Take the Challenge

The questions came in fast and furious on Twitter during the conversation between Carol Dweck, author of Mindset and the Lewis and Virginia Eaton professor of psychology at Stanford University, and Daniel Wong, author of The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success, during the opening Thought Leader session at Ignite ’14.

Former National Principals of the Year Laurie Baron, superintendent of Evergreen School District in Montana, and Trevor Greene, professional development specialist for the Association of Washington School Principals, facilitated the discussion on stage and on Twitter. The results of this engaging live/virtual discussion are presented below.

Wong began with by describing his experience as a student who, despite a supportive family and stellar academic performance, experienced depression and didn’t know why he was working so hard. He believes that students need a purpose. They must be able to make a positive contribution. And of course to do that they have to believe that they can, that they are capable and be allowed to have some autonomy and take more responsibility for their own lives. Wong’s five steps to happiness are:

  • Decide to run your own race
  • Decide what kind of race you want to run
  • Start running and stay on track
  • Keep running despite your fears
  • Stay motivated and stay strong.

Dweck’s theory of fixed and growth mind-sets provides the science that supports Wong’s beliefs. Dweck’s research has shown that students and adults with a fixed mind-set believe they are what they are; they have talents and intelligence that define—actually limit—what they can be and do. Students with a fixed mind-set worry that they won’t be good enough or smart enough.

Conversely, students with a growth mind-set believe that they can overcome challenges, that they can learn, and that working hard makes a difference. Fortunately, the growth mind-set can be taught at any age. Principals and teachers can help with the way they offer praise. Don’t praise intelligence, Dweck advises, praise process, effort, and perseverance. Praise the struggle. Ask, who had a fabulous struggle today? Acknowledge the power of the word “yet.” Saying “I haven’t learned or mastered that yet” puts you in a growth mindset.

When asked how parents can help or hinder a growth mind-set or student’s happiness in having a purpose, Wong explained the difference between wanting what’s best for your child and wanting what’s good for your child. Parents may believe that what’s good for their child is protecting them, helping them avoid disappointment, ensuring that they succeed and avoid failure. But what’s best for their child is probably plenty of struggle and disappointment that they can overcome and learn from, fostering feelings of self-efficacy and competence.

Dweck agreed and suggested that schools encourage teachers and involve parents to teach them about a growth mind-set so that they understand how the brain works and that it’s OK to struggle or even fail if it leads to learning how to overcome obstacles and persevere to succeed. For example, you can ask teachers whether they think teaching ability is something they have or something that can be taught? What was your biggest failure as a teacher? Was it a learning experience or turning point? Or was it someone else’s fault. Do they believe students can learn and reach out to find ways to make that happen? Stress that students are not fixed. Character is not fixed.

Wong and Dweck agreed that if we want students to love learning, parents, principals, and teachers must share their own love of learning and what they are passionate about. Students know that adults work hard and can see the material things, but they also see the stress and unhappiness. Make it a priority to share the intrinsic value of hard work and ongoing learning.

Dweck ended with a challenge for when everyone returned to their schools. What is one thing you can do at your school on your first day back that will make students or teachers happier or enhance their growth mind-set? Share it on #nassp14.

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