We are all familiar with the children’s book “The Little Engine that Could” by Watty Piper. Even though there are many versions of this same story, the plot is the same. The little engine that has a very heavy load has to get over the high mountain. In which this little locomotive continues to recite over and over, “I think I can … I think I can … I think I can.” And slowly but surely, with no surprise, the little train makes it up the high mountain.
Dr. Carol Dweck introduced the concept that people can have either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Dweck stated that one with a fixed mindset believes that their basic abilities, intelligence and talents are fixed traits. Someone with a growth mindset believes their abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort, learning and persistence.
Teachers are given the best opportunity to build a growth mindset to their students. When teachers challenge their students but do this with encouraging words, this builds a student’s confidence.
Another way is reminding students that it is OK that it might take a little time to learn and understand a concept and that fast learning does not always mean long-term learning.
Students hear or say things like “I haven’t figured this out yet.” Just by using the word “yet” shows the mindset that they are growing and persevering to complete a task or challenge. For some students learning a new task can sometimes be frightening and cause a little anxiety, but if the student hears positive reinforcement it allows them to venture out of their comfort zone and establish more of a growth mindset.
One of my favorite jobs as the superintendent in the diocese is visiting our Catholic schools. While at the schools, I visit the classrooms and question the children about what they are learning in each subject, as well as what they look forward to for the remainder of the year.
Many of the answers revolve around a project that they look forward to doing. When telling about their projects, I can just see the wheels turning in their brains. These projects are a way in which the students can be creative, think outside the box and learn by trial and error building a positive growth mindset. They relate that they value the process of learning as much as the end result.
A goal that we have for our students is to be like the Little Engine that Could and have faith that they can do anything by believing in themselves and having a growth mindset. By doing so, they will not only be saying “I think I can,” but will say, “I know I can!”
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