How a person approaches life certainly says a great deal about him or her. In fact, history provides many examples of individuals who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to surpass everyone’s expectations. One such historical example is currently being lionized on the Broadway stage: Alexander Hamilton. This West Indian orphan abandoned at an early age, sailed across the Caribbean to became the right hand man of George Washington and the first Secretary of the US Treasury.
What accounted for this seemingly miraculous transformation? The many documents he left behind, demonstrate that he had an almost insatiable appetite for learning. Furthermore, he appeared to embody personal traits such as Work ethic, attitude, communication skills, emotional intelligence, and a whole host of other personal attributes that are the soft skills that are crucial for career success. In short, he appears to have possessed a “growth mindset.”
What is a mindset? In her book by the same name, Carol Dweck defines it as “the view that (a person) adopts of himself.”(Dweck p. 25) People can exhibit either a fixed or growth mindset. Students who believe that they are born with a certain ability that nothing can change, being either smart or dumb, have a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset appears to be quite detrimental to learning. These individuals have labeled themselves and may avoid learning anything that interferes with this perception. Thus, children who are labeled as “smart” often refuse to work on challenging material. The task may be “dumb,” so they throw up their hands and walk away. they don’t learn.
On the other hand, a growth mindset allows people to believe that they can change their brain and make it stronger through hard work. Two legendary teachers who espoused this philosophy are Jaime Escalante and Marva Collins. Mr. Escalante’s students received high grades on their AP math exams. Mrs.Collins elementary students read and understood masterpieces of classical literature These teachers refused to believe that their impoverished students were incapable of learning, so through strong effort, warm regard, and encouragement, their students succeeded beyond any expectations.
Teachers who have high expectations for their students and encourage them can achieve astounding results. When they realize that they can change their brain by learning, they empower them to become responsible and confident. When students learn how to employ strong study skills they can be successful. As Dweck maintains, ”lowering standards does not raise self esteem.” (p. 233)
Educators need to address soft skills and mindset in every classroom before they attempt to teach content. For only then can they impart the hard skills that students need.