The Importance of Modeling Growth Mindset
I am a role model. It is also a core part of my profession (teaching) to mentor young people to become their best selves. A good approach to obtaining your best self is to practice lifelong learning and having a growth mindset. Both topics have come to the forefront of education and we are all scrambling to come up with new ways to integrate this into our lesson plans. One of the best and most authentic ways to integrate this is to live and breathe having a growth mindset. It is imperative that I practice what I want my students to take on.
What is Growth Mindset and Lifelong Learning?
Let’s start by defining each so we know what we are talking about here. Lifelong learning is about the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge. This knowledge can be in a professional, academic, or personal. A growth mindset, as popularized by Carol Dweck (2006), centers around one’s perception of one’s basic abilities and that it can be developed through dedication and hard work. Another way to look at it is that talent and intelligence are NOT fixed traits. It contrasts with the fixed mindset where these traits are fixed and one is just born with these abilities or not.
Why Model It?
You can probably already tell the synergistic nature of growth mindset and lifelong learning. By developing a growth mindset, you develop a love and a dedication for learning. Even through the hard times, ones that test your perseverance. With this in place, lifelong learning becomes a real achievable goal and a goal that can be sustained.
For us as educators, it is all about setting up the right environment, and leading by example is a great place to start. If I have a growth mindset and continually learn new ways to teach, new strategies for interventions, and other aspects that make me a more complete educator, the students will be expected to also take the challenge themselves. You cannot expect students to develop growth mindset and lifelong learning without first realizing it in yourself. Asking students to develop these traits just rings hollow, unless you have possess and truly understand the benefits of both.
Creating an environment where I lead with a growth mindset also makes the classroom culture change organically. The classroom begins to shift towards bettering oneself, towards collective performance, towards finding new challenges, and towards learning new things. It is contagious. You will find that once you set this environment up and begin to show the traits that someone with a growth mindset has, students will continue to improve and change to fit this new environment. Students are quite adaptable.
I want students to have something to aim for. By modeling the concept, students can visualise the value and importance of having both. It is oftentimes hard for students, or anyone for that matter, to reach a target they can’t see. By overtly showing my students how it is done they now have a proper reference point. This means telling my students, as often as I can, to go out there and make mistakes, to learn from your failures. It changes the language of the classroom, which in turn changes behaviour.
“Language actually shapes thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It produces fundamentally new forms of behavior.” — Lev Vygotsky
The journey is hard, however, and you will find that often you will be picking students up when they stumble from setbacks. During these times of hardships is when students work on their resilience muscles. The more opportunities students get to “bounce back” the more likely they will when the going gets much tougher. However still, some students may find it frustrating and thus will give up. It is our jobs then to place students in their Zone of Optimal Confusion (Arguel et al. 2016), a zone where the students are confused but engaged. Balance is key (if you push them too far they become frustrated and give up) and often you may only get one real shot at getting your students on board.
Ultimately the classroom is a give and take environment. You learn equally as much from students as they do from you. If you can push them to become better learners, more curious minds, and fill into their better selves, it only benefits your practice. As they question, it provides you with an opportunity to reflect on the choices and decisions you make in the classroom.
For I say ‘Bring it on!’.
Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006.
Arguel, Amael. Lockyer, Lori. Ottmar, Lipp V. Lodge, Jason. Kennedy, Gregor. Detecting Learners’ Confusion to Improve Interactive Digital Learning Environment, 2016.