Teaching kids to stretch

Growth and fixed mindsets impact on student achievement.

Bored kids? Encourage them to seek out a challenge.

Adults and children are of two minds when it comes to achievement.  Former teacher and education guru Dan Haesler outlines how a fixed or growth mindset can influence your child’s confidence and their ability to thrive in and out of the classroom.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are fixed traits. They spend time documenting these traits instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success, without effort.

In a growth mindset, people believe their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

So why is this important?

Like other educators, Haesler believes we do kids a disservice – and limit them – when we label them, even with ones we think of as a compliment. Children labelled as bright or gifted become fixed in their mindset as they are afraid to take risks for fear of failure and losing their status. For children who are used to negative labels or who don’t think of themselves as bright, they don’t believe that trying will make any difference and they underperform.

“You can be brilliant at something and have a fixed mindset or you can be rubbish at something and have a fixed mindset,” Haesler told Sydney Catholic Schools staff at a wellbeing retreat in March.

“It’s the behaviours that are important. With a fixed mindset you avoid challenge.

“You might have a really great sports person, but they want to be the best player in a rubbish team.  They don’t want to go to rep trials because there’s a chance they might have to be on the bench and that would be quite embarrassing since they’re supposed to be a brilliant player.

“If you have a kid who is a school refuser, just getting to school is a challenge so they avoid it. Putting their hand up in class is a challenge so they avoid it.”

These avoidance behaviours can travel into adulthood. Not good at Maths? You might avoid splitting the bill at a restaurant. Public speaking not your biggest talent? This might impact on your confidence in the workplace and a whole host of social situations.

A parent’s role

Dan says that even with good intentions parents often collude in their child’s avoidance.

“It might be kid who’s been playing the same piece of music over and over again,” he said. “Instead of challenging them to play a different instrument, or to play something harder we encourage them to play ‘that song’ at a dinner party for friends.”

Encouraging students to reflect on what they’ve learnt rather than praising good grades will help.

“Kids come home with A’s every single day and have learned nothing since they could already do the task, or a parent has done it for them.

“If he comes out with a D for a paper mache volcano, maybe Johnny will get the role that putting in effort and having a go has on his level of ability.

“If you’ve got a kid, or a parent who is adamant that they’re kid is going to be dux, get the best ATAR, go to the best uni and get the best job, then by definition any success of their peers is a threat to them. That is not condusive to being their best. We need to encourage them to embrace challenge and lessen the focus on grades.

“That is what being in growth mindset is all about. You’re out of your comfort zone and you like it there. You like the fact that something is a bit tricky because you know that you are developing.”

Growth mindset behaviours to encourage:

  • seeking out and embracing challenge
  • persisting in the face of setbacks
  • taking on feedback, and being inspired by the success of others
  • Improvement for the sake of improving – not for a grade or a prize



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