My Fixed Mindset
As a kid, I was taught that I was who I was and there was little to be done about it. I was not upset about that at the time. I felt like I was smart in elementary school and had good grades in all my classes. I saw some of my friends doing better than me and some doing worse, but it did not really affect me until my 8th grade year and things changed because of one class, or so I thought.
It was 8th grade algebra that changed my thoughts about learning and about who I was as a student. It was no secret that math was not my strongest subject, but I started algebra in 8th grade, and I went from okay grades to failing in a hurry. I did not get it and the teacher moved very quickly through the material. We had a textbook and she would write on the board each day which problems we would do (evens or odds). She would give a few examples and expect us to know what we were doing from there. After a few weeks of struggling and not really receiving any help, I reached out and asked the teacher about tutoring. I was hopeful when I went into tutoring that first day. My hope was quickly squished by more problems assigned on the board and once again I had very few examples and no personalized help.
This was the point when the fixed mindset crept in (though I did not know what it was at that time in my life). I suddenly felt like I was just terrible at math and that I was a failure. It affected all areas of my life because if I was terrible at math, surely, I was not good at the other things I tried to do. I was 14 and that struggle with math lead me to a dark place where I no longer had value as a student. My mindset and my teacher's lack of concern had shattered who I was, but thankfully this is not where the story ended.
After the first six weeks of school I received my first ever failing grade. My mother who was already worried about me acted on my behalf and hired a math tutor for me. I was so embarrassed and felt so dumb that I did not even want to go. I am glad that I did though. I met with my tutor, Mrs. Allison, who was a teacher by day and private tutor by night and thought "You sure have your work cut out for you!". After my first session, I knew something was different about her approach. She did not assign problems, there was no textbook. She walked me through problems based on what we were learning in class at that time. She let me try things, always having me explain to her why I was doing things a certain way. It felt like she was on my side, and not only that, she made me feel like it was okay to get things wrong and then fix them. Long story short, she met me where I was and after a few months of working with her I turned a corner and started to understand algebra. After all these years I still remember how she helped me through one of the roughest times in school I ever experienced. I am so grateful for her to this day and after reading Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, I now know Mrs. Allison had a growth mindset.
The Importance of the Growth Mindset
I will be completely honest here, even after the happy conclusion to my tale of algebra failure and my first encounter with a growth mindset I still stumble and fall into a fixed mindset on a regular basis. The question I have been asking myself lately after reading Mindset is why is this important to me? Looking at it from a personal perspective I can see why a growth mindset is important to me. I have fixed mindset tendencies in a few areas including my teaching. There is one area that I have found a consistent growth mindset though, my workouts.
I am a bit of a gym junkie. I have been a long-distance runner for many years and took up boxing a few years ago. Throughout the past 25 years or so, I have experienced difficulties with running and working out. Each time I hit a plateau or start slacking off in my workouts, I can think critically about the causes and pick myself up and start moving forward again. I have noticed that when I box, I am open to the criticism from my coaches and I apply what I learn from them. In this area I have a growth mindset and it has made a dramatic difference in my workouts and my motivation to keep going and keep getting stronger.
You would think that this would translate to all areas of my life, but so far it has not until now. I have really started to examine the voice in my head and have been able to find my fixed mindset voice and where I hear it most often. The fixed mindset for me comes most often with my job and with my relationships. I hear the negative self-talk and now that I know what it is, I can start to change it. Part of me was still on the fence about the need to change a fixed mindset until recently.
After reading Mindset and watching multiple videos and reading articles related to the growth mindset, I can see just how life changing it can be. I can see how a person with a growth mindset not only grows but can better adapt and roll with the punches of life. As a teacher I can see its importance for my students. I see that same type of struggle and shutdown that I once experienced in middle school on the faces of the kids I now teach. I want to be their Mrs. Allison and give them a reason not to give up. I want my students to know that failure is not the end, nor does it define them. I want my students to become resilient and follow their curiosity wherever it might lead them, and I want them to know that they may not know how to do certain things yet, but they can still learn.
My Plan to Incorporate a Growth Mindset
The growth mindset is something I am still learning but I want to start incorporating it into my school with my students and colleagues. This is a lofty goal which will require me to have a consistent growth mindset for myself. This is the perfect time to start working on this. It is fresh on my mind so I can bring examples to my students and my colleagues as well as give them access to new growth mindset research and examples as I find them.
I plan to begin by helping students and colleagues find their fixed mindset voice. I can give examples of how I found it for myself and give them examples from the research to help them move into step two of making a conscious choice to look at the fixed mindset objectively and make a choice to change it. I expect resistance to this in the beginning, but as more of my students and colleagues begin to see the research on the growth mindset, I think they will become more open to it.
Once my students and colleagues begin to understand their own fixed mindsets and how to start making a choice to change, we can move into changing those negative fixed mindset thoughts into growth minded ones. This is where being open about my own experience with the fixed and growth mindsets will be critical. Speaking from experience, hearing someone else talk about their own experiences with fixed and growth mindsets has had such a tremendous impact on me. I want to have open dialogues with students and colleagues about my own struggles and how I overcame them, and I hope as we move forward they will share with me their struggles and the "ah ha" moments they experience.
Finally, as we move into the fourth step of taking action, I plan to do some goal setting for myself and to help my students and colleagues set goals for themselves. One part of my plan is to have goal setting workshops with both students and colleagues as we go through this process together. The power of yet will be part of my plan throughout this process. It is the fastest way to reframe those fixed mindset thoughts, and if I use it with students and colleagues I think it will catch on quickly and could be a game changer for many of them as they work towards a growth mindset. The key to this plan lies with me and my own mindset. I will not only need to talk the talk; I will have to continue to walk the walk if I want this to be successful. I know I will run into complications along the way, but I am up for a challenge and the positive impact the growth mindset will have on both my students and colleagues will be worth the effort.