Growth Mindset for Teachers

Over the past couple of years I have had several conversations with members of our school community about the idea of Fixed Mindsets vs. Growth Mindsets.  I previously shared a video featuring some of the findings of Carol Dweck.  In those conversations and in that video, the discussion is framed around how to help our students to develop a growth mindset.  What about all of us?  How do our mindsets impact the learning that takes place in our classrooms?  How might those mindsets impact our relationships with students?  As a review, I included a couple of graphics showing the difference between a Fixed or Growth Mindset. (I know the pictures below appear small – if you click on them, they will be easier to read).

According to Dweck:

In a fixed mindset students believe that their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits.  They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.  In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence.  They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.

What if you reread that statement, but you replace students with teachers?  Where do you fall?  Are your abilities as a teacher a fixed trait, or do you believe that your talents and abilities can be developed through effort?  Are you somewhere in the middle?  Draw a continuum with Fixed on one end, and Growth on the other.  Put an X where you think you are, and then ask if you are comfortable with that location on the continuum.  If the answer is no, how can you move that X to where you want it to be?

Yes, even you have permission to fail! Just make sure that you learn and grow from those failures!
Yes, even you have permission to fail! Just make sure that you learn and grow from those failures!

One of the things that concerns me most for teachers comes from the second sentence of Dweck’s definition above.  Is it your goal to “look smart all the time and never look dumb”?  What does that show our students?  If we tell them that they should see failure as a first attempt in learning, but never model for them what it looks like to fail and then improve, what message are we sending our students?  Do we really want to have an attitude of “do as I say, but not as I do”?

I’ll admit, it’s never fun to make a mistake in front of a group of students.  But let’s think about the concept of gradual release – I do, we do, you do.  We would never assign our students something they have never done before without modeling it and expect them to be successful on their first try.  Instilling a growth mindset in our students means we have to be willing to take risks, and sometimes fall flat on our face.  Then, we can model for our students what it looks like to get back up, dust yourself off, make an adjustment, and do better the next time.

If you look at yourself as a learner first, and a teacher second, you will recognize that this craft we carry out is something that we are all learning.  Every day that I’m here at school, I see someone doing something that I’ve never seen before.  When I scroll through my Twitter feed in the evening I often end up reading education related blog posts that provide me with new ideas or ways of thinking.  I see things my friends share on Facebook, and I get new ideas.  Hopefully you see your experiences here at school, and those outside of school, as something that you can learn and grow from as well.  Hopefully you’ll be looking for ways to shift your own mindset further down that continuum towards the ideas of growth.

Throughout this month I hope to use this forum as a way to look further at the Growth Mindset continuum, and in particular focus in on how our mindsets can affect our relationships with the students sitting in our classroom.

In the comments below, feel free to share with us a time that you may have fallen flat on your face.  What steps did you take to correct it?  What did your students learn from your failure?  Or you can share something that you plan to try that you aren’t quite sure how it will work out.  What are you nervous about?  What’s the worst that could happen?  I look forward to hearing from you!

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