What’s your mindset?

I have a confession to make. I’m not perfect.

Shocker. I know. I had you all fooled.

And guess what? Neither are you.

But really, who wants to be perfect? Life would be so boring.

Now that we’ve faced the cold hard facts, let’s talk about improving ourselves and others around us (especially young children we are responsible for on a regular basis). In order to improve, you need to believe it can happen. Easy enough, right?

Not so fast.

Take a moment to read the following statements.

“I will NEVER do that!”

“I have never been a morning person.”

“I have always been bad at math.”

“She will never change.”

“He has always been that way.”

“He’s never been very smart.”

“I don’t see it that way.”

Sound familiar? These are all common remarks we make on a daily basis without much thought. We are making a point. We are stating what we believe are facts. So what’s the big deal?

These statements are examples of a fixed mindset. Individuals with a fixed mindset “accept the premise that we were born smart or not smart- able or not able- in a particular domain” (Differentiation and the Brain, pg. 26). Possessing a fixed mindset means you don’t believe you have the power to influence change. To change someone’s ability, effort, belief,  or even IQ. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s take a look at the other side of the coin. Individuals with a growth mindset “believe that while genetics might sketch out a starting point in our development, one’s own determination and persistence-in combination with persistent and determined support-are really what predict success”. (Differentiation and the Brain, pg. 26) Instead of the statements above, these individuals understand:

1. They CAN influence change within themselves and others

2. They are passionate about helping others reach their potential

3. It’s about helping others.  It’s not about a job, money, recognition or any other extrinsic reward. That’s just icing on the cake.

This isn’t something I’ve always been aware of (unfortunately). As I began to learn more about the importance of a growth mindset, I started to reflect on my time as a classroom teacher and the many behavior and classroom management issues  I faced. I  realized many of them were escalated due to my fixed mindset. If only someone would have taken the time to explain this to me maybe things would have been different. Maybe my first few years of teaching wouldn’t have been AS difficult as they were. I also thought about how my past interactions with family, friends and co-workers could have been different. There’s no use feeling bad about the past because I can’t turn back the clock. But I can learn from it. I can use my new knowledge to make changes moving forward.

I’m about to get really geeky with some neuroscience facts here so watch out.

Our brains are designed to change. The brain we are born with is not the brain we are stuck with. This is what is called “neuroplasticity“. As educators (and parents) we are shaping and changing brains every day. Here is the scary part- we can actually DECREASE the capacity of a child’s brain. Possessing a fixed mindset is dangerous to the cognitive development of young (and adult) minds.

So what are we to do?

I don’t have all of the answers. (I told you, I’m not perfect!)

I do have a suggestion to get you started down the right path. Take a good hard look in the mirror and make sure you have the right mindset going forward. Turn your beliefs (“But I’ve always been this way”) into what if’s (“What if I wasn’t this way anymore?”). When you look in the mirror, take some time to identify something you have always believed is a part of who you are (but deep down you want to change) and change it. Think about someone in your life (a student, child, family member, co-worker or friend) you’ve always struggled to deal with and think about how your beliefs (about them) and behavior (towards them) might be compounding the problem. What if you had the power to change it? (By the way- this is difficult to do without putting our ego aside and admitting we need to change. The ego can be a pesky little thing, so beware.)

Here’s an example of something I’m working on. I’ve always been the type of person that does not communicate when I’m upset. I clam up and give you the silent treatment. Just ask my parents, college roommates or my husband. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’ve always been that way. Over the past few years I have tried hard to let go of this nasty habit when I feel myself getting upset. I’ve read some books that have helped me effectively communicate what I’m thinking (Start With Why, Leading with Questions and What Got you Here Won’t Get You There are a few good reads if you are interested). One of the most interesting things I’ve learned along the way is that the area of the brain that contains emotion is separate from the area of the brain that contains language. So finding the words to express how we feel- especially when strong emotions (anger, love, frustration, sadness) are involved is difficult. This was a big ah-ha moment for me. Knowledge is powerful especially when you make use of it. Of course I still have my moments where I want to revert to the good old silent treatment, but I can tell I’m making progress and I feel much more comfortable talking things out when I’m upset. I still have a long way to go but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. I’m proud of myself for finally realizing I can change.

It’s important to talk to kids about this as well. They need to understand that their brains are constantly changing and developing. They need to understand they CAN do math, they CAN write a good essay, they CAN learn. If you want to see a child flourish, make sure they understand WHY they need to learn (or do) something. Always start with why. When learning something new, meaning always trumps sense. It needs to have personal meaning for the child. WHY do I need to know this and how does it impact my life and my interests? Take the time to make sure they connect the dots as to WHY they are learning it, and you will see motivation to learn you’ve never seen before. All learning in life is goal directed. We pay attention to everything biologically relevant to us. We learn things we want to learn because it’s in line with what’s important to us. If it does not have meaning, it doesn’t matter if it makes sense.

One last note. If you are not able to connect the dots as to WHY they have to learn it…..is it really worth learning in the first place? Saying you have to learn something “because it’s always been this way” or “because you’ll need this one day” is the perfect example of a fixed mindset. You’re better than that.

So on you go with your new fresh perspective. A growth mindset. If you’re still reading- THANK YOU! I would love to hear how you are going to implement this new knowledge. What beliefs are you going to challenge? What’s your “what if”?


2 thoughts on “What’s your mindset?

  1. Great post — I especially love the point that meaning trumps sense. The age-old “Why do I need to learn this” question of children is relevant and adults/teachers need to be able to answer it.

    I’ve been working on the same problem as you this year–putting words to emotions. It’s awkward at first, like speaking a new language, but becomes easier over time, and makes everything better.

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