Cultivate a Growth Mindset
When Patrick Dangerfield went from being the captain of his school and a remarkable athlete at junior level, he was expected to transition to stardom in the AFL. History will record that he went on to become a champion of the game, but it will not capture that his first year was dominated by a crushing fear of failure. In 2018, Dangerfield revealed that the junior champion who could be counted upon to win matches off his own boot spent his first year with the Adelaide Crows fearful of getting the ball in his hands. For the rookie, the joy that he had got out of the game through his childhood had changed.
This was a key story that Dan Haesler shared with the Mazenod teachers on our professional learning day at the start of year. As Director of Cut Through Coaching & Consulting, Haesler consults to corporate business, the education sector, elite sporting organisations, as well as the The Black Dog Institute around issues of leadership, engagement, mindset and wellbeing. The focus for our staff on his visit to Mazenod was “mindset”.
The word “mindset” comes from the book of the same name by Stanford University academic, Carol Dweck. Underpinning this concept is the idea that the way young people and adults evaluate themselves impacts their growth. On some aspects of our lives, we develop a fixed mindset, convinced that we can’t paint, do maths or sing. As a result, we avoid any attempt to do those things. This is called a fixed mindset. In other aspects of our lives, we know that we can learn or improve and so relish the challenge of taking on difficult tasks. This is called the growth mindset.
This is not to say that we can all be Rembrandt, win a Fields Medal or compete on X Factor. Rather, in a growth mindset, we can all improve by seeking out challenge and using feedback.
A key takeaway from Haesler’s workshop was centered on how we talk to our students and our children about their learning and their other pursuits. Often, the language of adults can influence how children can view themselves. Below are some pointers that parents might find useful:
- Embrace imperfection. Seeking perfection can lead people to avoid challenges.
- Praise the struggle over the ability. Carol Dweck’s study found that children praised for their intelligence avoided challenge and gave up quickly when they encountered difficulty. Those who were praised for struggle persisted in spite of difficulty.
- The power of “yet”. Shift from “I can’t play guitar” to “I can’t play guitar yet”.
As influential adults, we can model this to our students and our children by being seen to try new things and to embrace imperfection. It’s not about being brilliant or the best; rather, it’s about being able to learn and grow.
For every Patrick Dangerfield, who overcame his fear of failure and embraced a growth mindset, there are countless potential champions who could not cope when their fixed sense of their own gifts was confronted by new challenges. The difference between them and Dangerfield had nothing to do with talent but everything to do with mindset.
Deputy of Teaching and Learning