We’ve all heard comments like “I am not good at Maths” or “I was not born with the talent to be a writer”. To be honest, we’ve probably made similar comments about ourselves at some point. These are statements that reveal what the American psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset”. This is the opposite of a “growth mindset”, which is when we believe that we can always get better with hard work and effort. The good news is that, even if you´ve fallen into the “fixed mindset” trap, you must not give up, because we are not born with a mindset. Mindsets are cultivated, not genetic. You too can change your mindset and go from one to the other.
Understanding our intelligence and our character is not fixed and can be modified and developed has enormous consequences for us all. After twenty years of research, Dweck concluded that this self-image that we have influences in profound ways our actions and, consequently, our achievements, not only in work or at school, but in all areas of life, and particularly in relationships. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because a person with a “growth mindset” is someone who loves challenges and, far from being discouraged by failure or by criticism, learns from them.
The students as protagonists of their learning
It is interesting to note that Carol Dweck´s thesis diverges from another prevalent one that says “all kids have tremendous talents, and we squander them pretty ruthlessly”, “we” being a general combination of adults, teachers and the schooling system. Dweck instead says each person has different talents, aptitudes and temperaments, not necessarily “tremendous”, but the key issue is that each person can modify and grow from their starting point with effort and perseverance. Therefore, Dweck’s proposal puts the weight on the individual responsibility of the learner, who of course can then be motivated or discouraged by their environment. She does not tell us that all children would be Einstein, Beethoven or famous choreographers if the system did not squander their innate talents or does not nurture them the right way. Her point, backed by research, is that the true potential of a person cannot be known; it is impossible to determine beforehand what they can achieve with their own effort. What is certain is how far they will go will vary a great deal if they are operating on a fixed or a growth mindset. Even Einstein and Beethoven had to put a lot of effort and hours into their achievements. Only we can be the master of our own learning.
Building on that key role of individual responsibility and effort, schools have also a great responsibility and there is a lot they can do to help students in this fascinating adventure. As Satya Naella, CEO at Microsoft, said in an interview to the Wall Street Journal, ‘the learn-it-all does better than the know-it-all’. He was talking about the world of business, but it is also something schools should convey from day 1. Teaching students, through pedagogical and assessment methods, that they are there to improve day by day and develop their whole potential, rather than demonstrate anything to others.
Praise for effort, not intelligence
We must focus on the learning process (the power of “yet”), and fire up the passion for learning, focusing far beyond the scores or grades. And here it is worth mentioning that The Global College is not a school that believes in getting rid of exams. On the contrary, exams fulfill a very important role as a tool for assessment. However, we don’t think that they are the only measure for learning success. As Dweck states, a pedagogical system based solely on test scores and exams produces people who “can´t get through the day without an award”, that is, they need the external approval as a measure of their value because they never learned how to become self-motivated by work well done and personal growth.
So, what does Dweck mean when she asks parents and teachers to praise “wisely”? She means that children should be praised for the effort they put into things, not their intelligence. When you praise for effort and process, you are reinforcing that intelligence can be changed, that is, you are reinforcing the growth mindset; and when success does not come the child will think that the solution is to put more effort and keep trying. Instead, when you praise intelligence, you are implying that it is something fixed, and next time, when success is not evident, the child might think they are not so smart after all, and avoid future challenges that will undermine their self-image or standing among others. That is why, following Dweck´s advice, “if parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach them to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence”.
IB and the Growth Mindset
When facing the crossroads to choose a Baccalaureate program, be it the International Baccalaureate, the Spanish Bachillerato or A Levels, most schools will inform families that the IB is “more demanding”. That is because the IB requires students engaged in more independent study, manage their time accordingly, do research, have a learner profile that is, among other things, reflective and enquiring, and pursue their personal development through Creativity, Activity and Service. Accordingly, it makes sense that the IB Programme attracts students who already have a growth mindset, because they are keen to take the challenge. The reward is immediate because the way teachers work and students learn in the IB responds to that growth mindset. It permanently stimulates a passion for learning that will accompany IB students forever.
Likewise, if The Global College has “entrepreneurship” as part of its DNA, it is because the qualities of an entrepreneur are the ability to face challenges, enjoy the effort and see failure as a learning opportunity. In sum, entrepreneurs have growth mindsets. In TGC all students must complete an Entrepreneurial Project in which they develop plenty of communication and management skills. But beyond this particular Project, the entrepreneurial mindset permeates all we do at The Global College, including how we teach the different Subjects or the Extended Experiences we offer to complete the CAS requirement of the IB.
We can definitely say that “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” is a great ode to effort, worth reading, and a guide for us, because we at The Global College strongly believe in the power of education to foster a growth mindset in all our students.