Leading the work on growth mindset is Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, Ph.D. Dr. Dweck defines growth mindset as the belief that anyone can learn anything if they put in the effort to do so. This is important in the new era of Common Core because learning can be challenging. There isn’t always a single correct answer. Students are tasked with making connections between ideas and justifying their answers. And, as the problems posed become more complex, it is easy for students to give up prematurely. By focusing on growth mindset, educators can encourage students to continue endeavoring until a solution is found.
Yet, while growth mindset is worthy of focus, equally valuable is the idea of a flexible/adaptable mindset.
Growth mindset focuses on the belief in one’s ability, however a flexible mindset focuses on a learners’ adaptability. Having a flexible and adaptable mindset helps students creatively approach problems and uncover innovative solutions. When a student fails to find a solution, they not only need to believe that with effort and perseverance they can solve the problem (growth mindset), they must also have the ability to switch gears and try a different approach (flexible/adaptable mindset).
Flexible thinkers are not quick to judge. They do not see things as black and white. They are natural experimenters and open to change (Brooks, 2009). This is compelling because it tends to be counterintuitive to most teachers. That is not to say that there aren’t many creative teachers, however planning and scripting are cornerstones of our profession. How many times do we plan a lesson, only to have the technology not work? Or have a lesson veer off course with a single student question? Do we get flustered and try to pull the lesson back on course, or do we engage in flexible thinking and proceed down a new path?
We will argue that while sticking to the plan is more the norm, we need to do more of the latter. Leaders must redesign professional development to foster flexible thinking in our teachers. Teachers must model flexible thinking for students. We must resign ourselves to be less dependent on the textbook and more focused on the learning outcomes. When we do, we will become more responsive and more effectively engage our learners. In return, our students will become more adaptive and flexible thinkers of their own.
More on fostering flexible thinking