With students now well into their learning routine, it is timely to raise again the concept of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. This concept is so critical to all types of learning in life, and applies to all of us, not just ‘students’. Today I presented this concept to our Senior School students at Assembly, which they should already be familiar with, and therefore served more of a timely reminder upon return to school.
As one example of this presentation, I suggested that students should not strive for perfection, rather for excellence. It is now well known that aiming for perfection stifles creativity and calculated risk-taking in learning, and inhibits a growth mindset. When we aspire for perfection, we have a fixed mental image of what that perfection may look like, whereas striving for excellence leaves open the possibility for continual growth; thus, the latter is much preferred. Critically, the notion of perfectionism rejects the value of making mistakes, while excellence embraces making mistakes as learning opportunities. The graphic below pinpoints some of the types of thinking in which we engage (and is best read across each corresponding statement, rather than reading down each list) and provides some indication of whether we mostly position our thinking as growth or fixed mindset.
As parents, and educators, we have probably all said to a child ‘you’re so smart’ at one time or another. This is far from ideal, because it very much promotes a fixed mindset, because we value their ‘intelligence’ as a fixed trait, rather than the effort applied, or strategies used. Naturally, it is more complex than I am articulating. However, at a surface level, by suggesting a child is smart we adversely influence their risk-taking in their learning because they don’t want to get something wrong and threaten the perception of being seen by others as ‘smart’ (which is the trait we told them we valued).
I realise I have mentioned this before, and I strongly encourage all parents to read Carol Dweck’s work, and others who write prolifically on this fascinating topic. There is still so much for us to learn as educators and as parents about the way we interact with our students and children as learners. If one or more of your children is in Years 7 to 12, ask them about this concept and initiate a discussion with them – it would be interesting to hear their thoughts.
As a brief sidenote, I was delighted with all our Year 7 to 12 students at our Assembly today, run by senior students, who clearly demonstrated empathy for others, support for peers, and encouragement to everyone to get involved in a range of school activities. Congratulations to all involved, as it reflects a healthy student culture and models to all students the important values we espouse as a school community.