As part of her graduate class requirement, a teacher asked my perspective on current trends and issues in education. She asked some very thoughtful questions—here are the first three of nine:
What practices do you think are important for teachers, administrators and other interested professionals in staying current with research and trends in mindset and brain sciences?
Read books, and read widely. While journals tend to be laser-focused, books cover a wide range of disciplines. I read books by neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and sometimes business leaders, especially when they cover a topic like coaching. The perspective they share is rich and can be applied to mentoring teachers.
You will want to read books that relate to your focus. Because my curriculum work may require knowing about the teenage brain just as well as the preschool brain, I need as expansive an understanding as possible.
Also, try to attend at least one conference each year. I enjoy attending the Learning & the Brain conference primarily to know who to follow. I want to know which scientists are doing work in areas related to the fields I think are important for education. This is where I attended sessions by John Medina, Tony Wagner, and Howard Gardner. Experiencing them in person offers a different perspective of their work.
Beliefs about intelligence seem to be domain-specific—where a person can hold a fixed mindset with regard to his ability in one subject area yet hold a growth mindset in another. What do you think is at the root of that phenomenon?
We believe different things about ourselves depending on context and whether we can or cannot be successful. Here are four key sentences to a summary of growth mindset I recently read:
- I can change my intelligence and ability through effort
- I can succeed
- I belong in this learning community
- This work has value and purpose for me
Pride may convince us we don’t belong in a learning community because those around us know so much more and it appears to come easily for them. Our mindset becomes fixed. When actually, it could be easy to belong if we are willing to act like someone seeking knowledge as opposed to someone who possesses it. The opposite can also be true; we can walk into a room with all the expertise we need, but if we perceive others to know more, our sense of belonging is challenged.
Research shows kids ask fewer and fewer questions as they get older. Why is that? It is not that they become less curious about the world, but it is possible that they perceive asking questions creates an appearance of not belonging to an all-knowing community.
Our response to how we perceive ourselves in relation to others is key. Mindset is heavily influenced by context and is not necessarily a stable trait.
How do regional differences influence mindset and motivation?
Regional differences that may influence have to do with interaction. For example, having grown up in the Northeast and living in the Southeast, I notice humor is used differently. In the North, humor is used as an icebreaker and can create an immediate bond with a stranger. In the South, if humor is used that early in an interaction, it is perceived as too familiar and therefore rude.
Differences in interaction exist, but I don’t see mindset and motivation being directly impacted. However, it does influence where a parent or teacher may both intentionally and unintentionally emphasize a fixed mindset. Values—what is important and profitable—differ in various regions of the country (e.g., math and science may be valued more in areas of the Northwest than elsewhere), and may influence the messages we send to our kids and to our students.