It’s about choice

Why should schools make Growth Mindset a priority? It’s an important question, and you won’t find the answer on social media.

We could talk about how students with a Growth Mindset tend to achieve higher grades. How they tend to persist longer at tasks. How they put in more effort, respond better to mistakes and feedback, and value the success of others. All of which is true, but in this blog, I want to talk about the bigger reasons why the development of a Growth Mindset should be a key educational goal.

We could talk about how a Growth Mindset helps shape the responses of people with depression. Psychologist Carol Dweck doesn’t suggest a Growth Mindset protects against depression, but she does point out that people with a Growth Mindset tend to respond more positively and proactively if they do become depressed. So, in a school context, where we are increasingly concerned with the mental health of our students, this might be a reason to make Growth Mindset a priority – but I think we can still do better.

In last week’s blog, I compared John McEnroe’s Fixed Mindset with Roger Federer’s Growth Mindset. I described how Federer’s growth-oriented Mindset allowed him to be more gracious in the way he approached tennis. That could be a good reason to work with Growth Mindsets – to help students become more gracious in the way they conduct themselves.

In an earlier blog, I explained how a Growth Mindset can be thought of as the Courage Mindset. The understanding that you’re capable of growth helps you develop the courage to take on challenges and respond positively to them. Developing courageous students could be another good reason to work with Growth Mindsets. But I think we can still do better.

A recent study by Stanford and Yale-NUS College in Singapore showed that a Growth Mindset increases your chances of finding a passion in life. A person with a Fixed Mindset believes their interests are a passive part of who they are – something to be found within themselves. On the other hand, someone with a Growth Mindset understands they can actively develop their interests. As a result, a person with a Growth Mindset tends to be more curious, seeking and developing their passions.

The same study also showed that people with a Growth Mindset tend to be more motivated when working through the “less exciting” parts of a task. This is in contrast with someone with a Fixed Mindset, who believes their interests are intrinsic and should provide limitless motivation, which is unrealistic.

Have you ever found that students lack interest in a new topic? The Stanford and Yale-NUS study found that a Growth Mindset might be helpful in this area, too. Someone with a Growth Mindset understands their motivation needs to be cultivated. This means they tend to express greater interest in new areas.

So, now we can add interest and motivation – alongside courage and compassion – to our list of reasons why we should make Growth Mindset an educational priority. But I think we can still do better.

Recall that someone with a Fixed Mindset believes their interests and abilities are part of who they are. They believe they are made a certain way, with strengths and weaknesses they have little, if any, control over. It’s natural that they seek to discover themselves. The question they ask themselves is: “Who am I?”

Once they “discover” the type of person they are, they look for where they fit in the world. They believe they are “cut out” for some roles but not others. There are some things they can do, but many things they can’t and will never be able to do.  As a result, their choices in life are limited.

On the other hand, someone with a Growth Mindset understands they can change their most basic characteristics. The person they are today need not be the person they will be tomorrow. They can develop new talents and abilities. They can grow and change.

This fundamental understanding gives them a better grasp of their choices in life. While someone with a Fixed Mindset seeks to find where they fit in the world, someone with a Growth Mindset chooses where they want to go. Instead of being the victim of their limited abilities and circumstances, they understand they can choose to develop their abilities and, therefore, master their circumstances.

Choice. Now that’s an educational goal that makes working with Growth Mindsets worthwhile!

We don’t come into the world destined to be a certain way. We have free will, and the choices we make determine the sort of person we become and the life we lead. It is part of our human condition that we are capable of significant change and growth.

In a very real way, a Growth Mindset is in part a measure of how well we understand our own human nature. Developing a Growth Mindset does far more than improve academic results. It helps students understand what it means to be human. Surely, that’s a good reason to make Growth Mindset a priority in schools.

 


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One Comment

  • Jacqui Dunbar July 11, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    Fantastic article James. One of my favourites. “Developing a growth mindset does far more than improve academic results. It helps students understand what it means to be human.” This a beautiful quote and captures the psychology of it as well. Developing my growth mindset has assisted me in learning a new instrument and changing the way I write assignments at university. Thank you for your article.

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