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Failing Forward: How I Learned to Apply a Growth Mindset to My Students and Myself

April 2, 2015
Failing Forward: How I Learned to Apply a Growth Mindset to My Students and Myself

Sometimes I think that my kids deserve a better teacher. I feel this way especially after a giant behavioral meltdown, an assessment that shows little to no growth, or an administrator evaluation that didn’t go as smoothly as planned. At these points in time, I feel like a lousy educator, and I can’t imagine ever being a good one.

My students feel the exact same way about themselves at times. They feel this way after they have a giant emotional meltdown, after a poor grade on an assessment, or when getting a ton of constructive feedback from me, their teacher. Yet I have been trained to develop within them a growth mindset. This attitude toward self allows them to face challenges, to see failure as momentary, not characteristic, and to learn from mistakes, rather than getting hung up on them.

This idea of a growth mindset comes from Dr. Carol Dweck, and rivals the fixed mindset that many of us grew up experiencing in school. Students with a fixed mindset want to “look smart,” which means always being right. These types of students avoid challenges, run away from tasks they might fail at, and get emotionally down when they do experience difficulty or failure. These types of students may one day gain an appearance of being smart, but have managed to avoid the rich fruit of challenges and critical feedback.

What I find interesting is how many young, new teachers (including myself) are so good at training students to think in a growth mindset type of way without ever thinking that way about ourselves. Instead of using development, feedback, and evaluation as tools to grow, we get frustrated. We daydream about other, easier jobs. We label ourselves as “poor teachers” or blame our failures on the ever-present, larger systemic issues.

When I get caught in a negative mindset, I have to apply the same principles of learning and growing I teach my students: fail forward, “can’t” is a bad word, no one is stuck being smart or dumb, we are here to “grow our brains,” and more. In the end, this type of mindset makes me a better teacher not only for the 23 smiling faces in my classroom right now, but also for the thousands of faces I will get to teach in the future.