I recently came across a couple of blog posts that discuss the difference between the fixed and growth mindsets. These mindsets help describe how we see our personality traits. In the fixed mindset, the belief is you are what you are; your intelligence, character, and skills do not change over time.
On the other hand, those in the growth mindset believe that life is a process. They view every mistake as a lesson and opportunity to learn. Being bad at something is only temporary, with hard work and practice they feel like they can get better at any skill.
I was introduced to the idea of the growth and fixed mindsets during my time at Teach For America. The organization instilled in us that the growth mindset was critical to students' development. We wanted the students to believe that being good at math isn’t because you were born with a big brain. It was because you put in the time to learn and practice the concepts of geometry and algebra.
Being exposed to this concept made me realized how much I was stuck in the fixed mindset. At Institute, our group of Corps Members would play volleyball during our off time. I was invited to play but would always decline as I viewed myself as a bad volleyball player. I couldn’t handle the embarrassment of sucking. I remember not trying a bunch of things because I was scared of being exposed. I needed to protect my frail ego from failing or being noticed failing.
Over my two years of teaching, I would fail… a lot. My students didn’t pass the standardized tests in the percentages required by the state. I would spend hours creating lessons with intricate props that would bomb within the first ten minutes. I couldn’t control my classroom of twelve students, it was as if I was ran over by eleven year olds. I felt like I wasn’t making a difference and was just playing teacher. But I wouldn’t change anything about that experience.
The funny thing is I probably learned more about myself than the students did about math, which meant I really failed at teaching. I began to embrace the growth mindset and my failures as much as I hoped my students would. I admitted to not knowing how to bike and was taught by my roommate. I also went surfing for the first time and actually stood up on a surfboard. I got in front of a classroom of students and commanded attention even though I generally don’t like being the center of attention. I leaned into my shortcomings and worked to gain new skills.
However, this doesn’t mean that I’m totally immune to the fixed mindset. At karaoke, I find myself being embarrassed to sing after someone belts out a perfect ballad. I’m still not confident in riding a bike and failed miserably about a year ago. I shy away from social events because I don’t think I’m outgoing enough.
These articles and my experience in Teach For America remind me that those things can change. I can go on Youtube to watch video lessons on singing and vocal chords. I can ask my friends if they would give me bike lessons and practice until I become competent. I can keep going to these events and work on just saying hi to one new person. I wouldn’t want any of my former students to believe that they can’t change for the better, so why would I limit myself to that belief?
What I’ve Read:
Short post that summarizes the differences between the fixed and growth mindset. Great to read if you don’t have time and just want to get the gist of it.
Awesome longer post that weaves Maria Popova’s thoughts into the subject.
This is Derek Siver’s notes on the book that inspired the two blog posts shared above. I like reading his notes because it’s like getting the cliff notes on nonfiction books. The most meaningful notes for me occur towards the bottom of the page. These notes deal with how the growth and fixed mindset affect relationships.
What I’ve Heard:
This is a random nugget thrown into about 800 words about mindsets. Last weekend, I went to a Tritonal concert and had a blast. That might also be the reason why this update was late. For the last month or so, I’ve been listening to their radio show Tritionia in anticipation of the show.
I’ve been thinking about my TFA experience more after this update. I think I’ll use this as a draft to a longer piece about my entire time teaching. Plus, it’ll be nice to have something written that I can refer to when my memory starts fading.