So as the 8000 delegates check in to Sydney’s International Conference Centre, pumped for two days of transformational learning experiences, the collective excitement is brewing.
This year’s program packs a punch.
Launching proceedings on Day One, Carol Dweck, the ‘world authority on motivation’ from Stanford University, takes to the main stage.
The compelling US academic and psychologist is here to share the finer points of her research into Fixed and Growth Mindsets, and to discuss how exactly educators can help students, and indeed themselves, to realise their true potential.
How do we make sure people remain learners? How do we retain that curious wonder for the world that we have as children? How do we fuel that child-like zest for taking on new challenges and learning new things? Why do we, as adults, lose the interest and motivation to be our best self, to seek out opportunities for growth and transformation?
These are just a small spattering of deep questions posed to the audience.
According to Dweck, some people verge more towards a fixed mindset, or the belief that one’s talents or abilities are limited by pre-determined factors. In this static mode of being, one has little desire to expand their skills or knowledge, because they believe they are ‘stuck’ with their current capabilities.
Dweck, however, is here to show us the power that comes from developing a growth mindset, in which individuals believe that with effort, collaboration and a good deal of hard work, they can shape their intelligence and skills. That is, IQ and ingenuity are not innate - they can be honed and acquired.
It is now that Dweck highlights the recent neuroscience findings on ‘brain plasticity’- the “tremendous” power of the brain to re-organise, transform and morph itself through the process of learning. The notion that we are all born with a ‘fixed’ intelligence is simply archaic, the academic states.
“I’m here to undo their mischief,” Dweck assures us, referring to all those throughout history who have lumped students into either ‘dumb’ or ‘smart’ categories. Essentially, Dweck says we are all just as capable as each other of greatness and of acquiring new and profound levels of intellect.
So why do mindsets matter in schools?
Dweck refers to her research on corporate environments to suggest that mindsets are not just held on an individual level; umbrella or group mindsets, like those harboured in businesses and schools, impact on people’s desire to transform, learn and flourish.
“…the companies that had more of a growth mindset had employees that felt more committed and empowered…” she asserts.
Furthermore, workplaces that identified with having growth mindset had their employees backs if they took a “reasonable” risk, and “the managers said they saw much more potential in their young employees for them to become stars and to rise in the organisation.”
Creating empowerment for people at every level is key, Dweck says, if companies and schools are to excel and individual strengths be realised.
Why aren’t we always in a growth mindset?
“There are so many things in our environment that trigger us back into a fixed mindset,” Dweck says.
When we step out of our comfort zone, an internal voice says ‘well, maybe you will reveal you’re deficient’, or ‘everyone will know you are an imposter’, she adds.
Encountering setback and criticism are other triggers that can spark that negative voice into action and catapult one into a fixed mindset.
Dweck calls upon her captivated audience to “name the persona”, that is, to call out their inner ‘fixed mindset voice’ and celebrate the fact that they might be struggling. Failure or struggle are not something to be concealed, she asserts.
“Have conversations about it, not only that, have conversations with it, don’t banish it or put it in a box,” she posits, a wry comedic tinge to her voice.
Dweck then turns her focus to classroom teachers, imploring educators to not just “talk the talk, but walk the walk” when it comes to fostering a growth mindset in students. She notes that her own research on school teachers found that “those that espoused a growth mindset were not passing it on - they could talk a growth mindset, but they weren’t walking the walk. They weren’t embodying it in their behaviour towards students”.
So how can teachers “walk the walk” as Dweck put it? How can we both embody and create a growth mindset in classrooms?
Dweck, it seems, has the genesis of an answer.
“Focus on the learning process,” she says, adding “look at their progress and help them understand what went into gaining that progress.”
On a roll, Dweck raises the notion of “The Fabulous Struggle’ - a concept that encourages people to speak out when they are encountering a challenge and to actively seek others’ input. What was a personal struggle can become a group struggle, and the internal conflict is shared.
In classrooms, Dweck says this approach can be “really magical”, especially when top performing students can voice their struggles in front of their peers.
“If they are not having challenges they are not going to fulfil their potential,” she concludes.
When a child has a failure or setback, do not treat this as a mistake, Dweck says. A growth mindset can only develop when children learn that failure is a normal part of life.
“[Setbacks] are a normal part of existence and you problem solve from there. The teachers who did that had classes full of growth mindset students.”
To wrap up her compelling address, Dweck has one last piece of motivational wisdom for delegates.
“Let’s help each other develop a genuine growth mindset and let’s help each other embody that growth mindset on a daily basis in our organisations because it fosters achievement, it creates creativity, and it makes people into effective learners and eager contributors to our society.”