History goes that as Einstein moved through his schooling in Zurich he was a fairly average kid.
At the age of sixteen his parents allowed him to sit the entrance exam which would of allowed him to enter higher education (2 years ahead of when he was meant to) if he passed. He failed but wanted to continue his schooling and eventually entered higher education. It took many years for Einsteins talents to blossom and his thinking and academic work to be recognised by the wider world.
We would describe Einstein as having a growth mindset. There is an absolute power in what you believe about yourself.As Prof. Carol Dweck mentions in her book – Mindset: On how you can fill your potential, ” a simple belief about yourself can permeate every part of your life”. Our personality actually grows out of this mindset.
For example, around the idea of intelligence, do you think intelligence is ‘fixed’ at birth or can ‘grow’?
Those of us who consider the former as the table below shares have a desire to look smart, generally fall to pieces when faced with a challenge and don’t attempt new learning for fear of failure or looking ‘dumb’ for want of a better word in front of others. Research has also shown that people of a fixed mindset also generally over inflate what they can really do in the way of skills and can’t really identify their strengths and weaknesses when pressed. A list like this would surely stifle any individual of their potential.
Those of us in the growth mindset camp, well the sky’s the limit really. We know that our intelligence is not fixed but grows continuously, we thrive on challenge and are not afraid to fail. In fact failure can be reframed as a necessary step towards our goals and those of the ‘growth mindset’ generally have a good gauge on their abilities and are able to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
In reflecting on this as a parent, I have firstly been able to identify which mindset I fall into, and then that of my kids.
So what can you do if you have a ‘fixed’ mindset youngster in your midst?
Praise their effort and process of learning rather than their ability. So what does that look like?
child ” mum, I am now in the top Maths group in my class”
As a parent which is the closet response that you would give if your child came home and said this to you?
” Wow! That’s great x, your really good at numbers”
” You have put a lot of effort into learning your timetables each night and I can see it’s paying off”.
The first response, even though well meaning is tied to the child’s ability. There is a hidden message in the response saying well “it’s not great, if you are not good at numbers”.
The second response recognises the effort.
I was fortunate enough to come across Prof. Carol Dweck’s work a number of years ago whilst teaching my own classes. It was a revelation. Her work speaks for itself.