A few years ago, I watched in amazement as two men conquered a free climb that had previously been considered impossible.
After 19 straight days of clinging and climbing, they scaled the dizzy heights of the Dawn Wall on El Capitane. This is 3,000 feet of sheer granite that’s more like blank slate and is considered by many the most difficult big-wall rock climb in the world. To be successful, they had to complete all 32 pitches in succession, without returning to the valley floor in between. That meant living for nearly three weeks on the side of the rock!
So, what allowed them to succeed where others hadn’t? What gave them the strength to eat, sleep and climb for 19 days when their hands were bleeding and they were in severe pain? Quite simply – a growth mindset! They learned, practised and persevered until they achieved their aim – to scale a previously impossible climb.
It is my belief as a mother and educator that supporting the development of growth mindsets is vital for the little people (and big people) that I come into contact with. I don’t think that I have met anyone in life who hasn’t come up against adversities and setbacks. These appear to be part of living a full life. How many times have you had an aim in sight – perhaps it was passing your driving test or baking a cake that Mary Berry had made look so easy – only to fall at the first hurdle? What was your response? “I can’t be bothered to give it another go” or “I am going to try again”?
People with fixed mindsets are those that believe that abilities are carved in stone, that they have a certain amount of ability and no more. People who possess a fixed mindset see challenges as risky – they could fail, and their basic abilities might be called into question. When they hit obstacles, setbacks, or criticism, this is just more proof that they don’t have the abilities that they cherish.
As a child, I remember struggling with a piece that I was learning on the piano and deciding to give the piano up. I remember losing at tennis and deciding that because I was clearly not fit for Wimbledon there was no use in continuing to play. I remember working alongside quicker, more able students when I was at school and thinking – what’s the use, I’m not as good as them. As an adult I am slowly coming to realise that success has much more to do with perseverance and a lot less to do with ‘being good’.
When people have more of a growth mindset, they hold the view that talents and abilities can be developed and that challenges are the way to do it. Learning something new, something hard, sticking to things—that’s how they improve. Setbacks and feedback aren’t about their abilities, they are information they use to help themselves learn.
With a growth mindset, people don’t necessarily think that there’s no such thing as talent or that everyone is the same, but they believe everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others.
As an adult I am developing a growth mindset, believing that anything is possible if I just persevere. Over the last few years I have learnt to sew, design websites and various other things that I have set my mind to. Now, don’t get me wrong – I am not going to be able to win a gold medal at the Olympics if I take up running today, but I might be able to run a 5k, then a 10k, then a half-marathon and maybe even a marathon if I approach running with a growth mindset.
Did you know that Albert Einstein was not able to speak until he was four years old and his teachers said he would ‘never amount to much’? The Beatles were rejected by a record company who said they ‘didn’t like their sound’ and they ‘had no future in show business’. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for ‘lacking imagination’ and ‘having no original ideas’. Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as a news anchor because she ‘wasn’t fit for television’. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team and Beethoven ‘s music teacher once told him that he was a ‘hopeless composer’.
”With a growth mindset, people don’t necessarily think that there’s no such thing as talent, but that everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring.
How would it have been had they not persevered? Modern life, music, entertainment and sport would have been incredibly different. Thankfully, the aforementioned people picked themselves up and kept going. You don’t have to be a football lover to know of David Beckham’s success in the sport, but he didn’t start out by putting balls into the back of the net. He had to train hard and at times he got it wrong – such as at the World Cup in 1998. David didn’t give up though or blame anyone else. He returned to training having learnt from his mistakes, with grit and determination to succeed. Former England manager Alex Ferguson said of him:
“Beckham practised with a discipline to achieve an accuracy that other players wouldn’t care about”.
So, just for one moment consider whether you give up or persevere? What have you succeeded at when you have adopted a growth mindset? When do you wish you had just carried on and hadn’t thrown in the towel? How do others in your life react to setback? How do your children/ your pupils react to setback?
Putting this into practice
As educators, we need to help children develop growth mindsets so that they are able to summon up grit when things are hard. I was shocked to realise recently that some teachers felt that a poster on the wall was sufficient to motivate children to never give up in order to succeed. Others felt that growth mindsets could be achieved in children by just telling them to try harder. Neither of these ways will ensure that children develop growth mindsets and it appears that blaming a child’s failure on their mindset seems to be occurring more often in recent years.
In my opinion, we owe it to the children we teach to develop classroom cultures that embrace mistakes as learning moments. It is vital that we allow children to realise that making a mistake is not the end but conversely the beginning. Celebrating mistakes allows children to grow rather than shrink away; it allows them to try again knowing what they did wrong last time. We need to talk to children about how they can improve and what they need to work on and then support them in doing this. We need to ensure that our language enables children to keep going and we need to teach our children that learning a new skill is not easy. We also need to teach them that learning a new skill is also not impossible. As the great Audrey Hepburn pointed out:
”Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible.
Be sure to check back soon for Toria’s follow-up piece on how teachers can implement and promote a growth mindset within the classroom!