What makes a difference?

I have been amiss at writing this last two weeks as I have had some time off and have not been in the habit. But that changes today. I have been cleaning and purging our house because we have some new furniture coming in. I have also been thinking a ton about my new job and making an attempt to be ready for it, if that is even possible.

I have been listening to Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success about the growth vs. the fixed mindset. It has me thinking a lot about my colleagues and the students I teach. I would venture to say that many of my Writing Lab students fall under the fixed mindset, that they don’t feel they will ever improve, that their struggles with writing are a manifestation of their intellect and therefore they won’t improve. I wonder, though, if many of my AP students hold the growth mindset. Those who come in for help definitely do, but there are a lot of students who simply give up and hope for the best.

Here’s what’s interesting, those students who give up more often than not are students who have been told since they were small that they have some kind of underlying talent. It is this very notion that their ability to write well is some kind of innate talent that kills these students’ motivation in the end. If they have to work at it, something must be wrong.

This then got me thinking about my own daughter’s experiences in organized sports. She does not have an innate talent towards any sports. She works hard and tries hard and always has. Her last soccer coach saw no talent in her, and therefore, bullied her, made her feel less than worthy to be on the team, and did not even work with her to make improvements. These actions based in the fixed mindset killed any kind of love for soccer that Maya was forming. She gave up midseason because this person clearly did not believe Maya could grow into a decent player.

Those coaches who do believe in the growth mindset are willing to work with their students, to help them improve. This has me wondering how many teachers I work with believe in the growth mindset.

When I was a kid, I did very poorly in school. I didn’t believe I was a student much less some kind of academic. I had no one in my life to coach me otherwise. Granted, I was a mess for a lot of different reasons at this point in my life, but I believe that if someone had reached out to help me grow, I may have done better as a student. It was my boss with the National Ski Patrol who first taught me about the growth mindset. In order to make it on the patrol, I had to improve my skiing on steeps and bumps that season. It is this person who believed that I could make improvement and worked with me until I got it who first taught me the power of the growth mindset.

  • What kind of world could we have if those of us who work with kids hold this mindset?
  • How might our students’ beliefs about themselves change?
  • What would it take to show students you believe they can grow into whatever they want to be?