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Principal's Corner

Having a Growth Mindset

Have you ever read the story about “The Little Engine that Could?” It’s a simple children’s story about a train that needs to get over a mountain. But the little engine does not think that he can. He tries and fails. He tries and fails. He tries and fails again.

Then someone somewhere tells him that he’s got to believe in himself. He begins to recite his belief. “I think I can. I think I can.” Then he applies grit and tries again. All along the way, he recites his belief in himself and applies more grit. Recites his belief and applies his grit. And finally, the little train makes it over the mountain.

We call this type of recitation of belief a growth mindset. Yes, sometimes grit is not enough. Grit without a growth mindset is often futile. When we try to build grit alone, it is not nearly as effective as addressing the mindset that underlies our efforts. That is why, at CCMS, our motto is grit, gratitude, and growth. Grit plus a growth mindset will lead to more growth, and we must be thankful for those around us who cheer us on along our path.

So what is a growth mindset? It is the belief that drives our efforts, our focus, and our resilience. It is a mindset that focuses on what is learned instead of focusing on a single score or an ingrained talent. It is a mindset that sees effort as the thing which makes us smart rather than seeing effort as something only those without smarts need to apply. It is a mindset that understands that setbacks are a part of growth, so that when obstacles are faced, we find a way around it. It is a mindset that praises the process rather than the outcome.

Those without a growth mindset are said to have a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset believes talent and intelligent are things a person is born with and are unchangeable. A fixed mindset applies grit alone and quits when things get tough. It says that obstacles mean you’ve failed. You win because you are a winner and you lose because you are a loser. So when a person with a fixed mindset faces a challenge, they see themselves as incapable and, in an effort to protect their ego, they lose interest and withdraw. They lie about grades. They focus only on their successes.

If the little engine in the children’s story had a fixed mindset, he would never have gotten over the mountain. Likewise, if our students have a fixed mindset, they will never overcome the challenges of school and life. It is our responsibility as teachers and parents to model a growth mindset for our children. Praise them for the process. Ask them if they are better today than yesterday. Focus on development rather than achievement. And watch them grow.

For more information about the growth mindset, watch the TED Talk called The Power of Belief at