I have a little one who is very fearful of making mistakes. This little one has yet to see failure as an opportunity for improvement. When we had an “open-ended” project this little one would ask me for my approval every step of the way. “Do you like this Miss Hodges? Is this okay? See how I colored this?” This very creative little one was so fearful of making a mistake that he couldn’t enjoy this opportunity. An opportunity to shine instead of just filling in a blank. An opportunity to express his own precious personality.
In order to combat these types of interactions in the classroom, I am part of a book club that meets once a month to talk about The Growth Mindset Coach. We share our thoughts about the book and ways of implementing it in our classroom. A growth mindset is most easily defined by what it is not – a fixed mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe their qualities are fixed traits and therefore cannot change. A fixed mindset will hinder progress. If you think you can’t do math, you probably won’t.
But don’t be mistaken, growth mindset isn’t just positive thinking. It is based on science that can map changes in the brain when we challenge ourselves to learn something new. The neural connections multiply and therefore our brains become stronger and we change, and grow as a person. So in my classroom, rather than saying, “I can’t do this,” we say, “I can’t do this yet.” Or instead of, “This is too hard,” we say, “This is really hard, but I will give it time and effort.”
While I love the science and the inspiring quotes by famous people who have succeeded because they have a growth mindset, it is missing one wonderful, glorious factor – Christ. He is in the business of growth.
We see in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (Message), “Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other.”
So we are given a fresh start that continues in Philippians 1:6 (Message), “There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”
This gives my students hope. I can whisper encouragement and prayers during times of frustration knowing God is with us and doing a work in us and through us. And before you think things are always super-spiritual in my classroom, sometimes the answer is humor. A little one was having almost daily meltdowns in math. This day there were no tears but every mistake was followed by, “Ah, nuts!” Instead of growth mindset encouragement, I commented it was good that I didn’t have a nut allergy with all the nuts at the math table! The little one looked up at me with disbelief, followed by a grin, and then little giggles that got us through to the end of the math lesson.
When we look at all the “nuts” in life but step out in faith anyway, that’s when we can achieve anything we put our minds to. That’s when we really will start to see growth in our lives. It can be really hard, but give it time; let those “nuts” produce strong trees rooted in faith. And remember, great things take time to grow.