The following guest post comes from primary school teacher Toria Bono, who explains how both parents and teachers can encourage a growth mindset in students during this tricky period of home learning.
I’ve procrastinated and prevaricated about writing this article, because I agreed to write a follow-up to my original article ‘Impossible or I’m Possible? – The Importance of a Growth Mindset’ when I still had a class.
I mean, I still do have a class, but not one that I can see or talk to face-to-face. Instead, they sit on their Google Classroom and I sit on mine and we communicate through a digital platform.
So, I decided that to write such an article during a nation-wide lockdown was impossible…and then I remembered what I was writing about!
As I said in my last article, a growth mindset is one that steps up to challenges, perseveres and realises success not through intelligence but through determination and effort. Over the past month or so, I have seen people adopt a growth mindset time and time again – because we have had to adapt, move out of our comfort zones and make huge changes. Nurses, doctors, teachers, leaders, politicians, supermarket staff, mothers, fathers, grandparents, priests, in fact everyone has had to make changes.
So how can we as educators, parents and citizens of the world help our young people to develop grit and growth mindsets during an international pandemic?
1. Acknowledge Effort
From a teacher’s perspective I have had to learn to teach in an entirely new way and it hasn’t been easy. There have been teething problems and I have found it hard not being able to speak to the children I have been teaching face-to-face, but we’ve adapted.
By we, I mean myself and the children I teach. The classes I teach, my Year 4 class and my Year 6 maths set, have both had to engage with a new way of learning. They have had to overcome technical issues and wait for me to respond when they are so used to that instant response within the classroom. They have persevered and have been willing to try again when things haven’t gone to plan.
It has been so important to acknowledge their achievements, but I have been careful to thank them for their perseverance and efforts, making sure that intelligence is not linked to this in any way. It is not because they are clever that they can now use Google Classroom – it is because they have tried, made mistakes, asked questions to help them and not given up.
2. Use Language Carefully
The language we use with our young people is vital in helping them to develop a growth mindset. I remember learning about this when my daughter was starting to walk and I would naturally say, “You’re so clever, look at you walking!” But it had nothing to do with her level of intelligence. My daughter’s ability to walk was linked to her grit and determination – she stood up, fell over, stood up again, walked a few steps, fell over (you get the picture) and eventually she could walk.
This means that as a teacher and parent I need to be careful with the language I use when acknowledging work. Rather than just writing or saying ‘excellent’ or ‘well done’ when I am feeding back, I can ask – What do you like most about this? What did you have to persevere with? What could you do better next time? Merely writing or telling someone that their work is excellent can be quite meaningless, especially if this isn’t actually true. By asking a question I am encouraging the learner (whoever it may be) to think about their work.
Learners with fixed mindsets have often been told that everything they do is excellent, so if they don’t hear that they feel that they have failed. They become anxious about not being excellent so are scared of trying new things – how challenging our world must be currently for those with fixed mindsets (adults and children).
3. Not Being Perfect
Mistakes are embraced within a classroom and children are encouraged to improve on their work.
But what about now? Shouldn’t we just accept whatever they do because they are having a go?
I believe that allowing children to reflect on their work and creating an environment where having another go doesn’t mean that they have failed first time, is so important. I have done this within my digital platform and I have to admit that initially I found this hard to do. I worried that they would see any feedback that wasn’t entirely positive as criticism because I wasn’t physically there to reassure them, but they didn’t.
From a parental perspective, it is so important that our children see us making mistakes and floundering around from time to time. It is equally important for them to see us get up, brush ourselves down and have another go. We are the people that they look up to, listen to and replicate. All too often we can flippantly say, “I can’t do that”, as we adopt a fixed mindset and give up.
I know that I did this the other day when weeding a horrible bit of garden. I wasn’t having fun and didn’t want to do it anymore. My patient husband showed me again what I needed to do and three hours later I stood back and surveyed my beautiful garden. What I should have said was “I can’t do this yet; can you help me?”. Adopting the word ‘yet’ into our language and asking for help will enable our young people to see that we too are works in progress who need help.
4. Role Models
We are currently surrounded by stories of grit and determination that we can talk to our young people about. Where would we be if those that worked in the NHS just downed tools because things were too hard? What would happen if politicians and scientists around the world gave up because fighting a pandemic is no easy thing?
Focusing on these stories to support and encourage our young people’s growth mindsets is so important. If they realise the true power of grit and determination then they are more likely to adopt this way of being. It is so vital that we help them to harness these qualities and realise that they can achieve anything if they work hard, put their mind to it and accept that failure is part of success. I will finish on one of my favourite quotes which has never been truer than now –
”Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.C.S Lewis
Let us make sure that together we are preparing our young people well. They are after all our future and our future is incredibly important.