Good beginnings start with a growth mindset

Good beginnings start with a growth mindset

“Good seasons start with good beginnings.”
–Sparky Anderson

I thought about these words from the legendary baseball manager as the Keystone faculty and staff spent the last week and a half preparing for the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. Whether it was the maintenance crew beautifying the campus, the administration creating rosters and finalizing class lists, or teachers decorating their rooms or planning units with colleagues, there was a buzz of anticipation around the school.  Together, we engaged in thought-provoking discussions as we considered how we wish the upcoming year to proceed.

Peering into upper school lockers filled with books or strolling through the Little School and enjoying the colorful and dynamic rooms gave me an anticipatory thrill for the promise of a new school year. While there can be some anxiety around the beginning of the year, this is natural as all of us–teachers, staff members, parents, and students — enter a new phase that holds many unknowns. If we were not a little anxious, we would be ignoring the positive kind of stress that new beginnings inevitably bring.  Being nervous and excited simultaneously is a good thing, and we should let our children know that this is not only OK, it is healthy. We can heed the words of the author John Galsworthy who once said, “Beginnings are always messy.”

So how do we as parents and as educators help our children navigate this potential messiness? Author and educator Dr. Amy Eva offers suggestions in a blog post in Greater Good magazine, “Tips for Helping Kids Develop a Growth Mindset.” While Eva focuses on the social benefits of a growth mindset, versus a fixed mindset, this approach to living and learning for children and teens is just as applicable to their academic and extracurricular experiences.

Eva explains some of the advantages of a growth mindset are improved peer relationships, empathy, and cooperation.  Believing that our brains are malleable and our abilities are not set also enables our children to take on greater challenges in their academic classes, the arts, and in athletics.  This kind of approach empowers our children to respond well to setbacks and to look at them as an inevitable component of the learning process. As a colleague once said, “A failure is an event not a person.”

As the adults in our children’s lives, we have a crucial role to play in helping them see obstacles as opportunities.  If we share with them new tasks we have taken on that were outside of our comfort zone, they will understand that this is natural and even exciting. If we explain to them that, at times, we experience difficulties but we persevere and grow, they will see that their current stress is an inevitable part of changing and growing.

Instead of saying when they get a low grade on a quiz, “I was bad in that subject also,” we should explain that “I struggled in this area, but after a lot of hard work, I really improved.”  When they earn a good grade on a paper, rather than applauding their success by stating “You’re really smart,” we should commend their hard work as the reason they prevailed. While these may seem like small differences, the impact can be large as our children learn that their effort, instead of their innate ability, may be a deciding, or even the determining, factor in their doing well.

I also recommend watching the video below with your child to explain a growth versus a fixed mindset. It may help clarify the concept and show them the benefits of this approach to life and learning. This may also allow your child to understand that learning is a journey rather than an arrival at a finite point and that, like any good trip, there will be ups and downs along the way.  The ballerina and author Missy Copeland said it well, “Decide what you want. Declare it to the world. See yourself winning. And remember that if you are persistent as well as patient, you can get whatever you seek… I may not be there yet, but I am closer than I was yesterday.”

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