reflections on mindset

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As promised, I am back again with something other than a meal plan! In this post, I want to talk a little bit about mindset. As part of my ongoing professional development, I have taken a few online courses in the past couple years, with recent ones having to do with advanced learners since my school has such a high population of them. I’m in the last course for my county endorsement for teaching advanced learners (yay!), and this one is all about growth mindset and best practices. I was especially excited when I signed up and found out that the main resource for the class is the book Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. It had been on my to-read list for a long time and I bought a copy over a year ago, yet somehow being forced to read it for a class was what it took to actually open it up!

I talked about this idea a little bit in this post where I outlined my constant fear that while I am good at a lot of things, I am not good enough at anything in particular. I’ve come to a couple of realizations about this – 1) that I don’t have to be perfect all the time at everything I try, and 2) if I want to improve at something, all I have to do is work at it. That is something I’ve struggled with my whole life. I am a classic perfectionist. I didn’t think I was good at any sports, so I quit playing them as a teenager. School related stuff was never very difficult for me, so I just assumed that if I didn’t excel at something right way, then it wasn’t meant to be. This mindset followed me into my adult life, manifesting itself in lots of different ways. I wasn’t great at ice skating, so I stopped taking lessons. (Actually, I was terrified of falling and breaking something or cracking my head open, but that’s a different story altogether.) As I mentioned in previous posts, I have a ton of random craft supplies, but rarely follow through with a project. I don’t really do competitive things, and pretend I don’t care if I’m not the best at something, to avoid feeling like I tried something and failed.

Enter Mindset and Dr. Dweck’s research. Holy crap, you guys. It makes so much sense. I grew up with a fixed mindset, thinking that intelligence or aptitude at something, whether it be academic, artistic, or otherwise, is pretty much predetermined and some people just have it while others don’t. I knew I was a “math person” (which there isn’t such thing as, by the way), and didn’t have to try very hard to do well in school. I was alright as an artist, but wasn’t particularly talented so I didn’t think it was worth pursuing. I was “bad at” every sport I ever played, so I figured that was just something I had to accept. Here’s the problem, though. Having that mindset is what made all of that true. I didn’t try, so I couldn’t fail… but I couldn’t succeed either. I try so hard not to ask myself “what if?” often, but it is hard not to imagine the things I could have done if I had a growth mindset growing up.

A growth mindset is the opposite of a fixed mindset – it is the belief that you can improve your abilities through effort and hard work and lots and lots of practice. I just finished reading Chapter 3 of the book, and Dr. Dweck talks about a bunch of people who are famous for being “geniuses” or “prodigies” of something, whether it be music, science, art, or something else. These people weren’t just born “smart.” They worked their butts off to get to that level. Think of a world-class athlete. How many hours are they dedicating to practicing and improving? More than I could ever even imagine!

While the list of takeaways from only the first three chapters of the book could be another long post on its own, there was one thing that stuck out to me that I am going to start using in my interactions with my students, as well as other children I see on a regular basis. Praise. Surely, we want to praise kids for doing things well. What do you praise them for, though? Is it for “being so smart?” Or is it for working hard and putting in the effort to succeed? Dr. Dweck talks about a research study where groups of students who performed similarly on an assessment were praised for either effort or ability. The ones who were praised for effort ended up not only performing better on future tasks, but were also more receptive to challenge. It’s definitely something to think about, and is something I’ll be keeping in mind this week.

Okay, I am done rambling for now, but will be continuing to talk about this in the future. Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions or ideas I can incorporate next time. I highly recommend the book (if you couldn’t tell), and would love to discuss it with anyone who has read it or wants to read it! Thanks for reading, and have a fantastic rest of your week!


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