Monday, April 4, 2016

Growth Mindset and Humans v. Dogs

This past summer I read Carol Dweck's book Mindset.  I found it not only to be incredibly beneficial as a teacher, but applicable to my own life.  When I think about how many challenges I have approached with a fixed mindset, thereby setting myself up for failure, I marvel at the fact that I was able to become a productive functioning adult at all!

In my classroom, student goalsetting has been something I have been moving from the back burner to the forefront and everywhere in between for the last 5 years or so.  This year I formalized it as one of my professional goals.  Mondays in my classroom are "Motivational Mondays".  I start class by giving students a prompt in the form of a quote or short video clip.  Then, in Google Classroom, students respond (in English, my purpose is metacognition and goalsetting, not TL acquisition) to 1-3 questions connecting the prompt to their goals and action steps to reach those goals in my class.

As I showed this video this afternoon:

it occurred to me that this was at least the third Motivational Monday video this year I have shown starring a dog. Now, at first glance, who cares?  Dogs are cute, like cat videos, dog videos can certainly be a youtube time suck, it's a fun way to burn a minute and a half of class on a dreary (snowy) April Monday, but why is this blogworthy?

What I believe often gets in the way of a growth mindset is learned behavior and learned beliefs.  I don't believe we are born with a fixed mindset, rather our mindsets become fixed over time due to a variety of environmental factors -- if we are not in environments that cultivate and nurture a growth mindset.  Willow, the dog in the above video, doesn't  worry if the humans watching her will make fun of her leaf-pile antics.  She doesn't worry what will happen if she can't find the ball.  The consequences of failure are utterly irrelevant to Willow, and no matter how difficult the task was, she was ready to start over again as soon as she found the ball. 

How freeing that would be to not be burdened with a lifetime of fixed mindset baggage to overcome!

But we all come from a place that is nearly as purely free of the tethers of a fixed mindset.

Think back to your childhood, and try to remember a time before you felt embarrassed, ashamed, fearful, or otherwise inhibited about trying something new or about taking a risk.  Think about a young child you know.  Their ability to trust without hesitation makes them remarkably resilient and enables them to try, try again, even to the point where the adults around them are ready to drop.  

Perhaps one of the keys to a growth mindset is to access that place we all come from, before fear and self-consciousness, and embrace that inner child who isn't afraid to fall down.

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