The term growth mindset has become wildly popular in educational circles over the last couple of years. So much so, I’d say it has reached “buzzword” status. That being said, I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck’s work around growth mindset and firmly believe in the underlying theory around her work, which espouses that students who believe they can grow their basic abilities have greater motivation and higher achievement than do students who believe their abilities are fixed, and that teachers can influence students’ mindsets.
This year, my staff and I have participated in building based professional learning led by our math specialist and a group of teachers around math and mindset, working to share with everyone that, yes, they can do math and so can our students. The PD has been meaningful and relevant to not only having educators think differently about math, but also how they view mindset and learning. As a staff, on other occasions, we’ve also shared and talked about the power of praise and how praising effort appropriately supports a growth mindset, whereas using it differently, while well intentioned, may have the opposite effect.
One of my favorite math sessions during our time together focused on the Common Core math practice standard related to perseverance. The session really resonated with me based on my own personal and professional experiences across a number of years. As an educator, I have faced situations where I have lost my job due to budget cuts, I’ve worked to find ways to reach students that struggled, and I’ve had to face difficult situations in leadership roles. Many of those situations, if not all, required a level of perseverance that enabled me to either push through the situation or to “stick with it” until it was solved or got better. Personally, I’ve been an avid genealogist since my mid to late teens, and my research has spanned 30 years of digging, discoveries and roadblocks. One particular document that came to me in 1992 provided a clue with a name that I continued to revisit during almost every school vacation for the past 20 years. It wasn’t until about 2 years ago, after having searched far and wide, that I finally made a discovery related to that document which gave me much new information about my family.
First and foremost, I wondered what we needed to do for students that would not only promote a growth mindset, but would also help build their perseverance. Can perseverance be taught? Additionally, I also thought about what would have happened to me had I not persevered through my own professional and personal situations. Would I have solved that 20 year family history puzzle? Could I have solved problems related to leadership that helped me support teaching and learning? I also wondered why some people have perseverance and some don’t, seeing that most schools do not “teach” perseverance.
In their blog post from November 17, 2014 “Perseverance and Grit Can Be Taught”, Sean Slade and Tom Hoerr ascertain that both perseverance and grit can be taught. The authors also share that while they believe it can be taught, it is not easy to do. I agree that “trial and error” can help develop perseverance, but what about students whose parents don’t encourage that or promote perseverance. I think about my own circumstances and the fact that my parents did not promote perseverance. Of course, they didn’t do this intentionally, but obviously times have changed and as a society, we’ve learned more about what helps children grow into successful adults. So how is it that I developed a set of skills around perseverance whereas, other people may not have those skills?
Edutopia shared the work of Amy Lyon in its March 22, 2014 post and video titled Teaching Grit Cultivates Resilience and Perseverance (Research Made Relevant Series).
I was amazed as I watched this video and saw the young boy being “gritty” collecting sap and turning it into maple syrup. Did he develop this grit and perseverance as a result of his teachers, as a result of upbringing, or is he just naturally “wired” to be someone who will persevere throughout his life?
After all this thinking, I’ve come to realize that you can have a growth mindset and think you can improve and grow your brain, but without grit, and most importantly, perseverance, you cannot truly realize the potential of that mindset. I’ve also been thinking that we cannot leave it to chance that some kids will just “get it” and some will not. Our job, through good teaching as shared in the Edutopia video, is to provide teaching experiences for our students that will help develop those abilities. We do not need to find more time in the day or the schedule, and we do not need additional budget monies to help our students learn how to persevere.
The students in our classrooms may grow up to be principals that will need to solve leadership problems, or they may be genealogists that want to solve family mysteries. More importantly, they may grow into adults that will work to find cures for cancer, solve problems related to social justice, develop technologies that improve the quality of human lives, or help explore new worlds. We can not be complacent around building their capacity to persevere, and we can not think so narrowly that growth mindset is the only mindset in which we need to develop.