Growth Mindset

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How to Nourish your Mindset
and Make It Thrive!

Growth Mindset

Growth mindset is one of two belief systems we might have about our own abilities. Growth mindset has a more stagnant counterpart known as a fixed mindset. Research has shown encouraging different types of behavior might predict a person’s future successes. 

fixed mindset assumes an individual’s intelligence, creative ability and character are static. Success is the affirmation of inherent intelligence. Therefore, it is critical for those with a fixed mindset to strive for success and to avoid failure at all costs. This becomes a way of maintaining one’s sense of being ‘smart,’ creative or highly skilled.

growth mindset is one thriving on challenges. Challenges lead to stretching one’s existing abilities. For those with a growth mindset, mistakes are not evidence of failure. Rather, trial and error is considered part of the bigger process.

Motivation Research has shown that these two mindsets are manifested from a very early age. 

Plant Growing: Growth Mindset Blog Grumble Services Elementary Montessori Learning Materials

Our mindset governs our behavior and our relationship with success and failure. This occurs in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately affects our capacity for happiness in life.

The Pioneer on
Motivation and Mindset Research

Much of this mindset work derives from Stanford Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck. Dweck is one of the world’s leading researchers on motivation and mindsets. Her work focuses on why people succeed and how it is possible to foster success. Dweck found in her research that one of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves has to do with how we view our personalities: 

“I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated . . . 

. . . There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. 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. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

Carol Dweck

Dweck discovered that what makes the growth mindset so appealing, is it creates a curiosity for learning rather than a need for approval. Intelligence and creativity, even interpersonal capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through hard work and effort. 

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Reward

Words matter. Some of the best advice I received early on as a teacher was to be careful how I interacted and responded to my students. Envision if throughout your educational journey, you were given the opportunity to be yourself. Instead of being discouraged from following that internal drive, you were encouraged to follow your own interests and curiosities.

Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior driven by internal rewards. It assumes the motivation to engage in a behavior begins from within the individual. Many educators now believe children are born with a natural curiosity and an inherent desire to learn.

Extrinsic motivation is the opposite of this. It refers to behavior driven by external rewards. Widespread within our culture are types of extrinsic rewards like money, fame, grades and praise. As opposed to intrinsic motivation, the motivation to engage in the behavior is assumed to arise from outside the individual.

Montessori guides see each child and their needs as being unique to others. The design of the Montessori classroom is to encourage this individual uniqueness which in turn develops into a self-drive. The prepared environment promotes independence, collaboration and order. Children are ready to discover new knowledge because the space they are in is ready and available to them.

When a task is completed, students are then encouraged to reflect. How did that feel? What was learned? What can you do with this knowledge? What should I do differently tomorrow? The child can explore their own successes, instead of receiving outside praise or rewards.

As their confidence builds, children are encouraged to share their knowledge and to give lessons to their peers. Giving lessons extend the mastery of a child’s own skills. Even more, it furthers their sense of feeling autonomous and capable. No pluses or gold stars are required.

The Good News: Fixed is NOT Fixed!

What it all comes down to is this: A mindset is an interpretative process. It tells us what’s happening around us. In the fixed mindset, this process is measured by judgement and evaluation. Every piece of information is used as evidence either for or against such assessments. It determines whether a person is a worthy human being or not. 

In a growth mindset, on the other hand, the internal process is not one of judgment. Instead, the process is learning and turning information into constructive action.

Like most things in life, our mindsets might shift and change. And, it’s possible to experience both throughout our lives. I often tell concerned parents that hard work and effort goes a long way. I feel more confident in the future successes of a child who works hard each day over one who has been labeled ‘smart’ and relies on personal talent alone. According to Dweck, we can rewire our cognitive habits to adopt to a much more nourishing growth mindset. It’s never too late!

Give Children Specific and Authentic Feedback

Montessori Guides are coached to recognize an accomplishment without adding their personal opinion or judgement. “You worked hard to complete your checkerboard problems. You must feel very proud!” 

Acknowledgment with a smile wins motivation over praise. Praise qualifies each accomplishment with an adult opinion. Acknowledgement leaves the child free to feel their own sense of pride through personal effort.

There are times when we must dig deep to find an appropriate feedback response that will not discourage a child’s learning. Rather than “good job” or “you’re so smart” say, “you must be so proud.” or “I can tell you put a lot of effort into ____.” 

Giving specific and authentic praise supports a child’s development. That is, the belief that intelligence is not fixed but instead can be enhanced by hard work and effort. What’s liberating about this approach is that as an adult, you can make mistakes too! We all do. It’s critical to allow children to make mistakes. Adults don’t have to fix everything for them.

Little changes today can have big impacts on tomorrow.

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References and Read More:

Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives
by Maria Popova

Motivation in Montessori
by Jessie Beerman, April 2016

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success