cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Andy Arthur

The timeless debate of nature vs. nurture is alive and well and takes on many different faces.  I remember sitting in some of my educational leadership classes debating if leaders are born or created. (I don’t like either/or questions–I think it’s a bit of both!) Another question often posed is if IQ is fixed or if you can actually increase your IQ.  If you haven’t read NurtureShock, I highly recommend it as it examines how many factors impact a child’s development.  Fascinating research!

I’ve been revisiting the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck and really thinking how some of the assertions made in the book translate to the students and staff I serve each day.  The idea of mindset enters the conversation based upon how we answer questions like the ones I posted above.  The author asserts that those with a “fixed” mindset believe that the cards we are dealt are set and unchanging.  Once in the bluebird reading group–always in the bluebird reading group. This results in kids feeling like they need to somehow demonstrate that they are good enough or better than the hand they were dealt and places enormous stress on the child.

Another way to look at development is to believe that while we may have been dealt this hand, we can still improve our hand through the way we play the game, the choices we make along the way, and the experiences that we allow to shape us for the good.  Carol Dweck calls this a “growth” mindset.  This way of thinking has powerful potential for parents and educators as we help guide children as they grow.

What might that look like?  Consider when a child receives a poor grade on an assignment or test.  While many factors may have contributed to that grade (effort, sleep, stress, preparation, innate ability, clarity of instruction, attention…) none of those factors dictate that the given result has to always be true.  Could it be that the child just needed to try harder?  Perhaps, but often that type of encouragement does not yield the intended result and can lead to despair.  Perhaps instead this is a learning experience.  Sometimes in life we will struggle–but what is important is that we do not give up.  Sometimes it just takes more time or more practice to improve.  Most important is to help the child understand what went wrong, acknowledge how that made them feel, and then make a plan for how to tackle that challenge.

So how do we help children build that mindset of growth?  I believe we need to model it ourselves.  This means we need to take the time to examine for ourselves what we believe about our own mindset and our responses when we encounter a challenge.  It is amazing how much children learn by watching the adults in their lives!   Additionally I believe that we need to help children learn how to process challenges in healthy ways that don’t result in “fixed” mindsets.

There will be challenges and rocks that block our paths–what will you do with them?

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Comments
  1. Jon Groth says:

    Nicely written article, i totally agree that it is not an either/or question, it is usually a combination. It may not be that the student just had to work harder, maybe my test questions were poorly constructed, or maybe i did not explain that concept clearly. I also have no problem assessing a child for his/her effort in relation to her/his ability.

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