What? Embracing Failure?

A not-so-novel idea for building a growth mindset

I saw this video over at edutopia.org, and it made a lot of sense. Imagine a world where students welcome — even seek out — tough critical feedback. No place for snowflakes in this program. The New Mexico School for the Arts trains students from the outset to expect failure, but to use it for personal growth. It’s okay to make mistakes. Encouraging this mindset allows students to accept constructive criticism and make improvements based on the feedback.

This is the essence of the growth mindset. At NMSA, students are taught that they can improve their abilities with effort. Just like playing an instrument, math ability is an acquired skill. Expect mistakes, especially if you are participating in a tough class. Criticism is tough to hear. For this reason, many students simply opt not to try without an iron-clad guarantee of instant success.

According to Dr. Carol Dweck, training this growth mindset should begin at a young age. Children being taught that mistakes are not only allowed, but should be anticipated, is contrarian in public schools. Most schools teach — perhaps unwittingly — that mistakes are bad. Cheating in secondary and post-secondary institutions runs rampant when this is the case.

As an entrepreneur, I have made a fair number of mistakes with business start-ups and failures, but I learned critical distinctions each time. As a husband, I have made miscommunications. As parents, my wife and I are certainly not batting 1.000.

Segue into parenting… Education starts in the home. The apple usually doesn’t fall far from the tree, so when I encounter classroom issues, I keep in mind that students are a product of those they spend the most time with — their parents. Or worse, absentee parents! So parents, I encourage you to learn all you can about a growth mindset. Fostering growth mindset from the start may even pre-empt many a meltdown during adolescence.

Course Prerequisites

According to Google, the noun prerequisite refers to a required prior condition that is necessary for something else to happen or to exist; I’m paraphrasing.

In school, a course prerequisite refers to a course, the successful completions of which, is designed to ensure success at the next level. That is, if a student barely manages a D in Math 100, there is a good chance they will also struggle in Math 200. This is the most misunderstood concept of the course prerequisite. Finishing with a D may be good enough to earn a credit, but a D will typically lead to future D’s, or even F’s.

In a perfect world, students would not be deemed to have met prerequisite criteria unless they earned at least a C, if not an A or a B. You see, the ‘taking of the course’ is not the prerequisite. ‘Mastery of course content’ is the intention of the prerequisite.

Any student can take up space in a lecture hall. Plugging in while there will increase not only your level of mastery, but your chances for future success. Then seal the deal by working outside the classroom, i.e., do your homework.

Cognitive engagement in the classroom along with deliberate practice outside the classroom are the one-two punch that will guarantee your success.

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Hard Work Trumps Talent

The world is full of individuals who think they’re entitled to success, because they were born intelligent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. On the other hand, there are also individuals who may not have the “bandwidth” to learn as easily and quickly as their higher IQ counterparts, but their positive attitude and willingness to work hard (and not give up) leads them to success. Hard worker who perseverance are far more valuable to an organization than entitled whiners.

Learning is a verb

Whether it’s learning how to use trig identities, how to write macros in your spreadsheet, or just how to use a new toaster oven, learning requires effort. Learning is a VERB. It’s something you DO… not something that happens to you. People can’t catch learning; it’s not a common cold. And if something is easy to learn, then it probably doesn’t have much value in the marketplace.

Act with joy and enthusiasm

Whether it’s school, a job, or a volunteer activity, show up and work hard. Do so willingly, joyfully, and enthusiastically. This will set you apart from smart people who are lazy complainers. Plus, there’s that Universal Law of Reciprocity thingy… Whatever you do for other eventually comes back to you ten-fold.

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