Sunday, May 4, 2008

Promoting Resilience in Yourself and Others - How Attitude Affects Achievement

by Jennifer Abrams - excerpt from Jennifer's May, 2008 newsletter

With May around the corner, everyone thinking of summer, and most of us having a just a few weeks left in school, I have been spending some time thinking about how we can help each other and our students continue to work to our full potential. How can we persevere, and show up as our best selves as the school year comes to an end? How do we keep our sense of discipline and rigor, especially if we are thinking things are ‘wrapped up’ or have a sense that whatever we do from here on out might not make that much of an impact at this point? This type of thinking is prevalent around this time and it doesn’t serve.

At moments like this, positive self-talk for ourselves and for our students really matters. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, has written a book about this very topic. Dweck’s book, Mindset, is an incredibly readable study of two mindsets – the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. In a nutshell, most of us fall into two categories in terms of how we perceive our abilities – either that we have the smarts (or not), or that through our effort we can increase them. Her research on how living in the growth mindset will ultimately help us succeed is validating work for those of us who work with students – we need to teach them that their effort (and ours) will make a difference.

The fixed mindset can sound like this:

Either I am smart or I am not

One is born with a certain amount of intelligence and I don’t have enough

Smart is making no mistakes, going fast, and about the outcome being perfect

Failure isn’t an action - it is an identity – I just don’t fail, I am a failure

If I fail, I might not just be judged, but I might actually be unlovable

At this time of the school year, the idea of ‘giving up’ sounds awfully tempting. And for those of us who ‘default’ to the fixed mindset, the overwhelm that happens now can really push us to not push.

The growth mindset is a more optimum frame of mind to be in, not only at this point in the school year, but all year. It can sound like this:

I believe effort is a positive, constructive force

Growing and progress are important to me – not just the product or outcome

I can substantially change, stretch, and grow

Challenge is good

Being on my learning edge is the smart thing to do

This way of looking at the world seems so logical when I put it out like this. So why don’t we live here?

The larger society has said for such a long time that “success is about being more gifted than others, that failure does measure you, and that effort is for those who can’t make it on talent.” (Dweck)

We don’t talk about vulnerability and struggle as good things – in our ‘insta-success’ society everything must sound “Great!” It just isn’t comfortable to admit we are having a hard time.

It is hard for many of to sit with someone who is struggling or trying to cope.

What can we do to foster the growth mindset?

As writer/educator Denise Clark Pope, author of Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, has said, we can live in a ‘culture of redemption and revision.’

We can work with Martin Seligman’s concepts from Learned Optimism and think of failures or struggles as short-term, localized moments over which we do have control.

We can deliberately and consciously teach ourselves, and our students, the habit of mind of persistence. (More information on this topic to be found in the books on Habits of Mind by Art Costa and Bena Kallick.)

Have conversations in which we ask ourselves:

What mistake did I make today that taught me something?

What did I try hard at today?

What did I do today that I struggled with and what did I learn?

Helping students and ourselves to end the school year with continued effort and strength is a goal worth striving for.

If you’d like to have more information about how to effectively praise for effort and live in the growth mindset more effectively, please contact me. We can organize a parent or educator training on this topic in your school, district or organization.

For more information on Jennifer Abrams go to

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