Growth Mindset Moments | Faculty orientation
“Does anyone have a growth mindset moment to share?”
I asked this question at the beginning of most of my first-year seminary classes last fall.
The project was only a small part of my curriculum and happened by chance. At the beginning of the semester, we discussed the theories behind various mindsets. Much of our discussion has focused on the concept of growth mindset described by Carol Dweck in her landmark book. We compared ideas related to growth mindsets and fixed mindsets, discussing how individuals with growth mindsets overcome challenges while those with fixed mindsets avoid challenges. We talked about how growth-mindset learners don’t give up in the face of obstacles unlike fixed-mindset learners, and the value of effort in their learning. We explained how those with a growth mindset accept and learn from failure as opposed to those with a fixed mindset who cannot handle mistakes (Dweck).
In previous classes, I’ve shared one of Dweck’s Ted Talks outlining his concepts – these are worth watching in class. This year, however, I took a slightly different approach. Since my class focuses on the hero’s journey, I filled slides with images of heroes, anti-heroes, and villains. We then debated whether their favorite characters had a fixed growth or mindset. This led to an engaging discussion about whether Loki gives up in the face of obstacles and whether the Joker learns from the challenges he faces. The students shared compelling insights into whether heroes or villains were more likely to possess a growth mindset.
I originally planned to have students write about how they can maintain a growth mindset as they approach each of their first semester courses, most of which are part of the curriculum. college basics; however, we ran out of time. So I improvised. Instead of writing about how they can maintain a growth mindset, I challenged students to look for growth mindset moments throughout their semester and then be prepared to share them with the class. The mission description indicated that growth mindsets could focus on academic, emotional, or personal growth. It can be related to our class or a different class, any sport, social activity or club. The only stipulation was when to show how the student adopted a growth mindset.
I started each class by asking if the students had any growth moments to share. At first, students were hesitant to share these growth mindset moments. When the room fell silent, I continued. Then I started sharing growth mindset moments from my own life. I talked about lessons learned from walking my dog Finn and how watching my husband coach our son’s baseball team taught me how to move forward despite failure. Photos showing my son and my dog on slides helped bring these moments to life for the students.
Then a hand went up. A student shared her experience of working at a local hospital. A young boy, close to his age, was brought in over the weekend after suffering head trauma. The student told the class how he nearly died, and the experience showed him how precious life was and how quickly it could be taken away, even at a young age – a time of growth.
Slowly, over the next few weeks, other students began to share their own growth mindset moments. Some students shared how failing a math or chemistry test taught them to seek out the college’s free tutoring services. It was the perfect sequence to remind students of the myriad of tutoring offered by our institution. Many students have explained that they were overwhelmed with work from various courses, including my own, and found a planner to help them manage their time and document when assignments needed to be completed.
The students talked about their experiences on various sports teams. A golfer in the class said he tried harder after failing to compete in a golf tournament. Other students spoke of the social challenges college can present. Students described how they learned to stop comparing themselves to others when it comes to academic achievement. One student mentioned that in our class, students get points for participating in class-led discussions, and in doing so, she learned that talking in class isn’t that scary and found a voice to stand up for. express in other classes.
Perhaps my favorite growth mindset moment came in the middle of class. Students were working on research for their signing assignments. After helping a student find an article and encouraging him to Lily the article, he raised his hand. “Can I use this as a growth mindset moment?” He asked. I nodded. The student went on to describe how he had just learned that you should read the sources you plan to use in your research, even if it is difficult. He had never approached research in this way before.
Several students were not comfortable sharing personal information in class, so they emailed me their growth mindset moments. One student talked about the challenges with her family and how they showed her that she needed space and couldn’t be everything to everyone.
Without prompting, many of the topics covered in the Growth Mindset Moments aligned with the topics we cover as part of our “Learn at University” curriculum in the Freshman Seminars. I believe the ideas shared are also aligned with the general principles of learning to be a good human.
Although I never intended to open every class by asking students if they had any growth moments to share, I’m glad I did. Sharing small moments from the lives of my students helped invite dialogues about success in college and in life. The moments challenged students to view their first semesters from a different perspective and to define each obstacle as potential for growth. Pay attention, I told the students, what happens this semester will teach you who you are and how you can get the most out of your college education. Be careful, I told myself, there is always room to grow.
Nickolena Kassolis Herdson is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Communication and Writing at York College of Pennsylvania. She also teaches in the college’s freshman seminar program.
Dweck, C. (2007) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantines Books. New York.