By Shannon Buerk
Driving back home to the coast after Hurricane Harvey, I was so moved by the scene at every turn. Images of irreparable damage: flattened homes and businesses, metal buildings cut up like paper through a shredder, power lines and poles laid down in rows like matchsticks, and shattered glass everywhere.
These war zone-like images were juxtaposed with images of thriving community: parking lots with grills set up cooking meat with groups of neighbors gathered around laughing and talking; tables set up with donations of food, water, clothes for free; groups of people working together cleaning and clearing debris. It was a scene of resilient humanity.
My heart is breaking for so many people who have suffered severe loss during this 1,000 year storm (we had relatively little damage). My prayers continue for everyone I see and hear about and know: family and dear friends who have lost everything. I do love, however, the way people come together and rise to the occasion and drop everything to help and sacrifice personally to serve others. I marvel at the unique capacity inside people to see disaster as an opportunity to show love.
In the same way, people with growth mindset see every challenge, every roadblock, every problem or barrier as an opportunity to learn and grow. People with growth mindset actually thrive in times of difficulty and seek opportunities to solve problems. That is when they feel the most alive. We have recently witnessed the rising popularity of the concept of growth mindset uncovered by Carol Dweck and made a household topic by Angela Duckworth.
We know that employers are touting growth mindset or grit as a critical skill for success. And, educators everywhere understand why learners who embrace new learning will be more successful in life. According to a study by LinkedIn, people change jobs at least 4 times by age 32. Getting a job, keeping a job, adapting to a new job, being innovative in your job, and working for yourself all require this critical skill. So does raising a family, staying married, developing good habits, being a good neighbor, contributing meaningfully to your community, navigating ever-changing technology, and consuming media with discretion.
Do you know what we find in training thousands of teachers every summer and coaching them all year? Teachers with growth mindset embrace the training and the coaching even though it is challenging. Then, because it is challenging, they grow in their craft, and they are able to nurture growth mindset in their students. It is beautiful to see. They embrace the struggle to learn the new and integrate it into their practice and celebrate the progress along the way. Teachers with fixed mindset complain about the difficulty of the training and coaching, shrink from the challenge of working on their craft, and have classrooms where students do not have to think for themselves either.
In the world we live in today, growth mindset is not only an asset, but a survival skill. We want neighbors, community members, employees, and friends that problem-solve everyday challenges, can think beyond political rhetoric to make wise and mutually beneficial decisions, and rise to the occasion in historic natural disasters. We have the important responsibility and amazing opportunity in public education to both model and nurture growth mindset in learners that can use their gifts to make the world a better place, even when it is hard.
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