Maria Marsella Leahy
Educational Leadership College of Education
University of North Carolina Charlotte
Our last issue of Instruction Matters focused on self-renewal. Summer is, indeed a time for self-renewal, especially for educators. This summer I read a book that was recommended by a fellow doctoral student who is also a high school principal. Mindset – The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential by Carol Dweck, Ph.D, takes self-renewal one step further by discussing the importance of continually seeking knowledge and learning, having a growth mindset. Whether as a teacher, parent, administrator, or student, each of us benefits from having a mindset that focuses on growth. The growth mindset focuses on the idea that intelligence develops versus the fixed mindset which looks at intelligence as “static.” It may seem like a simple concept, but one’s mindset affects the way individuals approach learning, relationships, challenges, and the day-to-day events.
Dr. Dweck uses personal stories, years of research, and life events of athletes and famous figures to explain mindsets and how to use a growth mindset to reach one’s full potential. As educators, our goal is to do just that. Teachers support students to reach their full potential. Administrators lead to encourage teachers and staff to reach their full potential. The book goes beyond advice for us as educators but touches on overall growth as individuals. Dweck (2006), in a well-designed graphic summary (which she suggests copying and pasting to your bathroom mirror), outlines a growth mindset individual as one who looks at life events with a desire to learn and thus, embraces challenges, looks at setbacks as learning experiences, sees effort as the path to success, learns from constructive criticism, and finds inspiration in lessons from the success of others (p. 245).
To better understand the growth mindset, let’s compare it to the fixed mindset. In the field of education, we have all encountered students who just don’t try, those who, we know, have ability but lack motivation. These individuals often have a fixed mindset. Even “successful” people can have a fixed mindset as Dweck (2006) points out with her stories about famous individuals like the well-known tennis player, John McEnroe. McEnroe credited his victories to his talent; however, instead of looking at losses as lessons to improve, he blamed them on external issues like the weather or his racquet. He often displayed negative behaviors and had temper tantrums about his failures. Individuals with the fixed mindset look at intelligence or ability as unchanging, either you have the ability or do not. The fixed mindset individual’s focus is on “looking smart;” therefore, according to Dweck (2006), they avoid challenges, give up quickly, avoid effort, ignore constructive criticism, and feel threatened by the success of others (p. 245). Who knows how much better McEnroe could have been if he had a “growth mindset”.
This interesting thought-provoking book advises the reader about ways to change and hone mindsets in order to reach his full potential as well as how to inspire others to reach their greatest potential. Think about the mindset you want and the mindset you want to encourage your students and colleagues to develop. Before the busy school year gets in full gear, Mindset – The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential may be worth a quick read.
“Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people…change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.” (Dweck, 2006, p. 244)
Carol S. Dweck, a Stanford Ph.D, is a distinguished researcher who is known internationally as an expert on motivation and developing personal success. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard and has lectured worldwide.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.