Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mindset green thumb

“How can growth-minded teachers be so selfless, devoting untold hours to the worst students? Are they just saints? Is it reasonable to expect that everyone become a saint? The answer is that they’re not entirely selfless. They love to learn. And teaching is a wonderful way to learn. About people and how they tick. About what you teach. About yourself. And about life.

Fixed-mindset teachers often think of themselves as finished products. Their role is to impart their knowledge. But doesn’t that get boring year after year?”
p. 201, Mindset by Carol Dweck.

Collegiate Renewal
asks teachers to be engaged learners in concert with their students, I have been thinking quite a bit about the implications of a fixed or growth mindset lately.

If you've got a fixed mindset and you get a bad grade you think:
  • I’m an idiot, failure etc. (the self is caught being bad and publicly exposed).
  • I have no life, its unfair, my teacher is mean (students learn that bad things are in the control of others).
  • I’m not putting time or effort into that. (if I am not good at something, I should stop doing it).

If you've got a growth mindset and you get a bad grade you think:
  • I need to work harder in that class, but I have the rest of the semester (making a mistake is something you can fix, not who you are. The solution lies in changing the circumstances or marshaling resources to get better).
  • Next time I will get help from my friends, or ask the teacher for extra help (if I am not good at things, I need to make a specific plan to learn more or do more. I like a challenge).

Clearly, we want our students to have a growth mindset if we want them to keep learning, and we hope assessment for learning will make a difference for them. Dweck argues that teachers play a critical role in nurturing the seedlings that are their students' mindsets.

The roots go even deeper than that. Teachers with fixed mindsets see the potential of a student as fixed; they predict what mark a student will have at the end of the class, and they see believe it is the job of the teacher to evaluate what students can do. Fixed mindset teachers impart what they know and and then test students on what they have learned. They believe assessment for learning and differentiation are a lowering of standards because performance is the most important thing. In a classroom with a fixed mindset teacher, it is important not to make a mistake, because everything is reflected in your grade and you need to get as close to perfect as possible. You should not take the risk of trying something that is hard - you should do what you know how to do.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it actually prevents learning. So a critical question for Collegiate Renewal is: How do we get teachers and their students to embrace a growth mindset?

Assessment for learning (Davies), delaying marking (Kohn), differentiation (Hume) - we've talked about them all. But for some teachers, the mindset the traditional education system remains a critical barrier.

Every year, my husband and I do a bunch of things to help our garden grow despite the harsh conditions of our Saskatchewan climate. We start seeds on our indoor grow table, transfer them to the greenhouse slowly, acclimatize them to the sun, and finally plant them in May. We'll have been growing things for 4 months before the 4 month gardening season starts.

I think we need to consider the transformative change of mindset in Collegiate Renewal the same way. Sprouting growth mindsets will be laborious, and even when it succeeds, we are going to take years to understand how to really teach with a growth mindset. We'll need to shelter it from the winds of public criticism and accountability, and slowly expose it to rays of deep engagement and real partnership with our learners.

Lots of times people ask me if all the work I do in my garden is worth the fresh produce I get in the end. I do really like the great taste, lack of pesticides and the enhanced nutrition when you eat seasonable vegetables off the vine. But mostly, I love to garden. And gardening, like teaching, is a wonderful way to learn. About our world and how it works. About what what we eat. About myself. And about life. In the end, I believe that our transformative change of mindset in Collegiate Renewal will bear fruit in the same way.


  1. And thinking with a growth mindset will help us with the comments that we give to students. I try to focus on the task when giving comments. So rather than telling my daughter, “You did a good job playing that piece on the piano,” I will focus on the practice that she did in order to gain that skill. “That sounds great! Do you remember how you were struggling with that piece at the beginning, and how hard you worked to make it sound this good? That hard work really paid off. What do you think it was that helped you improve so much?” I am trying to get her not to worry so much about how it sounds now, but how she grew in learning it. I am trying to give her a growth mindset.

  2. Want to read what other bloggers are writing and some follow up info?