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The transformational power of growth mindset

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An audience of more than 80 Terrington Hall pupils, parents and staff welcomed Dr Hannah Pomroy, Director of Academic Studies at Ampleforth College, into school for her deeply thought-provoking evening lecture on Growth Mindset, an approach to learning that turns ‘failure’ on its head

Developed by Carol Dweck in her pioneering 2006 book Mindset: the New Psychology of Success, the growth mindset movement proposes that successful people share certain characteristics in the way that they view themselves and the world around them. Importantly, successful people believe in their ability to grow and succeed, and they embrace failure, hard work and effort as part of the road to success.

Take the American basketball player Michael Jordan who was dropped from his high school basketball team. Acclaimed by others as ‘the greatest basketball player of all time’, he says of himself: ‘I have failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.’

A few examples of some of the most successful leaders in their fields brought the audience to the edge of their seats:

Walt Disney: fired from a newspaper for ‘lacking imagination’ and ‘having no original ideas’.

Albert Einstein: could not speak until he was nearly 4 and his teachers said he would ‘never amount to much’.

The Beatles: rejected by Decca who said, ‘We don’t like their sound – they have no future in show business’.

Growth mindset and fixed mindset are two different ways of looking at ability, potential and learning, one gives us the tools to learn and succeed, the other inhibits our development by keeping us locked in unhelpful patterns of thinking.

Someone with a growth mindset believes that their intelligence can be developed and this leads to a desire to learn. Learners with a growth mindset tend to:

• Embrace challenge
• Persist in the face of difficulties
• See effort as the way to achieve
• Learn from criticism
• Be inspired by the successes of those around them

A fixed mindset is borne out of the belief that intelligence cannot be developed. This leads to a desire to look smart and capable - and a fear too, perhaps, of being unmasked. Learners with a fixed mindset tend to:

• Avoid challenges
• Give up easily
• See effort as pointless
• Ignore constructive feedback
• See the successes of those around them as a threat

So, how can we as parents and teachers make the possibility of success more likely for our children and pupils?

First and foremost, we need to be careful how we praise, praising children for their effort and for the process rather than for their ability.

Carol Dweck found that children praised for their effort in a task were more likely to embrace the challenges of a second, harder task. Not only that, they enjoyed the second task more than the first.

In contrast, those children praised for their ability (you’re so clever/talented) rejected the new challenging task that they could have learned from.

Second, embrace mistakes, failures, hard work and effort as part of the process that leads to success. These things are not to be avoided, they are inevitable parts of the learning process.

Third, change the internal voice that would drag us down.

For example . . .

Instead of:                                               Try thinking:
I’m not good at this                                   What am I missing?
I made a mistake                                      Mistakes help me learn better
Plan A didn’t work                                     Good thing the alphabet has 25 more letters

Fourth, introduce yourself to the power of YET!

I can’t do it . . . YET

Such a small word, such a big impact: maybe you can’t do it now, but you will with effort and determination and by drawing on resources within and around you. Consider how you can help yourself to achieve your goal, and how others can you help you achieve it?

And so Dr Pomroy’s evening lecture on growth mindset came to an end. A whole hour had flown by and we hardly knew it, so engrossed were we in the world of possibility that had been opened up.

Recommendations by Dr Pomroy for further reading:

For adults:
Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
Bounce: the Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by Matthew Syed

For children:
You Are Awesome: Find Your Confidence and Dare to be Brilliant at (Almost) Anything by Matthew Syed


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