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Growth Mindset - The Power of...Yet
Cassie Nelson Craig, Upper School Counselor

My daughter, a soon to be SK student, is learning to jump rope.  As is turns out, jumping rope is really hard! I watch her tense up her face and fling the rope around her body, sometimes landing on top of her head, sometimes making it all the way around to touch the front of her feet, and once or twice, synchronizing with her jumping feet as she completes a full rotation.  My responses seem to vacillate between trying to teach or show (met with her resistance), hoping she will move to something less challenging, and watching and praising her effort.  What I am most taken by, though, is that each time we go outside she picks it up again. She has not let her lack of successful jumps turn into permanent defeat.  She even said the other day, “Mama, I can’t do it….yet.”  This 3 letter phrase, yet, can be a powerful reminder to all of us as we end out this school year, reflecting back on what was, and thinking about what might be possible for our students in the now, and the future.

Carol Dweck’s research on human motivation and beliefs that support successful learning can help us understand why “yet” is such an important phrase for our kids and ourselves. Dweck’s research has determined that two self-conceptions (mindsets) can help drive the self and behavior.  A “fixed” mindset functions under the belief that intelligence is static and one has limited abilities and resources from which to pull from.  A “growth mindset” operates with the belief that our brain and our abilities are not stagnant, but rather in constant change and growth in response to challenges. At the core of the growth mindset is a “not yet” mentality. This article has a great diagram of the two mindsets.

From Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, a growth mindset can ignite, “A passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well.”  Dweck’s research with students shows when they are taught that, “deliberate practice changes the neurology of their brain, their level of achievement increases and they have a greater belief in their capacity as learners” (Neuroteach).  In part, this is because they are learning that failure is not a permanent condition- and although can be painful, can be “faced, dealt with, and learned from.”

Our community is working hard on growth mindset as it relates to the classroom by helping students use learning strategies that they can develop, test, acknowledge parts that failed, and tweak and try again. Growth mindset also supports emotional health with the emphasis on:

  • Practice and growing rather than perfection and a finished product
  • Mistake/failure as inevitable and part of process rather than a sign to stop
  • Collaboration and asking for feedback rather than staying in isolation
  • An emphasis on work and effort rather than I’m smart/not smart

Of course, there will be times when we might feel stagnant in a part of life or where challenges feel insurmountable. It is also true that genetics, background, and environment help write some of the story of how our brain works. However, growth mindset can provide possibilities to those persnickety parts of ourselves that feel stuck at road-blocks and help us to keep doing and learning. Martha Hoover, the founder and owner of Patachou Inc. and Park Tudor’s Commencement speaker, charged the graduates with “leaning into uncertainty,” as they make their way into the world beyond Park Tudor. Life has many unknown outcomes, and a growth mindset is helpful as we fully engage into…yet possibilities.

Further resources:

Carol Dweck, TED Talk: The power of believing you can improve

Angela Duckworth, TED Talk:  Grit: The power and passion of perseverance

How to jump rope for kids