"Don't worry if you're bad in math, you're a really great writer."
We've all said something like this before or heard colleagues, parents, even students portraying themselves as "good" in certain academic areas and “bad” in others. During extra curricular activities and in our personal lives we divide ourselves into athletes, artists, nerds, brainiacs, failures, successes, good kids and troublemakers. By defining ourselves we define our ability to grow academically and as a person by putting restrictions on what we can accomplish. Defining ourselves this way is characteristic of a fixed mindset, a way of thought that for decades has defined generalizations like boys are good in math and girls are good in writing.
21st century teaching defies these stereotypes presenting the opportunity for students, teachers and parents to foster increased cognitive abilities through a new way of thought, the Growth Mindset.
Researchers studying the brain have long known that neural pathways are carved into the surface of the brain by repetitive actions causing habits to be formed. These habits are no more than fixed pathways for stimulus to travel on, stimulus that make us wake at a certain time or feel the urge to eat desert after a savory meal. It has been shown that these neural pathways can be rerouted by changing the repetitive action, creating new paths and new behavior patterns.
So why is this so important?
In a growth mindset students are taught to understand that the brain grows with learning making them capable of achieving more. It’s widely known that students who play an instrument grow a portion of the brain that remains completely undeveloped in their non-musical peers! Teaching students that their brains can grow with learning and that they can become better, even strong in subjects they haven't mastered produces students who are more motivated to learn, exert more effort and take charge of their own success
When students focus on improvement instead of worrying about how smart they are, they become better students, learn more academically AND learn how to position themselves for success outside of the school environment.
Studies on growth mindset training, where students have been taught that they can become better academically through increased effort and focus on personal growth instead of benchmarks has played a role in increased performance on standardized tests, in decreasing gender gaps on performance in math, and academic improvement in racial arenas where students exhibited an increased enjoyment and value of their schoolwork.
Adopting a growth mindset at your school may come in many forms. For administrators you might see an honest response to feedback and a willingness to learn from teachers, parents, staff and students. For teachers, an increased collaboration with peers and parents, a desire to strengthen skills and a belief that all students can succeed. For parents a growth mindset allows us to support our children's learning inside AND outside the classroom focusing on challenging children and encouraging them to put in the effort they need to grow. Finally, students take charge of their own success, they enjoy the process of learning more and create a skill set that will serve them outside the classroom helping them meet challenges they will face as adults.
Changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset will not be always be easy. Sure there will be pitfalls, failures and frustration as students strive to master difficult subject areas but the payoff of having students who are self motivated, productive, confident citizens is so much greater. So what are you waiting for?