By Mel Riddile
How important is it that our teachers believe in the capacity of our students to learn at high levels? What are the consequences for student achievement if we don’t set the bar high? Some studies indicate that a significant number of our teachers do not believe that all students can or should be held to high standards. One study in particular left a lasting impression on me. On the Front Lines of Schools revealed that two-thirds of the thousands of teachers surveyed did not believe that all students could or should be held to high standards.
When I read that study, it was a low point for me. I knew that a significant number of teachers doubted the ability of students to succeed in rigorous courses. After all, most of them had never seen it happen. If two-thirds of the school's faculty does not believe that all students could succeed in a rigorous curriculum, what chance do we have to significantly improve student achievement?
In our school, we constantly repeated the mantra, "given time, all students can learn." It took time to convince our staff that our students were capable of so much more than we ever thought possible. Not only had we never seen students like ours achieve at high levels, but most of us had been taught that students either had the ability to succeed or they didn't.
If Carol Dweck had written Mindset a few years earlier, I would have purchased a copy for the entire staff and conducted a book talk. Her research destroys the myth that success in school is about ability. The operative word here is "research." Mindset is not pop psychology.
Dweck discovered that what people believe about success drives their behavior. One group, "fixed mindset," believes that ability is something you either have or you don't and that ability is the best predictor of success. Those with a fixed mindset worship talent and believe that no matter how hard one works, the level of achievement is limited by their innate ability.
Dweck and other researchers like Lauren Resnick have learned that the opposite is true. In the real world, work and effort create ability. Dweck discovered that some people have a "growth mindset." They believe that success is the result of time, work, and deliberate practice. Her research has found that those with a growth mindset were resilient learners who viewed problem solving as a challenge and an opportunity to learn. On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset gave up easily and spent most of their time protecting their self-image.
The reality is that we can talk about culture and high achievement, and we can conduct high-quality professional development activities until we are blue in the face, but, if our teachers have a fixed mindset, our efforts are doomed. School leaders must do everything possible to help our teachers acquire a growth mindset. Once that is accomplished, our school will be unstoppable.
Mindset is perhaps the most important book for educators published in the last decade. In fact, if there is one book that every teacher, administrator, and parent should read, it is Mindset.
Bonus Feature: NASSP is offering school leaders an opportunity to begin a text-based conversation about effective instructional practices using select articles in Principal Leadership magazine. Check out the sample issue of the discussion guide that includes Carol Dweck's "Mind-Sets and Equitable Education” from January 2010. Use the discussion guide as a conversation starter to help your staff begin thinking about their mindsets and how they can help foster a "growth mindset" in their students.
AP Insight, Vol. 3, Issue 2