I have to admit—a few years ago when I heard that the administration at my high school was encouraging staff to read Carol Dweck’s bestseller Mindset, I rolled my eyes. “Great,” I thought. ‘It’s just another buzzword and teaching fad we’ll be trying to implement for a year and then push by the wayside to make room for the next new teaching phenomenon. I mean, really? A self-help book? Why don’t I just watch an episode of Dr. Phil?” I’m not a person who likes to be sold things or ideas. If I want it, I’ll buy it or do it myself. And, at first glance, I didn’t see how this book would go any deeper than telling me: “Be more positive!” Little did I know that having a growth mindset is about so much more than an optimistic attitude.
Someone with a growth mindset believes that intelligence can be developed and, therefore, embraces challenges, persists when trying to overcome obstacles, sees effort as a means to success, learns from criticism, and finds inspiration in the success of others. On the other hand, someone with a fixed mindset believes that intelligence is unchanging and, consequently, tends to avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as fruitless, ignore constructive criticism, and feel threatened by the success of others.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am one of the most cynical people I know. I am definitely guilty of having a fixed mindset. Cynicism and sarcasm are parts of my personality and my sense of humor. What if I were to give it up and become—heaven forbid—a cheerful optimist? Being the cynical and sarcastic coworker who makes everyone laugh is fun, but after delving into Carol Dweck’s book, I realized that maybe mindset really does matter and that maybe my fixed mindset really was having negative effects—in front of my coworkers and my students, even when I’m far from any audience.
It has occurred to me that maybe a fixed mindset is not something I was born with and that mindset has the possibility to change as new situations arise. After reading Mindset, by no means am I now an ever-cheerful optimist, but I am realizing how small adjustments to my own thought processes can really impact what I bring to my career. As someone who has fought change and has become anxiety-ridden by challenges in the past, a growth mindset has made me willing to take on challenges at work that I never would have before:
- In January of 2016, I was placed on maternity bedrest due to some complications with my pregnancy of twins. With no applicants to be my long-term substitute, I was determined that my high school students would finish their trimester strong. I worked with my amazing administration so that I would virtually teach my classes twice a week (via Google Chat™) and meet with individual students once a week (via FaceTime®). The rest of the week, my students would work on lessons that I put together (video lessons, games, quizzes, notes, etc.). I could have simply said, “This is not my problem,” but for the next month, until a substitute was found, I showed my students that a little bump in the road is no excuse to throw your hands in the air. You look for a solution until you find one.
- Last fall, when my principal asked our department if we were willing to split up and take on another Spanish teacher’s schedule (she was on maternity leave, and no one applied to take the long-term substitute position—there is definitely a lack of Spanish long-term subs!), I could have said, “No.” With infant twins and a toddler at home, there were a million what-ifs and reservations floating around in the back of my head. But instead, I said, “Let’s do it!” I knew that I could rely on my coworkers and family to help me through the long days and tough schedule. It would be difficult, but instead of choosing to be terrified of the challenge, I chose to embrace it.
- This past spring, I took on my first student teacher. Before I agreed to the task of being her mentor and peer coach, I knew I had to approach the experience with a growth mindset. I was hesitant at first about the idea, as I did not want to look inadequate. What if she were a better teacher than me and I had nothing to offer her? I then quickly realized how great it would be to learn all of the tricks a fresh-faced college student had been taught in the last four years! We’d make each other better.
Developing a growth mindset isn’t easy. It takes hard work to intentionally embrace challenges, prioritize persistence, accept criticism, and find inspiration in other people’s successes. I have to consciously remind myself that people offering criticism are not jerks; they just want to help me improve. I also have to resist the urge to slow-clap when someone else’s achievements are being listed off (and I probably always will—I’m only human, after all). But, recognizing these tendencies and making efforts to change my own fixed-mindset patterns has made a big difference for me as a teacher.
So, I want to say thank you to my administration and Carol Dweck for “selling” me this idea of a growth mindset. I’m glad I fell for it—I’ve had some pretty outstanding experiences as a result! Are you focusing on embracing a growth mindset in your own teaching practice? I’d love to hear about how it has impacted you in the comments section below!
Looking to learn more about a growth mindset and how it can benefit your students as well? Check out this blog post on 5 Tips to Develop a Growth Mindset!
*These opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Independent School District 192.