“Musings on Mindset”

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a professional development seminar on “Transformative Teaching” with Kathleen Kryza. While I am not an educator, I find it immensely helpful to learn about theories and techniques that, as Ms. Kryza put it, “honor all learners and all learning styles.” Although there were multiple components to the seminar, I found myself especially moved by the idea of creating a safe, non-judgmental learning community within the classroom. Fostering a sense of value, building appropriate autonomy, acknowledging and accommodating individual differences, and encouraging collaboration were all noted to be important aspects of a successful classroom.

A growth mindset was presented as another important facet of student success. While I am far from an expert on the subject, a mindset (according to Carol Dweck, Ph.D.) is a belief about ourselves and the qualities or traits that we possess.  My understanding is that a fixed mindset is one in which we see aspects of ourselves as set and unchangeable; whereas a growth mindset is one in which we believe that personal qualities can be enhanced, improved, or strengthened over time. Working in the field of mental health, I was intrigued, but not surprised by these ideas. I would like to believe that we can adapt for the better, that we are capable of growth and improvement, and that a positive outlook can impact our ability to work towards personal goals. To me, a growth mindset seems to foster a sense of hope, and champions the power of positive thinking. It was also noted by Ms. Kryza, to be an important factor influencing student success in the classroom.  Or, as she put it: “If we are going to build skill sets, we have to shape mindsets.”

I appreciate the idea of understanding and incorporating the ideas of self-concept, self-worth, and self-esteem into educational practice. I do believe that one’s internal emotional world (including one’s thoughts and feelings about themselves as a person and as a learner) impacts sense of efficacy in the classroom and can subsequently influence one’s learning trajectory. However, as others have noted, there is more to ensuring student success and achievement than simply changing personal beliefs.

Factors such as curriculum, classroom environment, teaching techniques, past experiences, and developmental history are just some of the other factors that impact a student’s scholastic experience. While I will not attempt to review the critiques of using mindset as an educational theory here, it is important to acknowledge that a growth mindset alone may not guarantee success. Regardless, I would offer that believing in the potential for change and acknowledging relative growth can help us all stay a bit more hopeful about the future.

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