When thinking about my own personal and professional growth as a Learning Coach this year, I immediately think about the book “Mindset” by Carol Dwek. When I first began to read Carol’s book early on in the school year, I was amazed at how simplistic and yet profound the whole idea of one’s “mindset” is, and how it affects so much of who we are and how we meet life’s challenges. In Carol’s book, I learned that mindsets are beliefs about ourselves and our most basic qualities. When a person has a fixed mindset, they believe that the most basic qualities such as intelligence, talents and personality are carved in stone and are unchangeable. When a person has a growth mindset, they believe that these most basic traits can be cultivated throughout their lives, through dedication, hard work and resiliency.
I was very excited about this book, because I felt that it fit closely into my own belief system about teaching and learning. As I began to read Carol’s book, I was especially confident in my own “growth mindset”. I saw myself as a risk taker, someone who embraced flexibility, growth and change. I was also very confident in my role as a Learning Coach – that collaborative partner that would support my colleagues with their own professional growth this year.
As the year progressed however, I came to the stark realization that in some ways my mindset was in fact fixed. This especially came to light whenever I was placed in a situation that was completely out of my comfort zone. The ironic thing is that this happened often in my new role as Learning Coach, causing me a great deal of anxiety. Because of this, I really had no choice but to stop and take an honest look at what was causing me anxiety during these times and why. Being able to honestly recognize my own fixed mindset was both a humbling and freeing experience. Like many others, I am my own worst critic. When things got challenging for me in my role as Learning Coach, my first response was to feel frustrated with what I felt like were my own shortcomings. This put me into a very fixed mindset. It took real effort at times to change my own thinking by taking a step back and being very deliberate with my own self-talk and self-reflection, so that I was able to honestly see things through the “growth mindset lens”.
Carol Dwek states in her book, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.” Once I was able to look at these times of anxiety through the growth mindset, honestly looking at what was happening and critically thinking about what changes I needed to make, I felt so much more resilient. My anxiety lessoned and I felt freer to take risks and make mistakes, looking at these as opportunities for growth. This process also gave me a deeper understanding of what others go through when they hit that fixed mindset wall. In order to be successful in supporting learning and growth, I honestly believe that I need to meet students and colleagues where they are at in their learning journey. Reading Carol’s book gave me the understanding of what a fixed mindset is and how to support others in moving towards a growth mindset. My own challenges allowed me to understand and empathize with others when they felt this same anxiety and frustration when working outside of their comfort zone. As I reflect back to the many learning opportunities that I have had this year, I smile when I think about the successes and smile even more when I think about the challenges. It may have not always been pretty or perfect, but I am confident that relationships were built and learning did take place.