A reflection on the need for a growth mindset in schools

This week our conversations about the growth mindset and its connection to hard play and tinkering have gotten me thinking about what we are asking from students and teachers when we expect them to have that perspective on learning.  Having a growth mindset sounds awesome (or scary, depending on who you ask) and almost seems an enlightened perspective or approach to one’s own metacognitive process.  However, it’s pretty difficult to model “failure is part of learning” when as a teacher, you’re expected to get it right the first time or all the time, and especially if you’re trying something new and still developing your own professional practice.  It’s also difficult when we have students (and teachers) who have had bad and even shameful experiences “trying” to learn but continually failing.

In order for a growth mindset to thrive in the classroom, it has to happen at all levels in the school.  Students need to be trained and supported to break the fixed mindset that they have been conditioned to accept through a traditional or structured learning environment.  The fixed mindset could also come from external factors – home, community, experiences, etc.  Cindy hooked me with her “Tinkering is not a waste of time” statement.  There are many things inside and outside of the classroom that are not a waste of time.  When we think about our needs as teachers to manage and control the learning environment, then we begin to see tinkering, playing, and having fun as separate from learning objectives and assessments and the “important stuff” that we are mandated to produce.  I get it, I know its tough, but I think it doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t stop “happening” if you have a growth mindset.  That’s the whole point, that learners and teachers continue to evolve, change, and improve as they fail, reflect, try again, learn, adjust, and grow.  Teachers themselves need to be trained and supported to embrace a growth mindset that they can nurture within their students; and if we think it’s hard to break the fixed mindset in our students, we can expect a tough transition as teachers not only to change it within ourselves but to get other teachers to follow suit.  Ali also mentioned differentiated instruction and its similarities to a growth mindset.  I also see my role as knowing when and how to push learners to feel uncomfortable with their assumptions about their abilities and to feel safe to try new things, ideas, and take on a different identity as a learner.  While differentiation is important, I don’t want students to assume they will always be a certain type of learner, or always have the same interests and needs.  If anything, trying new things can help them to build resiliency in difficult or stressful learning experiences, if failure is an acceptable risk for students to take.  Finally, students and teachers needs support from the school administrators and other stakeholders (parents, community, school board, etc.) to also allow a growth mindset to become the norm rather than the thing we do sometimes when it’s appropriate for the content or for a project.

Ali’s summary of my initial blog this week made me think that I need to come up with my own rules that support a growth mindset in the classroom:

Rule # 1 – projects don’t have to turn out as planned and will probably take you in a new direction, explore the possibilities!

Rule # 2 – projects can be inspired from doodles and sketches!

Rule # 3 – projects are hands on, and we will learn from trying many times

Rule # 4 – the teacher is here to help you succeed and make your project happen!

Rule #5 – we don’t have problems, only puzzles to solve!

2 thoughts on “A reflection on the need for a growth mindset in schools

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