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Growth Mindset: the key to achieve success in learning

Too many children – and adults for that matter – believe they don’t need to learn, or that they can’t learn.

Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University contends this is due to individuals developing a Fixed Mindset with regard to their capabilities, character traits or potential. She argues that not only learning is stunted, but many social issues can arise by having a Fixed Mindset.

She says, in order for individuals to flourish, they need a Growth Mindset – a disposition that embraces challenge, seeks out feedback and values effort as the pathway to mastery.

In my experience, I’ve found the work of Dweck to resonate with many parents, educators and business leaders. Perhaps they themselves believe they’re, “not a maths person” or they, “don’t have a creative bone in their body” and hold a Fixed Mindset with regard to their potential to address these shortcomings.  The majority of adults I speak to can also relate it to their kids.

Since Dweck’s book Mindset – The New Psychology of Success has been published, many in educational circles have started exploring the concepts of Fixed and Growth Mindsets in the belief that a Growth Mindset could be the key to unlocking our students’ potential.

Of course, it’s not just those who struggle. Some who have succeeded at school or in another domain may also be stuck in a Fixed Mindset. These individuals have been told they are really smart, a natural in a certain subject or talented in a particular domain, yet when they come up against a challenge, as they will invariable do so if they are that good, they begin to doubt themselves. After all, if I’m so good, I shouldn’t have to struggle right?

But if they’ve been challenged and haven’t been able to perform, this can eat away at their very identity. For some this occurs around adolescence; that time of life where everything is about forging an identity.

I’ve argued that, unfortunately, some of what we do in schools may serve to reinforce the Fixed Mindset. Grading, streaming, Gifted & Talented classes, even goal setting – if not handled properly – can have negative effects not only on the kids who don’t do well in school, but also those who for all intents and purposes appear to be successful.

In schools, a Fixed Mindset in students can lead them to believe either that they don’t need to learnanymore or that they can’t learnanymore. Both dangerous mindsets in environments that are all about learning! I would also argue that some teachers feel like this.

Don’t believe me? Think about your colleagues differing approaches to implementing new strategies in the classroom, the uptake of technology in teaching, their attitudes of professional development days etc. Think about their mindsets with regard to the classes they teach? The comments they make.
However, according to Dweck, those in a Growth Mindset understand regardless of their abilities and talents – whether they be superstars or struggling – they have the potential to improve, do things differently and see the benefit of sharing their experiences and time.

But more than that, a Growth Mindset is essential if we are to see the real benefits of any of the more obvious interventions and strategies. For example, a peer coaching approach with staff – one of the most powerful strategies for change and improvement – only has impact if those involved are open to challenging and improving themselves and their craft.
In a Growth Mindset, individuals are concerned in improving, for the sake of improving. Not for the sake of recognition. They take on feedback in a constructive fashion as opposed to seeing it as criticism. Growth Mindsets enable us to recognise and celebrate the successes of others rather than feel threatened by them, and importantly, those in a Growth Mindset actively seek out challenges rather than expend their energy trying to avoid them.

However, having said all this, we must understand that there are many nuances with regard to Mindset. Dweck herself states that nothing in psychology is “absolute,” so we need to be judicious in the way we approach mindsets in school, and educators need to embrace the research that is already published as well as that currently being undertaken. For example, it should not be seen as “bad” to hold a fixed mindset, and telling kids to “never give up” may well serve as poor advice. “Don’t give up too soon” might be better.

Perhaps you could take a moment to reflect on your own mindset? What is something that you would love to do, but until this point, you have always had a list of reasons as to why you couldn’t do it? Assuming it’s still feasible to do, learning to play the guitar, write a book, learn a language, what’s stopping you?

Even though you would love to do it, have you given up too soon because of your fixed mindset?
Dan Haesler –

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The author

Dan Haesler works with organisations around issues of engagement, wellbeing, mindset & leadership. As well as schools, he has consulted with government education projects, corporate business, The Black Dog Institute and other not-for-profits. Dan is an international keynote speaker and presents alongside the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Sugata Mitra and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Dan is passionate about equality in education and engaging our hardest to reach children and communities.

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