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debunking myths: growth + fixed mindset

April 20, 2017 , , , , , ,

I am working on my presentation for the Year 12 Lecture Series at Pulteney Grammar School where I teach. It’s a series of talks presented to Year 12s from members of the Pulteney community; teachers from all the different sub-schools, support staff, and community members. I love the idea, and have put my hand up to present again since its inception last year. I have also done the usual “OMG-what-have-I-signed-up-for-these-are-freakin-Year-12s!” dance, thus I am conscientiously working on my talk these holidays while I have functioning brain cells and some coherence to my ideas.

And I have arrived at some interesting myths that I’m thoroughly enjoying pulling apart and debunking, alongside what I know to be true in my experience as a teacher.

So, demystifying some myths about growth + fixed mindset, let the conversation begin!

MYTH: Growth mindset is akin to a Disney movie, all warm and fuzzy. It’s all about encouraging student to just try their best and rewarding the effort, not the outcome. Everyone gets a certificate of participation in the Game of Life.

MY UNDERSTANDING: Growth mindset is the highest form of hard-assery that you can possibly get. While growth mindset relies upon the “try” muscle, and for a learner to understand that they need to practise their skills to reconsolidate learning, REAL growth mindset asks the learner to know their skills set well, be vigilant on resting on past successes, and to call BS on any half-arse efforts. Growth mindset is KNOWING your skills and achievements, and being willing to look for the next logical step in learning. It’s exhilarating, never-ending, and sometimes quite relentless. But always, ALWAYS satisfying when done right.

MYTH: Fixed mindset is bad, and you’re doomed if you find yourself in this mindset.

MY UNDERSTANDING: Fixed mindset is just that, a way of thinking + learning. Thinking and learning is as mobile as you allow it to be; the first and most important step is awareness of how you learn, that you may monitor how you respond to new information, failures, and even successes, to interpret which way you think and how to adapt to a more growth mindset approach.

MYTH: Fixed and growth mindsets are just learning tools.

MY UNDERSTANDING: Fixed and growth mindset are an insight into your sense of self-worth, and how valued you believe yourself to be independent of your achievements. For someone who is working from a place of strong self-worth, it is almost instinctive that they get curious about the world around them and want to learn. They engage with new experiences knowing that any mistakes they make in learning and life do not diminish them, that if they make a mistake, they are still exactly the same worth and value at the end of the day. So my biggest challenge in teaching students to adjust their mindsets and to become brave in their learning actually stems from having a healthy sense of self-worth, not a learning and mindset problem, to begin with.

MYTH: People who are embedded in fixed mindset can’t have fun.

MY UNDERSTANDING: It doesn’t matter whether you find yourself embedded in growth or fixed mindset; you can have fun in your learning. Growth mindset means that you are not defined by your learning, and that your sense of self-worth is independent from your achievements. Growth mindset also means that your learning is unfixed in every capacity, and that you have the opportunity to affect and change your skills. Fixed mindset can be innately playful and creative, it just limits your sense of self worth when you come up against struggle and failure, and therefore you end up limited yourself.

MYTH: Fixed mindset people are not spontaneous, and cannot adapt to new circumstances.

MY UNDERSTANDING: I think that people from both mindsets can be incredibly accommodating and adaptive. It’s just at what personal cost, stress level, and outcome at the end of the day? If you look at at fixed-mindset learner who knows they have to study in order to obtain a good mark to reiterate their sense of self-worth, they will adapt to whatever strenuous conditions are required to get that result. They can be incredibly creative and versatile, and have a wonderful time doing so. And if they get the result they are after, their sense of self-worth is verified. However, if they fail, they not only have their sense of self-worth shaken, but also their learning, skills associated with that step in learning, motivation, drive, and personal optimism. Someone in growth mindset will still feel the disappointment and failure just as keenly, but will figure out new ways to adapt and adjust their way of thinking. They are not permanently damaged or sidelined by a disappointment, and their sense of adaptability is still genuine and intact.

MYTH: Failing when you are in growth mindset doesn’t hurt as much.

MY UNDERSTANDING: Failure hurts just as badly no matter what mindset you are in. Being in growth mindset doesn’t magically cushion you from life’s disappointments, you poor choices, or unexpected events. Life is certainly not easier, and mistakes suck just as badly. But someone in growth mindset has the healthier skills set to get out from underneath failure and disappointment; they know that while they feel bad right now, they will inevitably want to examine where they went wrong so that they can improve. And they can do all this because they are not defined by their failure, they are (eventually, after the dust settles) made curious by their failure and their desire to learn wins out.

What do you think?

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