Tired of the Fixed Mindset

The school year is over. I’ve spent the past 5 days recovering from one of the most difficult years I’ve ever taught. I have done a lot of thinking in the past five days as I start to regain my energy. I look back and see a beat down and exhausted person pleading for mercy. I was so tired…

…of watching students crumbling up their notes into a ball and throwing them, instead of using them to study.

…of watching young men and women punching and slapping each other.

…of them avoiding accountability and always putting the blame on others.

…listening to screaming – in other people’s faces, in my face, and in general.

…listening to incessant cussing. Oh, the cussing.

…of students refusing to lift a pencil to do work and my encouragement falling on deaf ears.

…watching middle school students throw temper tantrums like toddlers because they are not allowed to leave the classroom to go to the bathroom when, in fact, they most definitely don’t need to use the bathroom.

…of breaking up fights and listening to threats.

…of disrespect. Blatant and malicious disrespect.

But, above all else, I grew tired of the fixed mindset.

The sad truth is that the students I taught exhibited these behaviors on a daily basis. The sadder truth? Every single one of my students has amazing academic potential. Unfortunately, the fixed mindset they have developed over time interferes with their learning. They have lost belief in themselves as learners. Their previous failures have damaged their egos and their self-esteem in the classroom. Therefore, when the content becomes difficult, instead of making an effort and trying, they resort to other behaviors.

And at the end of the day, I don’t blame them. Even though I get frustrated with them, they are not the ones at fault.

I understand that these students did not develop these mindsets on their own. My students’ families – spearheaded by their parents – and neighborhoods have instilled these mindsets in them. Their past teachers, classmates, and other school faculty were not able to help them establish a growth mindset that helps them overcome failures, either. The result? A student body devoid of a single growth mindset.

My students are at an age where most of what I say will be trumped by their peers (or at least that is what Erik Erikson has taught me). Despite that, I still wanted to encourage my students to rid themselves of their fixed mindsets! So, I introduced my students to Carol S. Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, We read passages that exemplified both types of mindsets and discussed the consequences of each. I was determined to open their eyes to what they were missing.

Well, I’m afraid I fell short. My students are moving on next year; many of them with the same mindset they had when they started this school year. When I first realized this, I felt as though I had failed my students. But, wait. I already knew that my encouragement to an individual with a fixed mindset is going to have very little weight, let alone a teenager with a fixed mindset. So did I fail, or did I learn a very valuable lesson that I can blog and share with other educators?

Mindsets are formed early. As educators, we need to start teaching the benefits of a growth mindset often, as early as kindergarten and before! And educators need parents, more than ever, to instill a growth mindset in their children. If parents do not get on board in encouraging their children to grow mentally and emotionally, how are teachers ever going to succeed in expecting a growth mindset in the classroom?

What will I do differently next year? Talk about the growth mindset early and often and to everyone I meet! Our students need to know that they are capable of so much! The first step in reaching their goals is believing that they can and realizing their potential. Hopefully, this will give them something to believe in and hold on to throughout the challenges that middle school will present to them.

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