Growth Mindset for Educators

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  • Sushmitha Francis

    Curriculum Developer,
    Fountainheadleaders.

I joined Fountainhead Leaders in December 2017 as the Curriculum Developer for Primary classes. I hold a Masters in Psychology and my passion has always been to work with children. Stemming from a Psychology background, it has opened up a myriad of perspectives on human behavior and their needs over the years for me. Looking at our society today, I feel that everyone needs someone to listen to them, someone to understand them at their level, someone to lend not just a physical helping hand but an emotional hand as well. Especially as we focus on children, they require it more than the adults at times, except, they might not be aware of it or understand it yet. If children are the future of this country, where better to start than with them?.

Their minds are fast filling bowls with unlimited space to be filled.  It's important we understand what those bowls hold and what's the best way we can help them manage what’s in those bowls. Our curriculum consists of concepts like self-esteem, independence, assertiveness, which has proved to be a very important aspect in a person’s life. While developing these lesson plans, it has not only seen to benefit the children, but it has broken through to me as well. There are things that I have learnt working with these concepts which I have never paid heed to before.

Growing up, I have always struggled with self-esteem issues, feeling I am not good enough, I am not talented enough, I am not smart enough which resulted in me doing poorly in my studies, taking the back seat when it came to using my talents, etc. This all seemed to stem from incidents in my life where I found myself dwelling in my failures more than striving to improve myself. Incidents such as when I used to get opportunities to sing on stage and it did not go as planned, either I got too nervous or forgot my lyrics, which made me feel like I was just not good enough. Or when it came to studies, if I felt I put in my best effort and it would end up in poor results, I would find myself losing hope easily.

Up until the 10th grade, I refused to acknowledge that I would become better, that I could be satisfied with things I do. It was after my 10th when I continued in my own school pursuing 11th grade was when I decided to change the way I view myself. It was not an easy task to go about and one person who stood out to me through this was one of my teacher’s in my school who encouraged me and showed me my true potential. I can never forget her words to me, “You might fail a few times, but that is okay, you are capable of much more than you think, you need to just start using those capabilities and giving yourself praise for it rather than being disappointed with it.” That is when I realized I had been undermining myself and was not giving myself enough credit, that I was reducing my self-esteem rather than trying to increase it. Once I realized all this is was when my life took a turn. I started putting in more effort into things I did, I started giving myself credit for that effort. I found myself feeling better as a person, excelling in my studies, displaying my talents whenever the opportunity rose and actually using my potential. Looking back, I realized that things would have been a little easier if all my teachers were supportive and encouraging just as that one teacher was. We may not notice the importance of having a sense of self-regard in our lives, but once we do, as individual’s we can begin to start living up to our full potential.

While formulating the lesson plans, we focus on very specific aspects of the concepts, for example, while working on self-esteem, we emphasize on children becoming aware of their uniqueness and the things that make them stand out as individuals, their likes and dislikes, finding ways to love themselves, finding ways to respect themselves, what they think about themselves from the outside, their talents and abilities, dealing with success and failures, focusing on the process rather than the result, the importance their name holds, ways in which they can increase their self-awareness and self-regard and helping them find ways to view themselves in a more effective manner.

Our lesson plans are a lot of fun. We have a lot of activities that the students can do along with their parents. These include either exercise sheets, posters or different activities to do together. We believe that an active participation from the parents is very important in the student’s life as the parents can be aware of what their child is going through and be a part of their child’s life in that way. We bring out our concepts through storytelling, videos, songs, games, and many such activities.

I don't know if children will eventually become aware of themselves, but I'm certainly aware that I'm having fun developing these lessons

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  • Vidhya Chakravarthy

    Program Coach,
    Fountainheadleaders.

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The very word growth refers to the blooming of a life or an idea. An evolution. We see saplings grow into plants and then develop to become trees, nourished by sunlight, soil, and water. Their abundance or lack thereof decides the growth trajectory for plants.  Here, we can draw a parallel to teaching children. Soil being their intrinsic drive to learn and grow; sunlight being the warmth and support given by the parents; water is the educator- a primary stakeholder of the learning process. Every tree, shrub, and herb has evolved to grow and thrive in its native environment. Children too, will naturally grow and evolve without being “taught”. Cacti grow in deserts, tropical forests are different from the rainforests, so are the underwater flora, entirely different. This diversity is what makes the world beautiful.

Every educator encounters this very same diversity in his/ her classroom.  Each child coming in from a different soil with a different requisite of water and sunlight. And when you grow a mini-forest on your own, you control all the variables so the plants all grow their healthiest. The one equation with the multiple variables though, is the growth mindset, the exact parallel of the “survival of the fittest” theory when it comes to learning.

Children spend about 8 hours at school every day and roughly only about 4 hours at home (more or less), this should only reinforce the notion that their teachers must be fully aware of where every child stands – academically, emotionally and socially. The school curricula are not designed to pass the smart ones nor fail the slow-learners. The curricula are designed to be developmentally appropriate for every child to learn and gather basic knowledge if they seek to. Yet, with unlimited access to knowledge and information, children do well in some areas and not as much in others – across academia and socio-cultural horizons.  The educator role is to bridge the gap between the “syllabus” and the “student”.  We all have surely heard about how farmers in the West have seen positive results when they played music for their crops. That music in our set up is the feedback and motivation an educator gives his/her students. Different children respond differently to failure and feedback, but what will keep them going is the motivation to “want” to put in the required efforts. An educator’s success relies on goading the child “want” to do something and enjoy the learning process.  An honest introspection of the academic learning scenario throws up several questions. Primarily, is the system currently working, with one educator monitoring about 30 students at once? Not necessarily and, surely not effectively.

Attending to 30 odd children at once, understanding their strengths and shortfalls and empathizing with each one of them is a herculean task. This is where the “growth mindset” mantra steps in. The mantra we strongly advocate for every educator to have when they are entering the space with the beautiful plants they are tending to. But for every challenge to be solved, any mantra to be used, there must be something we all might “want” from it. Now as educators, it is essential for each one of them to ask themselves every day – why did they choose to be educators? There could be various and more than one right answer – because it was a convenient employment option, because they were good at teaching because they were passionate about it, etc. There might be a hundred different reasons for an educator to be in the profession. But now while they are at it, do they “want” to excel in their profession?

Growth mindset immensely empowers anybody to come up with effective strategies to overcome any challenge they are facing and accomplish their tasks. It enables us to develop skills, cultivate patience and perseverance, receive feedback well, go through the emotions that come along and enjoy the learning that happens all throughout. Needless to mention, the elation we get out of the final positive outcome. What makes us all go through the journey, is our “want” to do it, and what helps us is, yes, the mantra. Having established their desire to excel, educators can begin by asking themselves the following a set of questions:

  1. In an era when children no longer need a teacher in the classroom and there is infinite access to learning and knowledge outside the classroom, what is the kind of educator children currently need?
  2. What is the kind of educator they want to be, considering that children spend roughly 6-8 hours in school with them?
  3. How can they, be a better educator transcending the limits of their own expertise and experience?.
  4. What do they want to see in the children they educate – academic progress, discipline, emotional well-being, social skills, self-esteem, independence, confidence?
  5. How do they bring the best out of every child they cater to knowing the various skill sets and backgrounds they come from?
  6. How can they improve in knowing about each child’s intelligence, effort, failure, feedback, motivation, communication, and response?
  7. On what criteria do they want to gauge a child’s intelligence, efforts and success/ failure, and how to give the kind of feedback that will help the child do better?

There might be more than one answer at any given point of time and there’s never a right or a wrong answer to any of these questions, except the answers are purely situational. No one size fits all. But answering these questions will help every educator take a look at their approach, help them identify what they “want” and in time cultivating their skills as they make huge differences in children’s lives. When educators genuinely “want” a child to do well at something, the child too will “want” to do well at it. Therein lies our “win-win” – educators excelling in their profession and children excelling in their goals.

Ultimately, educators ought to be learners for life, as they enable a child to learn. To keep learning about the child, to acquire skills to help a child, to come up with ways to cope with the stress and the challenges of dealing with each child personally. With the diverse set of plants, every educator tends to, there is never a dull moment and every day is a journey. It is indeed demanding for every educator to put in their best every day through the year and invest their energy in children’s lives, but that’s the nobility in the profession we have all chosen. How to make it fun, lies in our hands. The “want” is your destination and the “growth mindset” is your vehicle. Let’s have a fun ride!

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