In response to a post on breakthrough thinking, reader Cathy Abler wrote:
I have consciously evaluated my thinking lately in regards to the fixed and growth mindset research. I find that when I force myself into what I would call an enhanced growth mindset (something that I would not typically think of doing), those are the times most likely to foster breakthrough thinking.
I responded: Perhaps the whole world can be divided into two groups – those who think our potential is fixed at birth or at least in our earliest years and those who believe that through effort and persistence we can learn and grow throughout our lifespans. It would be wonderful to have schools staffed by educators in the latter group. Fortunately, for those educators who don’t currently have a growth mindset, we believe that it can be cultivated.
A bit of context regarding “fixed” vs. “growth” mindsets: In the West we are more like to believe that academic success is a result of fixed intelligence. As a result, we value “smart students.”
A NPR story on how Western and Eastern cultures view learning included this explanation by UCLA Professor Jim Stigler: “’In Eastern cultures,’ Stigler says, ‘it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.”
Just as students can learn more effectively by applying effort, so too can their teachers learn to be more effective through hard work and dedication.
But if school leaders believe that teachers are born, not made, they are not likely to support the kinds of rigorous professional learning that’s necessary for all teachers to continuously develop their skills throughout their careers.
Principals and teacher leaders can:
1. Honestly examine their own beliefs about the role of effort in learning. Do you believe that student effort matters and that teachers can improve their skillfulness over time through hard work?
2. Engage with other leaders and staff members in a study of the work of Carol Dweck and others. What are the implications of this research for your school community and on your own unique role in it?
Please comment: What are the implications of the research in the area of fixed vs. growth mindsets for you in your unique role? How have you or could you engage your school community in considering its implications for the learning of both students and adults?