I just finished up attending an educator's conference that I didn't want to go to. Professional development typically makes my eyes roll because there is little I actually glean from them and am able to put into practice.  So when my administrator told me that he'd like me to attend an Education Conference, I reluctantly said, "Okaaaay..." Isn't it funny how us teachers want our students to always learn, but yet we push back when it comes to changing how we doing things?

Anyway, a colleague and I took BART to the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco to Learning and the Brain, a highly regarded educational conference...although I had never heard of it until now.  The theme was mindset.  Awesome!  I've been watching these cute little ClassDojo videos on mindset with my students.  But the idea of sitting for 9 hours made me walk just a little bit slower into the conference room.

I took out my laptop, fully expecting to maybe surf the internet a bit while listening.  But then it started.  They began talking about a growth mindset and how research has shown that the brain can make all these connections simply by BELIEVING that you can change!  I started typing feverishly, soaking up every single ounce of information I could to take back to my colleagues.  This growth mindset thing had me hooked.

Here's a little intro to one of the pioneering studies that paved the way for Growth Mindset.



Why is it that we believe intelligence is fixed?  That certain skills are something you're born with?  Students start kindergarten believing they can DO ANYTHING, yet as they progress through school, they become more fixed on the mindset that they can only achieve the things that they're "naturally good at".

"I'm not a math person."

"Reading has never been my thing."

"He's the smart one in class."

"I'm more right-brained than left-brained."

What makes a growth mindset different from a fixed mindset is that you believe you can grow your brain, and you have strategies and support in place to help you accomplish that.  You use those strategies to problem-solve no matter how many mistakes you make or dead-ends you encounter.

I equated it with a Lego project.  If I were to give a complex Lego Millennium Falcon kit to someone, yet took away the instructions and box, simply telling a child, "You can do it!", "Just try harder!", or "If you slow down and focus, you can do it," doesn't help the child complete the task.  Sure, it sounds positive, but is this feedback really useful?  It's only after I give the instruction booklet to the child, show them the picture, and offer support when needed can that person complete the Lego set.

I have pages and pages of notes, but here are a few nuggets that have truly inspired me.

  • Everyone has a mixture of a growth and fixed mindset - some more of one than others.
  • When you love learning and embrace challenges, every else (grades, self-esteem, etc.) will follow suit.
  • If you're not being challenged, you're not getting smarter.
  • If you're not making mistakes, you're not trying something new.
  • Sheer effort isn't valuable.  Fluff statements like, "You can do it!", "Don't give up!", "You can accomplish anything!" don't help anybody.  Give students STRATEGIES to use and support them as they use those strategies.
  • Explicitly learn how to focus.  Find your Sweet Spot.  Use strategies to get rid of distractions (primarily digital) that keep your mind from resting and wandering.
  • Foster a sense of belonging in your classroom and at your school.
  • Does your school give ALL students equitable access?  Or are there classes, clubs, etc. that are exclusive to students who "earn it" or "qualify for it"?
  • Numerous studies have shown that children who were praised for their intellect (even at infancy) showed less resilience and achievement than those who were praised for their thought process.
  • We need to stop blaming the child ("He would do better if he wasn't so unmotivated or lazy."), the parent ("She could read so much better if her parents worked with her at home."), and the school ("If we had more money, we could really give these kids what they need.").  Many studies that were shown at the conference proved that low SES, Title I schools all over the country showed an increase in performance in students who were explicitly taught a growth mindset by their teachers.  These are the students who are on free meal programs, little to no support at home, and poor schools.  It's not an excuse.
  • Emphasizing effort and problem-solving gives the child something he/she can control.  When they're praised simply for intelligence ("smartness", getting an A, passing a quiz, making the honor roll), we are emphasizing that a child's value is in something they can't control, which is especially evident when a child encounters a difficulty.
  • Neuroplasticity is the idea that if you practice a certain skill enough, soon you will strengthen the neural pathways in your brain for that task, and you are able to master.  If you do not practice a certain skill, eventually that connection becomes weaker and weaker.
  • The Power of Yet means you may not understand something...YET.  You may not be able to do that...YET.

My colleague and I are SO pumped.  We've been meeting weekly and we're going to start sharing this information with the rest of the staff and administration.  I'm so excited to be part of such an incredible educational movement!