To my amazement, this week marks the end of my daughter’s tenure as a 4th grader. It has been a fantastic year and I have witnessed so much growth in her cognitive ability and confidence. It is such a joy to see that with the support of her family and teachers along with hard work and determination she is developing into a remarkable young woman.
Rewind 9 months to the beginning of the 4th grade school year, like so many other families across the country, we were invited to come to our daughter’s classroom to meet her teachers and hear about the academic year ahead. During the evening’s presentation the teachers shared their vision and commitment to creating a culture of growth mindset in the classroom based on the Carol Dweck’s research and book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. They wanted to create an environment where the students believed they could grow their brains or develop their intelligence by embracing the challenge, putting forth effort, seeking input from others, and trying new strategies. Furthermore they wanted to help the students realize mistakes are part of learning. They wanted the children to recognize when they were challenged by new concepts they can grow their understanding by asking for feedback and looking at different strategies (Dweck, 2015).
That evening at the end of the presentation as a way to model a growth mindset for our children, each family member was asked by the teachers to write on an index card one skill or practice in our lives we would like to develop further, something that could be developed through effort, new strategies, and skill building. I immediately wrote down public speaking. It is not that I am a bad public speaker, but it is a skill I use often, I feel challenged by at times, and I want to improve. What intrigued me about focusing on public speaking from a growth mindset was the possibility of becoming better through intentionality. Not just hoping I would become better with practice, but by being genuinely open to learning.
Over the course of the school year I have had quite a few opportunities to engage in public speaking through my leadership development and facilitation work, which has allowed me to work on my practice. What was particularly helpful is that in several instances I used the same outline and content more than once. This provided me with opportunities to make adjustments based on feedback from others and personal observation, but only when I moved away from wallowing in my personally perceived shortcomings and embraced the feedback as a way to get better.
Last weekend I attended the NAEYC Professional Development Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. During the Institute I had another opportunity to speak in front of a group and facilitate a panel discussion. Most of my life I have leaned toward a fixed mindset, often being my own worst critic and in the habit of identifying my incompetence rather then looking for opportunities for growth, even when the feedback has been very positive. Saturday, following the panel discussion, I began to fall into this learned trap once again, but I stopped myself and I began to tease apart the opportunities for growth instead. Specifically, I took some time to identify how I felt physically and mentally when things were going well compared to when I was feeling challenged. Stopping to refocus allowed me to be curious and eager to learn from this experience. What was most amazing to me was over the course of the rest of the Institute, in more then one session, I was open and able to hear presenters discuss ideas and strategies that I plan to use to continue to grow my confidence and ability to speak in public.
Now I am back home and as with most transitions in my life I am feeling a bit sad about the end of 4th grade because I so appreciate the teachers and what the experience has given to my daughter and quite frankly me too. At the same time I am more excited to watch and experience the next stages and steps of the journey knowing each of us will continue to grow because we know we can.
Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the ‘growth mindset.’. Education Week, Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html