As a young man I had the opportunity to attend the Junior Leader’s Training Program at the base of the Grand Teton Mountains. The founder of this program was a former Navy Captain who created a motto for this program; it was simple, but profound and made an impact in my life. The motto is “Can Do, Will Do, Have Done.” These words have helped shape my mindset and helped me gain determination in accomplishing things that I set my mind to. I came away from that program with a new outlook on life, if I work hard and dedicate myself I can accomplish any goal I set my mind to.
I did not realize it at the time, but I was learning a process called growth mindset. The term, growth mindset, refers to the belief that abilities can be developed and honed in though dedication and hard work. The opposite is a fixed mindset; this is the belief that you are born with a level of talent and intelligence that really can’t be changed. This has been a topic of study by Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. These two mindsets play a role in many aspects of successful living. For example, someone that has a growth mindset takes on challenges as an opportunity and embraces them. The fixed mindset has a tendency to avoid challenges. When presented with obstacles a growth mindset will persist; the fixed mindset will give up.
Carol Dweck discussed the two different mindsets during a TED video called The power of believing that you can improve. One example she gave was a group of 10-year-old students were given problems that were slightly too hard for them. She wanted to see how they would cope when challenged. The 10-year-olds that had a growth mindset enjoyed the challenge and worked hard. The 10-year-old students with the fixed mindset felt they had failed and because of that, it was catastrophic for them. Future studies on the fixed mindset have shown students would, on similar tests, not study harder to improve but, instead, would try to cheat on future testing or after failing they would search out someone who did worse on the test so they could feel better about themselves or they would run away from difficult situations.
So, the question we should have as parents, community members and educators is what type of children are we raising? Ones with a growth or fixed mindset and what can we do to create a growth mindset in our children? First of all, we have to praise wisely; don’t praise intelligence or talent. Instead praise the process they engage in, their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance and their improvement. It can be explained in the following way: Let’s say we have two different students who were tasked with solving the same difficult puzzle. The first student you praise their hard work and dedication after completion. That student walks away with the thought process they can do difficult things. The second student, you praise them by telling them they are so smart and intelligent and that is why they were successful in solving the puzzle. The next time, you have these students and allow them to select a puzzle to work on, the first is more likely to select a difficult puzzle as they know they can succeed with difficult tasks. The second student is more likely to select an easier puzzle as they want to succeed easily so they do not disappoint others regarding how smart they are and how easily it came to them.
Second, we need to encourage our students to try difficult things, push them to do difficult things, help them know they can challenge themselves. Don’t shelter children from working hard, encourage them to work hard and find the joy of accomplishing difficult things and then, reinforce their hard work and dedication with praise.
So, are you willing to change your mindset, are you willing to help your student change their mindset? You and your student “can do” difficult things. They “will do” those difficult things as you continue to praise their efforts and perseverance. If you do this they will start to feel the joy of “have done” and will continue to challenge themselves in life in order to accomplish their goals.
Principally Speaking is a monthly article, contributed by principals from Escalon Unified School District sites, throughout the school year. It is designed to update the community on school events and activities.