Over the summer Mrs. Thompson challenged each of the SJCS faculty to read Carol Dweck's book, Mindset. Teachers came back excited about what the book meant to them both professionally and personally. The middle school teachers decided to end the first week of school with a mindset mixer to frame the year and emphasize the mindset we want in our community.
In her book, Dweck categorizes the way we think about things into two mindsets: fixed and growth. Fixed mindset believes people are the way they are. It says, "I am who I am, so working hard is not necessary." In times of fixed mindset, challenge feels hard, and success seems to have no guarantee. Criticism is viewed as personal attack, so in a fixed mindset we stick to what we know to avoid failure. In contrast, growth mindset believes intelligence and skills can be improved. When we approach something with a growth mindset, we embrace challenge as a way to grow, and are inspired by others' successes. Growth mindset sees failure as a way to learn. Effort and hard work are necessary and good in growth mindset.
Five middle school teachers shared personal mindset testimonies. Mrs. Coetsee shared how Apple became what it is today through the growth mindset of Jobs and Wozniak. One teacher shared her fixed mindset around her artistic ability. This mindset served her well until she was challenged by a high school teacher to hone her craft. This wise teacher and role model helped her shift to a growth mindset that realized all gifts require work to develop. Other stories were more current such as my celebration that this summer, I finally took the courage to go to swimming lessons and "blow bubbles" underwater for the first time. In 3rd Grade I did not pass swimming lessons. And in my teen years I needed to be rescued from a farm pond and, later on, a Lake Eerie undertow. A growth mindset helped me face my fears and see this challenge as a way to grow.
During the mixer students interacted with two different activities. Over the hour together we looked at a variety of middle school opportunities where mindset matters. One group of students noted that we can have a fixed mindset in our walk of faith when we feel that God is not present or hearing us. However, they saw that growth mindset in our walk with God chooses faith, even in difficult situations. Another group found that group projects and science experiments are greatly affected by mindset. "I can't do it" and "this is too hard" mark a fixed mindset, while a growth mindset asks for guidance when needed, and takes studying seriously as a way to make a positive impact in the group. Students looking at mindset in sports quickly realized that a fixed mindset gives up easily, acts superior, takes more credit than the rest of team, and blames others for losses. Team players who work well with others and take advice help their team improve to something even better. Groups explored mindset as it relates to study skills, bullying, music, relationships with peers and parents, writing, and test preparation.
Already I have seen fruit of the mindset mixer in my 8 Bible class. We spent the last week writing a sermon summary of Nouwen's Being the Beloved. With great trepidation students shared their writing each day. As they discovered new writing skills, they also discovered that our classroom is a place where we learn together as we turn setbacks into growth opportunities.