I love a good professional development book over the summer and the year I joined up with some of my online friends to discuss the book Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck.
After I chose chapter 4 to write a reflection on, I thought “Why on Earth did I pick the chapter about sports? How am I going to relate sports to the classroom, especially since my knowledge of sports doesn’t go much further than my son’s little league team?
Well, I was pleasantly surprised when I began making connections from the situations being described on the very first page of the chapter. After all success on the field is not determined by one player, it is determined by the team. Just like in the classroom, a classroom is not successful only because the teacher is effective. It is only successful if the members of the classroom community work together as a team!
Natural ability vs. Learned Ability
Do you believe your student has a “natural” ability to learn? Or do you believe all students can learn? This is the difference between having a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
We would never want students to believe that they were unable to learn something, so it is important that we model using the growth mindset in the classroom (and in life).
In the stories Dweck shares of athletes in this chapter, she shares the same traits that sets the ones with the fixed mindset apart from the ones with the growth mindset. Surprisingly they closely relate to my belief of how all students can be successful in the classroom.
We need to exercise our minds. Successful athletes like Muhammad Ali was not a “natural” when it came to his physical boxing ability. He was only successful in boxing because he exercised his mind by studying his opponents. He of course trained in the ring but he spent most of his time studying what he believed his opponent would do in the ring. He learned his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Just like Ali, one way we can exercise our minds is to really get to know our students. We need to know their strengths and their weaknesses in all aspects of their lives in order to help them be successful.
Did they get a good night sleep? Did they have breakfast? What are their interests? What reading/math ability do they have? But most importantly, what mindset do they possess?
Another way we can exercise our minds as educators is to learn from our “competitors”. Dweck states that Marshall Faulk, a running back for the St. Louis Rams, was so successful in his game because “he never stopped asking why and probing deeper into the workings of the game”.
By asking questions about our own instruction and seeking out the answers from our colleagues we will exercise our minds, thus growing our knowledge. We can observe in other classrooms, attend professional developments, or participate in book studies.
In order for your students to be successful you must exercise your mind, really get to know your students, and constantly learn from our colleagues.
Good Character= Success
Dweck believes a person’s character plays a big role in their success on (and off) the field. Like athletes, teachers are dealt tasks all day long, some that even may seem impossible. We have a choice in how we handle these challenges.
Dweck tells the story of Jackie Joyner‐Kersee about how she pushed through her hamstring injury in her final Olympics and still earned a bronze medal. Jackie said that the bronze medal “was more precious than her gold ones” because she had overcome such a huge setback.
Dweck also tells the story of Billie Jean King, a professional tennis player, who said she only realized “a champion was: someone who could raise their level of play when they needed to.” after she lost the first two matches in the finals at Forest Hill, which she had originally taken the lead in both matches. She did not win that set but she learned a very important lesson and modeled true character by the way she overcame her loss.
These two stories immediately took me into the classroom. One thing I thought of was the dreaded day we received testing results. So many of my students show so much growth on these assessments but yet they are still “at-risk”. Jackie Joyner‐Kersee stated, “I don’t mind losing as long as I see improvement”. I think this is so important in the classroom. In order to model a growth mindset to our students, we must focus on their growth from where they were and not where we have to get them by the next assessment.
We also have to show them that we now need to make a plan to move us forward to our goal. Another thing I immediately thought of is how easy it is for me to beat myself up at the end of a difficult day. Mia Hamm said that “After every game or practice if you walk off the field knowing that you gave everything you had, you will always be a winner.” After beating myself up a bit, I try to remember all the things that went well that day and ask myself a very similar question “Did I do my very best today?” And even though I may have been slightly unprepared, a little off in my pacing, or used a tone I would have rather not, I can always answer yes to that question…I did my very best today and I am going to give even more tomorrow.
Remember showing character is about how we deal with situations we come encounter with, not how we act when everything seems right in the world. It is almost never easy, but in order to model a growth mindset to our students, we must think about our character both in (and out) of the classroom.