growth vs. fixed mindset: it’s not just for the students

Allow me to step into the confessional.

One thing I struggle with is loving people unconditionally, accepting them in their weakness. I expect the best from people, immediately, consistently. This is a universal application that haunts my students, my friendships, my colleagues, and my marriage.

Of course, I am not off the hook. I am my own worst critic, my most insistent demander, my harshest judge. I live in an internal world where it is hard to accept grace for myself…and thus–either as a cause or an effect–hard to offer it authentically and organically to others.

I am no blind fool: this leads to a lack of peace within myself…and with others.

At school, we’ve excitedly moved into a focus on rigor. Many voices expressed the idea that there can be no rigor without risk, and no risk without struggle. I wholeheartedly agree. At the most foundational level of this struggle comes the idea that it is worth it, that struggle can lead to something better. This conviction grows and blooms only in the soil of a growth mindset (rather than a fixed mindset; for more information). Educators today are very familiar with these concepts and understand the critical value of fostering not just information in students, but a kind of mindset, a mindset that is pliable rather than set, questioning rather than settling, seeking rather than content, hopeful rather than definite. Only when we encourage this in students can they grow beyond their potential–which is really just a euphemism for fixed mindset.

mindsetBut, as always, what happens in the student cafeteria is mimicked (perhaps pioneered) in the adult lounge. I have come to realize lately that though I approach students in a growth mindset paradigm, I do not extend the same courtesy to my colleagues. For whatever reason, something in me operates under the idea that adults in schools have arrived, are set in their ways, are settled into their potential, are who they are, well, because that’s who they are. The end. This ugly monster rears its head most frequently in the realm of assumptions. I make assumptions about people… and by doing so, I limit them to a quaint box that is formed nicely and neatly in my own finite head. How arrogant! How presumptuous! How fallacious!

A few times lately, I’ve been surprised by colleagues–a delicious and humbling and didactic surprise. And in reflection, I wondered why I was so surprised? And of course, it was rooted in my faulty assumptions.

Ultimately, both my perspective of others and myself as well as Carol Dweck’s research on fixed vs. growth mindsets distill down to the idea of absolutes. For all my life, I have felt more comfortable existing in a worldview of absolutes: good or bad; black or white; holy or profane; worthy or detestable. Just like it’s easier to shop in a supermarket where everything is labeled, it is more convenient to live in a world where everyone is categorized. But…though easier…it is more limiting. And more destructive.

But thankfully, I don’t have to stay here. I can change, grow, evolve. And so can anyone and everyone around me.

I just have to perpetually cultivate the gracious space for that personal and communal shifting.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. edpeters06
    Apr 11, 2015 @ 09:11:34

    Yes to gracious space! Love the honesty in this post.

    Like

    Reply

  2. K. Renae P.
    Apr 11, 2015 @ 09:33:36

    This is something I’m working on myself. As a person who prided herself on being open-minded and supportive, it was humbling and a little disappointing personally to realize that I wasn’t that way with other adults.

    While I was packaging my colleagues in nice little boxes, I was placing myself in a pretty little box myself. It’s stifling to think that way though. People both young and old deserve better. I deserve better. So, I will do better.

    Awesome post.

    Like

    Reply

    • Mary
      Apr 11, 2015 @ 09:35:30

      So true…that in doing it to others, we inadvertently label ourselves… and not with the label I want! “Stifling”…that’s exactly what it is.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

      Reply

  3. Heather Wheat
    Apr 13, 2015 @ 09:31:53

    Reblogged this on wanderingbarkhumanities and commented:
    So, so true—and so important for every teacher/educator to realize.

    Like

    Reply

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