Hello Everyone: We are a week in, and the halls and classrooms are abuzz with amazing energy. The start of the year is always exciting, and this year is no exception.
As George mentioned in his letter home at the start of the year, we have been talking quite a bit about mindfulness, both among faculty and students. At the opening assemblies for both Middle and Lower School, we talked about what mindfulness means and how to practice it. Students were very insightful in their comments: one first grader even said, “It helps calm us so we make good choices”! It was lovely to see all of the students sitting calmly as I walked them through a short listening exercise. I am excited that they will continue to practice mindfulness in their classes.
I have been thinking a lot of another “mind” word: mindset. And I actually think the two words, mindset and mindfulness, are related. Both words relate to the belief that our brains have tremendous power to grow and change and that with practice and perseverance, we can overcome challenges, whether they are intellectual, emotional, or physical.
Carol Dweck, a well-known psychologist out of Stanford University, was the first to bring the idea of mindset to the forefront of education research. Through numerous studies, she determined that the idea of fixed intelligence can actually hinder growth. So if a child has been told constantly that he is not good at math, for instance, he develops a fixed mindset about this and will be more likely to give up than a child who believes that he can learn to get better at math. This makes sense, of course – confidence is often a key component of success. But where it gets interesting is that it works the other way as well – if a child has been told constantly that she is good at math, she, too, develops a fixed mindset about her ability. And when faced with a challenge, she may become easily frustrated because she thinks, “I’m supposed to be good at this, which means it shouldn’t be hard. If it is hard, that must mean I’m not good at it, so I’m not going to try.” Or she may think, “I’m supposed to be good at this, so if it’s hard, that must mean that the teacher isn’t teaching it the right way.” Both of these thoughts reflect a fixed mindset.
We are lucky to live in a time where a great deal of brain research has been done, and we now know that the brain is amazingly plastic and has the ability to change, even into adulthood. Understanding this and recognizing that we have the ability to learn and grow in all areas is a growth mindset. Yes, certain topics may come more easily to us, but we should not label ourselves “good at” or “bad at” anything. Let’s go back to those two math students. Let’s say that instead of being told they were good or bad at math, they had instead been praised when they demonstrated effort in solving a problem. Or they were given specific feedback, as in, “I really liked the way you took the time to model that multiplication problem. It shows that you understand why six times seven is 42.” These students get the message that they can succeed with continued effort, and they are less likely to give up than students with a fixed mindset.
So, in an effort to be mindful about mindset, I’m going to continue to work on providing feedback to students that promotes a growth mindset, and I’m encouraging teachers to do the same. I ask that you also do this at home. Sometimes as parents, we think we are being helpful when we say to our kids, “It’s okay that you are a bad speller – I was a horrible speller when I was a kid!” Yes, this may reassure them that they are not alone in their struggles. But at the same time, it promotes a fixed mindset that is likely going to make it more difficult for that child to persevere and develop strategies for spelling successfully.
I recently came across this great resource regarding mindset and am excited to share it with you. I am going to use these toolkits both as an educator and as a parent. I’m excited to continue to share what I learn with you, and I hope you will do the same! https://www.mindsetkit.org
Here’s to a wonderful year.