Now that we are into the third month of school, parents and students have mostly adjusted to their new classes or in some cases, new school; everyone seems to be settled into a routine. And it is around this time of the year that conversations with parents typically turn to the topic of motivation. It is not unusual for parents to drop into my office and ask me how to motivate their children. This call for help is probably preceded by their children coming home saying, “I am bored”, or “I don’t want to go to school”, or “It’s too hard” during homework time. Sometimes it could be a wake up call from their teachers saying, “ Your child can attend more, stay more focused, or engage more in learning…..”. Sound familiar?
During the academic year 2011/2012, the KGMS staff made a commitment to learn about motivation: What do we know about the internal workings of children when it comes to learning? We posed this question to Dr. Shelley Hymel, the social emotional learning expert at UBC, who is also on our KGMS advisory board. She came to the school and worked with us multiple times throughout the year, using Dr. Carol Dweck’s research as foundation.
According to Dr. Dweck’s work at Stanford University, there are two beliefs of intelligence, the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. People who have a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is a fixed quantity and cannot be changed. People who have a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be increased by effort and can be cultivated through learning.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself, what do you believe? Where are you on the following continuum?
Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
“You can’t really ever “You can always improve
change how smart you are.” on your intelligence with hard work.”
What people believe about intelligence affects how motivated they are to persevere in the face of difficulty or failure. For example, people with fixed mindsets will equate failure or encountering difficulty as an indication of low intelligence. Therefore they will avoid failure by almost always seeking easier tasks. By succeeding in an easy task, they will have proven to themselves that they are smart.
On the other hand, people with growth mindsets will equate any failure or difficulty as an opportunity to grow and learn something new. They are motivated to persevere and are not discouraged by initial failures because to them failure is not related to how smart they are, it is just a necessary nuisance on the road to success. Therefore, a person with a growth mindset is more likely to take risks in learning, try new ideas, and take on new challenges; whereas a person with a fixed mindset is more likely to continuously seek safety in success and attempt less challenging tasks while simultaneously resisting challenges.
So, what are the implications for us practitioners or parents as we interact with our children daily? Simply put, we need to encourage the development of growth mindsets in ourselves and our children. We need to model the belief that we can grow and learn, especially when we are faced with difficult tasks. When we share our successful experiences, the joy of this process is infectious. Our children can see that failure is only an open door that will lead to success with hard work; and that there is no bounds to how much our minds can soar when we apply some effort to learning something that is difficult.
Just when I think that speaking about different mind sets is only limited to those of us who know how to speak educational jargon, I discovered that it is no longer the best kept secret – the common man out there knows about it too! This discovery happened when I walked into my dentist office last week for my semi annual check up and met a motivated team. There is energy in the air. The atmosphere is that of subdued excitement and innovative efficiency. My dentist and his team put me on the chair and started explaining to me about all the new techniques and equipment they are learning to use. Before I had a chance to even respond, my dentist made a comment: Got to have the team embrace the growth mind set and stay on the cutting edge! Now, that is motivation.