I am hard on myself. I always have been.
Over the years I have come to intellectually understand that being hard on myself has not served me. It has only led to stress and made achievement a much more arduous journey. I don’t want that for myself and I definitely do not want it for my students. In thinking about how to combat that in myself, I have read literature that explains that successful people really do see mistakes as learning opportunities and rather than beating themselves up for making mistakes they learn from them and then MOVE ON.
It’s that last part that I have trouble doing. I sincerely believe that mistakes lead to learning and I know from personal experience that learning that came from my mistakes is deeper and longer-lasting. I still don’t like mistakes and I still beat myself up for making them. What I now know is that I need to change my mindset.
I have heard about the idea of grit and resilience and have been intrigued about how to instill that in my students but it was only recently that I learned about the idea of a “growth mindset” as opposed to a “fixed mindset.” This idea comes from Dr. Carol S. Dwek who, according to her bio on the website mindsetworks.com, is “one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success.” What could be more important for educators than having an understanding of why people succeed and how to foster success?
What I Learned
I walked away with two important understandings from reading about grit and mindset. One, is that grit and mindset should be explicitly taught and assessed. I love that idea that we need to teach students their brains are malleable, which means their brains can change and grow. That means all children can learn and that’s not just a cheerleader thing that teachers say to make them feel good. It’s science. Students need to know the language of grit (see Fostering Grit by Thomas Hoerr) and be constantly aware of seeking challenges that are appropriate – that are just the right level of challenge without being too easy or too frustrating.
I read that grit can actually be harmful if a teacher is pushing a child toward a goal that is extrinsically motivated rather than meeting real learning needs of that child. Students need to know that having a fixed mindset (believing that intelligence is static) will hinder their learning and that having a growth mindset (believing that hard work makes you smarter) will actually make them smarter!
The Power of Language
The second is the power of language. I read that one school changed their grading system from having a failing grade to the phrase “not yet” making the expectation very clear that all students are expected to achieve a given objective eventually and their teachers believe that they can. Praise should emphasize effort, not intelligence or talent, and if a student should make any kind of fixed mindset comment like “I can’t do this” or “I don’t like dance”, the teacher need only add the word “yet” to bring it back to the growth mindset reminding the child that this is not a permanent state of affairs.
It is time to practice what I preach and truly develop a growth mindset toward not only my students but myself. I know intellectually that it’s true but I have not taken it to heart…yet.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.