, there will be no result."

Peace and Love.