At one of the many workshops I was able to attend this past school year, another teacher at my table was raving about a book she had read called Mindset, and how it had changed the way she talks to her students and children (specifically when praising their work). I added the name of the book to my long (and mostly ignored) To Read list and didn’t really think about it again until I was shopping for books to read this summer. I read over some of the reviews online, and despite it receiving somewhat mixed reviews, I decided to give it a go.
The central idea of the book written by Carol Dweck, is that there are two kinds of people, those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset.
Those people with a fixed mindset believe that their talents, strengths and abilities are DNA derived or just part of their destiny, and that they are pretty well fixed at birth. You will often hear these people say things along the lines of “Wer’e not very athletic in our family.” or when talking about their kid’s challenges, “He struggles with math, he gets it from me.” Often preoccupied with self-image, they can be hesitant to take on challenges for fear of failing. People of all levels of intelligence can operate with a fixed mindset. Even those labelled “gifted” or “talented,” can develop a fixed mindset, and avoid challenges for fear of not living up to their labels. Things have often come easily to them, so they are put off by hard work, and failure. Unless the outcome is guaranteed success, they view it as a waste of time and effort.
On the contrary, those with a growth mindset are willing to take on challenges head-on, and although they know their skills and talents are somewhat DNA derived, they view their intelligence and skills as plastic and malleable. They believe they can hone their skills and reach their full potential through repeated practice, perseverance, and trial and error. They are resilient in the face of failure, not afraid of hard work, and are more about self-improvement and less about self-image.
In general, while reading and reflecting, I couldn’t quite figure out with which mindset I operate, but by reading further I realized that most people’s mindsets (definitely mine) vary in different areas. Realizing this, I was able to pinpoint specific areas where I definitely operate with a fixed mindset (as mentioned a bit here) and those areas where I have adopted more of a growth mindset.
Throughout the book, Dweck mostly focuses on the importance of adopting, and how to adopt, a growth mindset. She delves into the power of having a growth mindset in a variety of areas such as sports, parenting, relationships, business, and academic achievement. While reading and reflecting on each chapter, naturally there were some that were of more interest to me, specifically those about teaching and parenting.
As adults (especially as parents and educators), we greatly influence what type of mindset our little people adopt, which consequently hugely impacts how they learn, the paths they take in life, and their ability to cope with failure and challenge. The chapters pertaining to teaching and parenting really made me reflect on my choice of words when praising my students and my own children, and the importance of praising their hard work and progress, versus praising the outcome. We so naturally tend to praise the outcome. “Wow! You got 10/10!” or “Good job, you didn’t get any wrong!” The danger in this, is that the child will start to believe that they have only done well if they have achieved perfection or made a minimal amount of mistakes. It leads more to a fixed mindset and doesn’t at all help to develop resilience. If instead, we praise the hard work and effort, it teaches them to develop the attitude to persevere no matter the challenges and roadblocks they encounter.
My sister and I put this into practice recently with our daughters who worked hard at swimming lessons this summer. We made a point of not talking about levels and passing, and focused more on progress and hard work. The only expectation was that they listen to the instructors, and swim their best on that given day. The shift from them wanting to always know if they were passing, to them just being content with working their hardest wasn’t instantaneous. At the beginning of the last session, my daughter Elsie didn’t want to continue as she was finding it hard. Luckily with a bit of encouragement she continued, and by the end of the last session, I was pleasantly surprised when she didn’t even ask me if she had passed. She was simply pleased with herself for working hard and learning new skills. My niece Charlotte also experienced the power of hard work. Despite having to repeat a level a handful of times, she stuck with it, made remarkable progress, and eventually achieved her goal.
As many of the less favourable reviews of this book stated, the writing was a bit repetitive and the ideas shared in the book were nothing new, but I still really found it to be a valuable read.
What I took away from the book:
- The inspiration to step outside my comfort zone and develop more of a growth mindset in certain areas (like starting a blog).
- A reminder of the importance of praising effort, hard work and progress versus outcomes and perfection.
- The importance of modelling failure and resilience in the classroom and with my own kids.