Friday, April 24, 2015

Modeling a growth mindset

The desire to win is a natural, normal human trait.  We all have it to some degree.  A friend of mine is ultra-competitive.  He cannot stand to lose.  He is a really nice guy and a very gracious loser when he doesn't win, but he hates losing.  We had a friendly neighborhood ping pong tournament a few weeks ago and he didn't win.  In fact, he got beat by an 11 year old and a 13 year old.  After the tournament, he challenged each of them to another match and won both.

I found it quite interesting that the younger boys won when it was tournament play, but lost when it was just a friendly match.  Likewise, it was interesting that my ultra-competitive friend lost when the pressure of the tournament was on, but won when it was just friendly.  Did the younger boys rise to the occasion?  Did the adult falter because he expected to beat the kids? 

Some folks are perfectly happy with only a tinge of competition.  They may enjoy playing a board game or some cards.  Other folks like to view everything as a competition.  Whether it is a simple game or a successful career, everything hinges on the question, "Who is better?"

I was outside watching some kids throw the football yesterday.  Back and forth, back and forth, the passes got longer and the catches more acrobatic.  A boy stood next to me and commented after each throw and catch, "I can throw it better than him....I can catch better than him...I am faster than him...I have better hands than him...I would've caught that one one-handed..."

The comments went on and on, yet this kid never jumped into the mix to prove himself.  I waited for him to jump in and have some fun but he never did.  After reading Mindset, by Dr. Carol Dweck, this got me thinking!

Really competitive people tend to notice a gap between their abilities and the abilities of those who perform better.  The internal conversation typically goes one of two ways.  Some of them ask themselves these questions:
  1. What makes the other guys better?
  2. What can I do to to close the gap between me and them?
Others simply say to themselves:
  1. They are just more naturally talented than I am.
  2. I just can't do it that well.

One set of people ask questions that drive improvement,  The other set makes statements that speak of limited abilities.  The questioners look for growth while the others speak of fixed abilities.  There is a certain amount of this mental structure that is innate, but according to Dr. Dweck, people are capable of learning to adapt to a growth mindset.

As an educator, do you see yourself making comparisons to those around you?  If so, how do you approach your observations?  Do you try to learn from those who inspire you?  Do you seek out continuous improvement?  When things go well, do you still look at how to improve for the next time?

Or, do you see folks around you who may do something a little bit better, then say, "I just can't do that."  Do you say the other teacher has better kids, or a better schedule.  Do you convince yourself that your practices are just fine, regardless of the greater successes shown by others?

Most educators profess to the ideal of being a lifelong learner.  If you are indeed a lifelong learner, how do you live it each day?  Do your students see you living with a growth mindset?  Do they hear you questioning your own efforts as you seek improvement?