Thursday, August 20, 2009

Changing My 'Mindset'

The summer reading book for our faculty and staff at Castilleja is Carol Dweck's, Mindset. I've found it a fascinating read and already am finding that it is positively affecting my own mindset about long held beliefs I've had about my ability to learn certain tasks. The essence of Ms. Dweck's book is that humans have two different types of mindsets that they slip into when learning. The first mindset is one where we believe that the ability to learn something is hardwired into our DNA. I've had the fixed mindset about learning music for years - I believe that you either have an innate ability to learn music or you don't. People who have the second mindset, or the growth mindset, have a totally different approach. They believe that new skills can be cultivated and developed through hard work and effort.

In the book she cites many examples of individuals who have taken on either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. She tells Michael Jordan's story and how people with the fixed mindset tend to attribute his success to natural ability and great physical gifts. They forget the fact that he was cut from his high school basketball team in his senior year and that he was a notorious gym rat well before he established himself as one of the greatest NBA players ever. Michael Jordan is the classic growth minded athlete. Clearly he not only enjoyed great challenges but he thrived under these pressure situations. The video below demonstrates Jordan's perspective in failure and success:

Mindset has already had an impact on my attitude about learning new tasks. I was recently in Ludington, Michigan visiting with my family and friends. My brother-in-law, Bill, is an incredible card player. All of his children are excellent card players as well. For years they've asked me to play cards, but I would always say something like, "I'm terrible at cards," and then I'd sit on the sidelines. Bill comes from a family of card players and I've always considered his card playing ability to be hard coded into his DNA. Since becoming more aware of the various mindsets, I now am able to see that Bill's card playing skills have nothing to do with innate ability. Bill has spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours playing cards with his family and friends over the years. He can anticipate someone holding a jack in their hand while playing euchre not because of some magical ability, but because he has tons of experience playing the game. He is poised and calm during cards not because he is a "cool-cat," but because he has a great deal of experience practicing. On my last day in Michigan, my sister asked me if I'd like to learn and play euchre with Bill and their daughter, Tenley. I put myself into a growth mindset and said, "Sure." I concentrated and applied myself a bit and while I still struggled to learn all the nuances of the game, I did learn some basic rules and now feel as though I can at least play and enjoy a game of euchre. If I didn't have the growth mindset, I'm guessing I would've turned down my sister's offer to play and learn the basics of a new card game (more importantly, I would've missed out on a fun experience with my family!)

In upcoming posts, I'll reflect on how I'm thinking about applying Mindset to my work with students on the Gator Radio Experience and students in my 10th grade advisory section.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. Hi Matt,

    I'm enjoying your post, thank you. I hadn't seen that Michael Jordan video. I also hadn't seen the TED Talks video on Tinkering School from your July 15 post, very cool.

    I help run Carol Dweck's online program to help motivate middle school students by cultivating a growth mindset, called Brainology®, in case you're interested. It's at:

    You may also be also interested in these growth mindset videos.

    I thought I’d share... Keep up the good work.

    Best wishes,

  2. Thanks for the comment and resource links, Eduardo. I just emailed out the Growth Mindset videos link to our staff and faculty. I'm looking forward to seeing how we can apply the Mindset framework within our school community this year.


  3. Cool. Exciting, hope it goes very well. Best wishes!

  4. Hey Matt, great post, have you read Outliers? It talks directly about how long the best of their field would work to get there. Interesting.

  5. Hey Kern, Thanks for the props. I did read Outliers this past summer. The 10,000 hour concept definitely ties into the growth mindset that Carol Dweck talks about in her book.

  6. Hey, Matt,
    I just left a comment on Steve Taffee's site -linked to his site from yours. I was really inspired by Carol Dweck's mindset challenges, and I'm glad I'm not the only one.
    Is the Outliers book by Gladwell? Wasn't that 10,000 hours the topic of his keynote at NECC09? I am looking forward to checking out the link to brainology-as a middle school teacher, I'm interested in any info to help motivate 12 to 14 year olds.
    I put a link to your blog in my iGoogle page -very handy.
    Looking forward to more great conversations on EdTechTalk this fall.

  7. hey Carol, thanks for your comment. Yes, the Outliers book is by Gladwell and very much ties into Dweck's Mindset thesis for sure. I've already found both books to be helpful in the way I interact with the students I work with. I am focusing on recognizing effort in place of end product (seems simple, but I am guilty of overly praising student end product). I am so looking forward to edtechtalk this year as is going to be a super school year I think!