A former colleague of mine who was finishing up her Ph.D. not too long ago said to me one afternoon, "sometimes I hear a voice in my head that says 'hey, what do you think you're doing?'" She explained that she immediately recognized the signs of imposter syndrome and was working on turning it off. I couldn't believe that this highly educated, intelligent, and effective educator had thoughts of doubt creeping into her mind!
The fixed mindset plays these same tricks on us and its voice can often lead us down a path of self-doubt, resistance, or internalized failure. "You're not fooling anybody, they can see right through you," the voice might tell you. "You can't fail if you don't take the risk!" On the off-chance that we do try but hit a snag, the voice will say "see, I told you so!" We might even follow up by blaming others or becoming resentful in order to justify this feeling of failure. Don't get discouraged. Trust me, I've been there, too. The first step to silencing those doubts is to recognize where they're coming from; Dr. Carol Dweck, author of the best-selling book Mindset, tells us that we need to learn to listen for our fixed mindset voice (MINDSET).
I am currently working with a small team at my school to develop and implement a plan to establish a school-wide Learning Management System (LMS). This is a lofty goal for a new and growing school with a small administrative staff without any specialized roles in Educational Technology. But this is a personal and professional goal of mine and I intend on achieving a successful outcome. I recognize that there will be obstacles, naysayers, and red tape in our path and I know that we aren't experts in the subject -- yet. "Yet" is a message that I will continue to communicate to my team when the road gets particularly bumpy. We cannot succeed if even one of us starts to believe our fixed mindset voice.
Everybody's Got Choices
As an undergrad Communication Studies major we learned about the constructionist theory of communication in which there is a sender and a receiver (and noise in between). In short, messages sent by the sender are encoded with an intended meaning but it is up to the receiver to decode it and interpret that message. Simple, right? However, in order for there to be successful communication, the receiver should be able to decode the message and interpret it just as the sender intended it. In this same way, we should be listening for that fixed mindset voice and instead try to decode those negative messages with a growth mindset that encourages us to strive harder, change our strategy, or expand our scope. Dr. Dweck would remind us that we all have a choice.
I am anticipating some pushback from some of the teachers when news of the LMS project gets out this summer. I need to remember to take the feedback and place it in a positive light. Taking the time to analyze the situation from their viewpoint will help me craft a more helpful response. "Why might someone be reluctant to adopt a new technology?" "Are there barriers or preconceived notions?" "What is the underlying issue if not directly related to the technology?"
This is also an area where I believe that my students struggle the most -- and they might not even know it. Many of them have experienced significant feelings of failure in their lives, the obvious being (as all adult educators know) their lack of a high school diploma. Trying to turn those negative feelings into motivation for growth can prove to be extremely challenging. Often times we will see them exhibit the classic behavior of learned helplessness or the setting of extremely low standards for themselves.
I have recently introduced them to the concept of the growth mindset, but I'm not completely sure if they fully understand it yet, let alone embrace it. As with the LMS project, I'm not an expert on this topic either -- yet. I believe it would be helpful to include videos and other resources as a follow-up to our discussions, perhaps on a weekly basis. Many of my students (and teachers!) love Khan Academy so they may respond well to Sal's short interview with Dr. Dweck. This is definitely a work in progress for all of us and I will try to bring this discussion to my LMS team as well.
One of my best friends is a writer and he recently told me about a story he was thinking about exploring where the traditional protagonist/antagonist roles were fuzzy because the reader took on both perspectives. This got me thinking about the roles that fixed/growth mindsets play in our lives and the perspectives they give us on any given idea.
Talking back to our inner fixed mindset voice is really the key, in my opinion, to breaking the mold many of us are in. It's one thing to recognize a problem, it's another to do something about it. Dr. Dweck gives us an example on her MINDSET website of a dialogue between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. The fixed mindset voice might tell us we aren't cut out for the job while the growth mindset voice rebuts and tells us that we have the capacity to learn and grow into the job. This time it's about perspectives; what's happening to us in the classroom or workplace doesn't change but the way we choose to respond to it can.
With the LMS project in mind, I think that being prepared with responses to fixed mindset-based feedback will be incredibly helpful. We have a technology needs assessment coming up and perhaps we can insert an LMS related question in order to solicit early opinions. Any information in this case is better than none at all.
A Call to Action!
So we are now able to recognize that fixed mindset voice and start to talk back...but what's next? It's not enough to just listen and respond -- now it's time to take action! Challenge yourself and grow! Learn from your setbacks and take a new tack! Use that feedback to adjust and try again!
I have learned that it's OK to ask for feedback and that most of the time anything "negative" that you receive is not personal and is only intended to help. With that in mind I intend on soliciting feedback from my administrators, classmates, colleagues, professors, and students as often as I can and take action based on those opinions. I encourage you, as a reader of this post, to leave me some feedback in the comments below as well!
I am fully ready to embrace the growth mindset and apply it to the academic, personal, and professional areas of my life. Are you?
Now that we have all the pieces, it's in our hands to make the change.
File:Schramm Communication Model.svg. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schramm_Communication_Model.svg
MINDSET. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/index.html
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