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Educational Goals Without Plans are Just Wishes

There is much discussion on Twitter and LinkedIn about Carol Dweck’s great work on mindsets. Schools are putting up posters touting ways to develop a growth mindset. I have created a few graphics myself on building a growth mindset in students and teachers and the educator’s mindset.

Unfortunately, that’s often where the discussion both begins and ends. A workshop is conducted and possibly a book study is organized. We read that a growth mindset is the belief that the learner can develop his or her talents and abilities through hard work, good teaching and learning strategies, and help from others. On the other side of the spectrum is a fixed mindset – the belief that talents and abilities are unalterable traits and can never be improved. Those learners with a fixed mindset avoid risk and challenges and don’t push themselves to grow. It seems pretty straightforward. Growth mindset good – fixed mindset bad. The workshop ends with a commitment to foster a growth mindset in all learners and maybe a few slogans written on poster board to put up in the hallways. Mindset accomplished and now on to the next thing.

Of course, nothing is this simple. While students may exhibit a growth mindset in one area they might have a fixed mindset in another. For example, a student might be an accomplished musician and still feel she just isn’t good at math. The science fair winner doesn’t believe she can express herself in writing, and on and on. We need to teach our students – and ourselves – to address the fixed mindset and reinforce the growth mindset in all of us.

Dr. Dweck recommends four steps to build or reinforce a growth mindset:

Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice.”

When you are facing a new challenge does a part of you think:

  • What if I fail?
  • I don’t think I have the talent to do this.
  • I don’t think I should attempt this because I might look bad.
  • I knew I shouldn’t have tried this. I better back out and save face.

Recognize you have a choice.

When you are facing a new challenge, you need to make a deliberate choice. You can listen to your fixed mindset voice and back away from the challenge, or you can take action.

When you hear that fixed mindset voice, answer it with a growth mindset voice.

When you hear your inner voice telling you:

  • “If you try this you might fail,” summon your growth mindset voice and tell yourself, “Every successful person has experienced failure along the way. Failing is simply the first step in succeeding.”
  • “Are you sure you can do this? You might not have the talent,” tell yourself, “I don’t know if I can do this yet, but with time and effort I will be able to improve.”
  • “If you don’t try this you will protect yourself from embarrassment and loss of dignity,” tell yourself, “If you don’t try you have automatically failed. Where is the dignity in that?”

Take the growth mindset action.

The voice you choose to listen to is up to you. Over time, you can train yourself to hear and listen to the growth mindset voice. Practice hearing both voices and act upon the growth mindset voice.

We should work to bring out the growth mindset in our students and help them to learn the steps in moving toward a more consistent growth mindset. We also need to remember that as teachers we must model the behaviors we expect in our students. Every teacher should focus on identifying the fixed mindset voice in our head and intentionally choosing to counter it with a growth mindset voice.

Attending a workshop is a good way to see a new way of thinking and to become energized. Walking away from the workshop with a goal to improve without specific goals and an actionable plan is just making a wish, and simply wishing doesn’t make anything happen.

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