Here's the truth: Growth Mindset is NOT easy to teach.
And…things in our classroom OFTEN flop.
But…in true growth mindset fashion…
I didn't let the failure keep me down. I tried everything!
Over the years, I've learned what works and what doesn't work.
What to say and what not to say.
Whether you've been encouraging a growth mindset in your classroom for a few years or you've just started…
I am going to share with you some tips that have helped me!
But here's the thing, I am not an expert. I wish I could say that Carol Dweck and I go way back and chat about mindset over coffee regularly. I wish Jo Boaler was on my speed dial. What I am trying to say is that what works for me may not work for you. However, I've shared these before and people do find success.
Tips that are useful when encouraging a growth mindset!
Tip #1: Don't introduce the term “fixed mindset”
Well, at least not right away.
In my attempt to teach and encourage a growth mindset…I also told my students about a fixed mindset. But all my students heard… were new labels to categorize themselves under. They either had a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. All the term fixed mindset perpetuated was the notion of another label. Another negative label!
Here's an example “Oh John, you can learn how to subtract with regrouping. Don't have a fixed mindset about it. Let's give it another try.”
What did John think after I said that?
Did he hear any encouragement? Or “you can learn?” Or “let's give it another try?”
NO WAY. All he heard was, “Here's another thing you aren't doing. Don't have a fixed mindset.”
What to do?
You can still encourage plenty and guide students to change their mindset.
- You can teach them about mindset…. how we all view things from a particular perspective or mindset
- Our past experiences create the mindset we have
- We might have one mindset now, but our mindset can change
- We CAN change our mindset
Here's what I should have told John.
“Oh John, I see you are working on subtraction with regrouping. From your reaction, I can tell you're not excited. But the more we practice, the more connections your brain will have. You might think it's not easy, but we aren't giving up. I'm going to help you until you believe you can do it. Because I know you can.”
A combination of positive affirmations and brain talk (more on that below), over time, will change your students' mindset.
Tip #2: Teach them about their brain!
Children do not study the brain.
Ok… most adults do not study the brain either.
But those that do… have so many exciting things to share about how the brain works and how children learn.
And if we take the time to teach our students about their brain when starting a growth mindset classroom, they will begin to change their mindset about learning and challenges.
- The brain is made of cells and tissues which means our brain can grow and change.
- The brain controls everything you do, think, feel, even dream!
- Things we are good at require little brain energy. Skills we want to improve require more brain energy. (Example: Walking and talking is easy now, but there was a time in our life that it took a lot of energy to learn to do.)
- We can strengthen our brain and learn to do new things through effort and practice!
- Just like lifting weights makes your muscles stronger, trying new things without giving up strengthens your brain.
- Your brain learns from mistakes!
I found that the more brain nuggets I repeat to my students, the more they internalize them, and begin to change their mindset
Tip #3: Encourage Mistakes/Risks/Challenges
Our brains learn from our mistakes! I believe mistakes should be celebrated as often as achievements!
Let me tell you about Sarah.
Sarah was a second grader in my class. Super bright! She loved school and was always a delight. She loved showing me how much she knew. If I taught a lesson and she already knew what I was teaching, she'd be the first to raise her hand to give me the answer.
…whenever given a choice to do a challenging problem…something that would require effort, she would shy away from it.
She didn't want to feel “not smart” or for me to perceive her as “not smart.”
She wasn't willing to make a mistake for fear of not succeeding.
It was obvious that she had a fixed mindset.
Let's think about that for a moment… it goes back to the brain thing.
If a student finishes their work fast and it was easy, then that student DID NOT LEARN ANYTHING. The credit doesn't go to your fabulous teaching it goes to that student's brain. His/her brain already knew what do to. It required little brain energy.
Push your students to go beyond what is easy for them to grow! Have them take risks and challenges.
Here is where embracing mistakes come in…
Because if it's not easy, chances are, they will mess up…. they will make mistakes.
Maybe lots of them!
However, if mistakes are viewed as good things that HELP OUR BRAIN GROW, then your students won't mind making mistakes.
Looking at mistakes as good…is definitely changing their mindset.
Sarah left my class that year… a whole lot more confident in making mistakes. Her self-talk by the end of the year was soooo different than how we had started the year.
Tip #4: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
When starting a growth mindset classroom, mention everything more than once!
- Talk about the brain all the time.
- Remind them to embrace mistakes all the time!
- Share how effort helps them overcome a hurdle all the time!
You get the pattern….
…the more we reinforce the message of a growth mindset…the more our students will begin to have a growth mindset. The words we speak will start to become truth to them, and they will naturally begin to grow their mindset.
Over time you will notice that the messages you are sharing with your students will become a part of what they say too. And that is when you know that it's starting to work.
It might take time starting a growth mindset classroom but it is worth it when you see what a difference it makes in the mindset of your students!