What is a growth mindset? We hosted an event by Jamie McBrearty to find out

Before meeting Jamie I had heard of ‘growth mindset’. I knew it was something they were doing at schools in Dundee and it involved using the word, ‘yet’. When Jamie came to visit The Circle at the end of 2016 our CEO, Kirsty, invited him to come and do a workshop for the community to find out more. We invited our tenants, email list, local businesses and city charities and social enterprises to come along. Around 30 of us gathered yesterday so Jamie could share what it was all about and what work is being done in Dundee to implement some of the useful ideas.

Jamie is a Growth Mindset Manger employed by Leisure and Culture Dundee, working primarily in the Strathmartine Ward of Dundee but with responsibility for engaging with city-wide community groups. The Growth Mindset project started in education but is now being applied in many fields across the local authority. The national lead for Growth Mindset is Winning Scotland Foundation.

Jamie gave us an overview of the research of Carol Dweck, an expert in the field. Our mindset is a set of beliefs we have affecting how we think, feel and behave. There are two types of mindset but most people show an element of both to some degree.

People with a fixed mindset believe that ability is fixed and they are either born good at something, or not. They tend to give up after failure and put little effort into difficult tasks. They resist trying new challenges.

Those with a growth mindset believe ability can be developed and that failure is a learning opportunity. They persist and put in effort, finding alternatives of achieving success.

Your mindset can affect how you think about goals. Someone with a fixed mindset is occupied with wanting to look smart at all times, and at all costs.  They believe that their ability will help them meet their goals and setbacks reveal limitations. Someone with a growth mindset, believing they can improve their intelligence will activate their ability through effort and treat setbacks as a part of learning.

We then took a look at how people learn and what is going on in the brain. We learned how new thoughts helps neurons grow and repetition builds neuronal connections/ pathways. The brain has plasticity and giving it regular workouts makes it stronger. We saw how London taxi drivers who are learning ‘The Knowledge’ of Central London see changes in their brain structure.

Understanding what motivates people and what is effective for learning is important when considering praise. Praising intelligence is seen as harmful and it turns people off learning – you might see intelligence as either you have it or you don’t! Praising specific strategy, effort and persistence in persual of a result builds confidence and gets people engaged in learning. A growth mindset builds resilience and puts strategies into place after failure to continue improving. It staves off feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. We spoke about the power of ‘yet’. Yes is a very useful world, especially when dealing with children that they cannot complete a task, YET. Not ever, but not yet. This encourages effort and persistence.

We looked at famous individuals who employed a growth mindset to their development – Thomas Edison, Michael Jordan, Steve Jones and JK Rowling.

The discussion we had in groups around these points raised some interesting points for me. First of all, in order to work towards a growth mindset we would have to apply a growth mindset to learn how. This makes me think of a room of mirrors – where does it end and where do it begin? The key thing is to make a start with small steps.

There was a good deal of discussion about authenticity too. How do we take the principles which are academically sound but make it work for us locally? The Scottish culture pertains more to sarcastic, self-effacing tendancies where air-punching and cheerleading is viewed more cynically. Making praise work in our Dundee voices is something that might need some work. One thing children can spot in an instant is an adult who doesn’t mean what they say. They eat that kind of thing for business. Like a lot of what we do at The Circle – we want to implement great practice but ‘un-cheese’ anything that doesn’t fit along the way. Hat tip to Jamie for my new favourite phrase – ‘un-cheese’.

We were delighted to host this session and learn more about an important methodology being used in our city’s schools and community groups while taking home tips that can improve our own development and learning. We hope to do much more learning in the year ahead. There’s lots we don’t know, YET!

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