BY PAT WERNER, HEAD OF SCHOOL
Back to School Night, September 15, 2016
Sometimes the less tangible aspects of education are the more important ones.
WMS students are encouraged (and expected) to make their own choices and decisions when appropriate. We value process over product, (even for older students when product also becomes important). We allow flexibility for children to work intensely in an area of interest. And we use learning strategies that sustain attention and promote self-discipline. We believe teaching students in the WMS way will nurture the confidence and resilience that will afford them success, not only in high school and in college, but will propel them for the rest of their lives.
Though it’s something we’ve been focused on here at WMS for 50 plus years, recently science has framed it for us as “Mindset.” It’s the point of view that we use to look at our intelligence or ability and establish our motivation to learn. How children see themselves as learners creates the mental environment that nurtures or stifles their effort when approaching a task.
About 10 years ago a Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, wrote a book called “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” that is well known in education circles. She describes two basic mindsets: Fixed and Growth.
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are simply fixed, static traits. They believe that talent—rather than effort—creates success. The trouble for these people is that when things don’t come easily, they have a tendency to quit. They may hide their mistakes and avoid asking questions for fear of not looking smart. And because of this they are never able to develop strategies for overcoming challenges and setbacks.
In a growth mindset however, individuals believe that intelligence is malleable and their abilities can be developed through effort. They equate success with hard work. They ask questions and see setbacks as opportunities to try new strategies. People with growth mindsets have a genuine love of learning and the persistence that is essential for great accomplishment.
I imagine many of you right now are going through some kind of internal checklist to figure out if you’re growth or fixed. But here’s the good news, your fixed mindset is not fixed. You can actually learn how to adapt the obviously-preferred growth mindset for yourself and help your children adopt it as well.
PRAISE THE PROCESS, NOT THE PERSON
It’s important to offer praise for initiative and persistence rather than for accomplishments. Children’s mindsets are shaped largely by messages they receive from parents and teachers. In one study, 5th graders were either given praise for their intelligence or for their effort after succeeding on a set of moderately-challenging problems. Later in the study, researchers found that students praised for their effort were more interested in challenging themselves and even performed better on another set of problems.
Research shows that parents can have a powerful impact on their childrens’ mindsets. The language you use and the actions you take show your children about what you expect. The way we praise our children can have a profound impact on their mindset. Research on praise and mindsets shows that when we praise children for being smart, it promotes a fixed mindset. It sends a message that their accomplishments are trait-based, and tied to something innate. In contrast, praising kids for working hard promotes a growth mindset. It sends a message that the child’s effort is what led them to success. For examples of process praise, click here to read “Say This, Not This.”
LEARN FROM FAILURE
It’s easy to want to sweep your mistakes under the rug in front of your kids—especially as parents, when all you really want is to be the best parent possible. But when you speak candidly about your own mistakes, past and present, with your children you are helping them realize that mistakes and failures are a natural part of life.
The second part of this is to actually allow your child the opportunity to fail. As Jessica Lahey, author of “The Gift of Failure,” explains, failure “makes children independent thinkers and doers who can cope with the ups and downs of life.” When children don’t experience failure, they never have the opportunity to solve their own problems.
I think we can acknowledge that (1) we’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, (2) we will probably always be, and (3) if we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to stay in touch with our fixed-mindset thoughts and deeds as well. Watch for our mindset triggers: Do we become defensive or angry when given corrective feedback? Are we envious or threatened when others can do things that are hard for us?
We need to keep working through these. I admit it’s not easy, but it can be done…if you have to have a growth mindset about developing a growth mindset. Developing a growth mindset is a journey we are all on together, but one that has great benefits for our children as they develop.