Me – “Listen man, I don’t know what has happened to you up until this point that made you believe that you are not capable of learning, growing, improving, or losing weight like you are telling me you want to do, but I am here, right now, looking at you, and telling you, that if this is something that you want, I promise I can help you do it.”
Male Student – “Nah, you just don’t get it bro…none of that shit works. Doesn’t matter what I do or what you do, it isn’t going to change anything. Just stop wasting your time on me.”
He proceeded to walk away and left me standing there, frozen in time.
For anyone who knows me, they know that this was literally such a disheartening and emotionally draining day for me. The main reason I became a teacher was to be the person students could rely on for guidance along their own unique paths.
Hell, if it wasn’t for my high school teacher Mr. Bonano, who was there for me,, god only knows what kind of depressing life I would be living right now.
Before this, I had helped so many different students overcome adversities and struggles, but ultimately I helped them achieve their end goals. I had attempted multiple times to approach this individual, but was unsuccessful.
After this conversation I was overcome with this absolutely terrible feeling in my stomach that I had failed him, that I would never be able to reach him because in his mind, EVERYTHING was Fixed. Everything IS what it IS and will stay as it IS no matter what happens.
This student demonstrated every trait associated with a Fixed Mindset. Individuals with these mindsets really and truly believe that you are born with a set of skills, a set of capabilities, and there isn’t much you can do about it. Literally playing the only hand that you are dealt in life.
Before going on, please realize, that this mindset in students typically stems from the environment they have grown up in including their social interactions, academic achievements and most importantly their family structure. Unfortunately for some, including the student mentioned before, these experiences break these people down to the point where they feel that their life is out of their control.
On the other hand, some students I teach fall into the category of Growth Mindset. For example, I have this absolutely inspiring student that exemplifies what the Growth Mindset is all about. Her name is Thieny. Let me hit you with a sequence of events that led to her being in my class, how she performed in my class, and her goals moving forward.
– 1 Year and 3 months ago she moved from Vietnam to the states with her mother, Speaking zero english as an 8th grade middle school student.
– Being an English Language Learner, she found herself in ELL only classes that are catered to helping these students learn the content while also building their english skills in speaking, reading, writing, and listening.
– She enters 9th grade as an ELL student. On a scale of 1-5 for her english skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking she scores an average ranging between a 2-3.
– She takes Biology like all Freshmen at our school, but in an ELL class for the first semester. It is clear that even though her scores say one thing, that her capabilities say another and thus it was decided she would transition into mainstream freshmen biology with myself as the teacher.
– Proceeds to be the highest achieving student in all 3 of my classes. Mind you, a vast majority of the students in my classes have been living in America and speaking English for their entire lives.
– Discusses the books she uses to teach herself how to code in C#, HTML, & CSS on her own time.
– During an after school meeting, that was running until 5PM, I saw that she was still in the library, working, improving, growing, as always
– Consistently brought extra work to my class so that when she finished an assignment early she could continue challenging herself.
– I received daily emails from her asking questions about specific topics and then would write paragraphs to ensure that she understood the material correctly.
– As this year is coming to a close she has already received recommendations from myself and other teachers to be put into AP classes for her sophomore year while only 5 of the mainstream students in all 3 of my classes were promoted to those same courses.
You see the difference? One of these students IS actually at a deficit and the other is stuck behind a perceived deficit that he thinks he cannot overcome. The one who is actually behind every other single student in my class skills wise, is the top performer because she realizes that there is no fixed level of intelligence, and that there is no fixed level of individual success.
No matter what the skill is I have found the following to ALWAYS be true: We have a certain level of skill at this point in time. That level is perfectly fine. Accept it, embrace it, fucking own it. With continued effort, reflection, and ridding yourself of the fear of failure, you will continually improve, no matter what the skill level is.
Now, I am not going to stand on a pedestal and act like I am some amazing individual who is 100% growth mindset, every day, for my entire life. I spent the majority of my life in that fixed mindset and even to this day, I slip back into it on occasion.
For example, you see this site your on right now? Yeah, I built it. It isn’t anything spectacular or amazing but god damn I am proud of it.
You see, art, color, design, or hell, even just coloring inside the lines in kindergarten has always been a struggle for me. It took me two months to make this site. Yeah, two fucking months. Crazy right?
Well, you see, I made 5 different versions, each one a TINY bit less shitty than the one before it. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I had literal breakdowns of frustration where I said out loud to myself:
“What the hell am I doing? I suck at this stuff. I can’t do this. How the hell did I think I could do all of this if I can’t even make a website”
It wasn’t until one night where I was mid mental shit storm due to frustration where I realized what a fool I was being in thinking I can’t do this.
Hell, I have grown in so many other ways in life why not this one?
I didn’t have this realization on my own though. It took a certain someone to help me realize it. My inspirational 14 year old student had emailed me right in the middle of all of this with a response from our last email conversation. She asked 2 questions:
1) “Mr, you think you can explain convergent evolution one more time? I still very confused”
2) “What is ‘Mam’? Is it a slang?”
On one hand she was learning about the next topic of evolution ahead of the class and on the other she was asking me what it meant when I responded to the email prior saying “Yes mam, you have it 100% correct! Let me know if you have any other questions”.
Then it all kind of hit me. This little girl is literally learning the english language, learning more languages in the form of coding, excelling beyond my other students in Biology, and ultimately never gives up.
What kind of sad excuse of a dude am I for throwing an emotional hissy fit over not knowing how to pick the correct color scheme or fonts for my own personal site? It was in that moment I realized that I approached the artistic side of my business differently than other aspects. I knew it was my weakness and I knew that I needed to make it a priority to learn about all the intricacies in designing a website from scratch.
That email jump-started me to complete this version that you see today in just under 6 days.. You see, no matter how this site might look to you, I am proud as all hell of what I created because this has always been my weakest skill set. By approaching the task with a growth mindset, I was able to overcome it, just like I have been able to do with everything else in my life. Just like you have the ability to overcome everything in your life.
I owe this success to this wonderful, kick-ass student of mine.
Now, whenever I reach a road block and that fixed mindset tendency may even remotely seem like it is rearing its ugly head, I look at the post-it note to the right of my computer screen that reads.
Why did I write that? Because, I know exactly what this girl would do. She would suck it up, figure out what question she needs to ask herself to overcome this obstacle, find the damn answer, and succeed. That’s it. That is all she has ever demonstrated in my class, in other classes, and in her everyday life.
The coolest part about all of this? You can overcome any obstacle that lays before you with the same attitude, same mindset, and same dedication.
A growth mindset is a Striven Mindset and is a crucial aspect to helping you reach your full potential.
It is your future people, go out there and fucking own it!
A little gem that Thieny decided to create and email me with =p