Do you believe intelligence is fixed, or do you believe something can be done to change it? How students answer that question largely predicts how successful they will be in school. When someone believes that they can learn a new skill or improve the skills they already have, their effort levels rise far above those who believe their skills and talents are fixed. The term often used here is “growth mindset.” Developing a growth mindset starts the process of improving your intelligence.
As you supervise your students, here are some suggestions to help them develop the proper mindset for fostering growth:
1. Be careful to not inadvertently give students an excuse to stop trying. Language like “I was always bad at math” and “Your lack of spelling skills comes from your father” can discourage a student from trying harder. Children could begin to think, “If mom and dad were bad at it, then I have no chance of getting better.”
2. Be careful to not label your students in a way that makes them feel like their talents and skills are fixed. “Your sister is musical but you’re athletic” can inadvertently send the wrong message. Do you mean to communicate that athletic people cannot be good musicians or that good musicians cannot improve athletically? It’s true that children are born with definite natural talents, but they can still improve their weak areas.
3. Convey high expectations for your children. Accept no excuses for a lack of effort. Develop a study plan. Talk about successful people and how they acquired their success. Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves. Each of these actions directly or indirectly conveys that you know they can do well and you expect them to perform. On a similar note, resist the temptation to praise children for accomplishing simple tasks. Children perceptively sense your low opinion of them and feel insulted.
4. Encourage, Encourage, Encourage. Why should they believe they can do it if they don’t think their parents or teachers believe they can do it? The encouragement can be especially timely when students do their best, but their best reaps failure. Remind them that every successful person faces setbacks. Remind them that Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb took over 1,000 attempts, and his invention of the phonograph came three weeks after his million-dollar laboratory burned to the ground. Encourage students to learn from what they did wrong and improve, not quit.
5. Don’t allow them to overload themselves. Children can mount some unreal expectations for themselves. It’s not realistic to believe you can be a star athlete, musical prodigy, national student scholar, and Cub Scout of the year. Herein lies the reason God gave children parents: to guide them. Help them prioritize. Help them develop a realistic game plan for improving their academics. Help them develop a proper perspective for realistic growth.
While we are all born with varying degrees and types of intelligence, we all can improve. Improvement, however, begins with a proper mindset of growth. We should begin helping our students grow by teaching that intellectual growth begins with their desire, not their ability.