Getting messy with mindsets

By no means do I think that I have ever been (or ever will be) the “smartest” person in any class I have ever taken. I think this fact has actually made me quite fortunate as a learner. In high school I knew, without any wavering, that if I put forth effort, I could grasp even the most challenging subjects (specifically, at that time, math and physics for my brain). I remember looking at the 86% printed on my final report card in Grade 12 math, beaming from the inside out, knowing that it was earned through hours of sweat and tears with Ms. Tarr at her morning extra-help sessions. My success was directly linked with my effort.

So it is no surprise to me (or anyone who knows me) how quickly I took to Carol Dwek’s work on growth mindsets. I took to this book like a plant takes to the sun. Or the light to darkness. Or a struggling math student to an extra-help session. Okay. You get the point.

What Dwek’s research explains brilliantly is something that teachers, I suspect, have known intuitively for some time: effort and success go hand in hand. However, there are messages delivered at students (from teachers, parents, the media, their peers) that hint at the contrary. What Dwek points to with this book is how important it is for students to learn about their own minds and simply by discovering that students with a growth mindset outperform those with a fixed mindset, they can improve.

So right now, the precious week of peace before the excitement of August PD starts up, before the winds of planning and meetings and timetables sweeps my focus to other affairs, I wanted to articulate my intentions for this year of learning and growth ahead.

This year, I will investigate how to foster an academic / growth mindset in my grade 7 students. 

While I have some ideas about “sub-goals” or ways to move towards my desired destination, first I think I need to answer these questions for myself:

1) How could academic / growth mindsets fit into the positive psychology framework (something I’m curious to learn more about)?
2) What technology resources exists that could support the development of growth / academic mindsets?
3) What are other educators doing in their classrooms / school to embed this philosophy into their pedagogy?
4) I’ve read a bit about growth mindsets, I’m seeing people write about “academic mindsets”, but are there other mindsets that I should consider exposing my students to?
5) What would a best-case scenario look like in my classroom / my school after embarking on this year of action research?

Understanding the bigger picture is the only way I survive day after day as a teacher. Coming back to the reason why (I think) school exists, what my big goals are as a teacher, and even the purpose of “Middle School” as an entity at BSS help me see the forest for the trees, especially on those days that challenge me to my core. One of the 10,000 reasons why I am drawn to the work of Dwek, is because it so resonates with my ideas of the purpose of school. Yes, learning how to read deeply is important and certainly knowing how to read a map and have an understanding of our nation’s founding matters. Of course it matters! But if you don’t know how to learn, how can you realize your fullest potential? I hope that by really digging into mindsets this year, I will also be improving my students’ learning of social studies and grammar and all that other curricular goodness.

So, are you ready to dive in with me and get messy with mindsets?

About the Author
Passionate and curious about technology, smiles, special education, differentiated instruction, forests, graphic novels, accessibility, anti-oppression, and warm beverages. Can often be found laughing with young people and improvising songs on the spot. @teach_tomorrow

One comment on “Getting messy with mindsets

  1. Hey there,

    I just wrote a post on this topic from the perspective of a Learning Leader. My interest lies in the connection between Growth Mindset and Grit. I think that they are so closely linked in terms of how to foster them, and how to model them…

    I have some great resources that I used from last year – check out this link:

    They have some great instruments and strategies!

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