Did you know June 30th is Superman’s birthday? I love superheroes! Who doesn’t? The ability to do things beyond what us mere mortals can do – fly without a plane, see through walls without special glasses, control the weather without a lot of gear – so many cool abilities…not to mention cool outfits. And although many were born with these unique attributes, many had to learn how to use them or grow into the use and control of their abilities. Thinking about this gets me thinking about our students and teachers and both their ability and need to grow – to learn new things, new ways of thinking and new ways of doing.
Now from here I could talk about the use of formative assessment practices but I was actually thinking more about how all of us need to deepen our understanding of, seeing the need for and beginning to both embrace and develop a growth mindset. Let me just give a quick definition of growth mindset to get us started. From Carol Dweck’s work:
In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
Superheroes have the same needs. Let’s think about Clark Kent as a child and his suddenly discovering he could push or lift trucks. How did the Kents help him “grow” into the use of his powers for the good of the people of Earth? Let’s start by thinking about the brain as a muscle. Using it in new and different ways allow more and new synapse connections to develop. When synapses are firing in new ways or reinforcing paths in which they’ve fired before, we are stretching our brain. This brain stretching is allowing us to grow. It usually involves some risk taking as well.
Let’s go back to Clark. Clark practiced with his superpowers on the Kent farm, somewhat isolated and away from curious eyes. His parents eventually encouraged him to practice and take calculated risks with his learning and abilities. That’s what the development of a growth mindset is all about – figuring out ways to take risks, work hard and learn along the way. Dweck found in her research that students were actually fascinated by the idea that they had control over their intellectual growth. I, too, have seen the faces of students, parents and teachers as they hear this information and contemplate the ramifications – for them and for those who are important to them.
And there are connections to what we practice when we integrate formative assessment into our daily instructional practice. Students are given systems, processes and tools to help them stretch, practice, learn with and from each other in ways that create opportunities for them to grow – transform – as learners. Success is possible!
While we may not don spandex, iron or a cape, each of us can develop a growth mindset. A variety of tools are available online to help stretch our brains and those of our students – building the synapses, so to speak. One of Education Leadership’s articles by Carol Dweck got me started on this path a long time ago. If you haven’t read The Perils and Promises of Praise, check it out. Use it for a PLC discussion sometime. If you want to “test” your mindset go here. If you’d like to work on developing your own superpowers (changing your mindset), go here.
I’ve seen lots on Pinterest and Twitter on this topic as well. Let us know what you do to build a growth mindset with your students AND your teachers by sending a tweet to @NWEA.