Ninety-nine percent perspiration

Thomas Edison

As we do each year, ISP has a variety of celebrations to recognize students who are moving from one part of the school to another, as well as of course our grand graduation ceremony. The focus of my talk this year to grade 8 students was on the importance of “taking stock” and on the power of mindset, see below:

“This time of year is always bittersweet in that on the one hand we anticipate a well deserved summer vacation and look forward to the end of a busy and productive year, but at the same time we can also experience a sense of loss. This is of course natural

Earlier this week we had the “Moving Up” ceremony, recognizing grade 5 students as they “Move up” to MS. In May, we had the annual Graduation Ceremony for our Seniors, this is a momentous occasion when our our graduates not only move up but move out into the world and become independent young adults. Each one of these moments deserve recognition and reflection.

I recently had a conversation with someone who didn’t understand why our school made such a fuss with special ceremonies commemorating students moving from one section to another. And many schools don’t have such celebrations. But I think that as we go through life, there is a place to pause and to reflect and look back on what we have accomplished and look forward to what is ahead of us. And so we have today what’s called the grade 8 leavers ceremony. This is one of those moments in your lives.

Grade 8 Leavers Ceremony

So what are you leaving behind and what are you looking forward to? Each of you will have a different answer to that question. For many of you, I would venture to guess, it is the unique MS culture that you have experienced over the past few years and the special relationships that you have formed with your friends and with your special teachers and staff. For others it may be the physical environments of the MS that you have called home for three years. Whatever it is, this is a time to not only celebrate this change in your lives, but to reflect and prepare for what’s coming next. I don’t mean to sound ominous about what’s next, because it will be fun and exciting and challenging and you’re all ready for high school whether you know it or not. So as you anticipate your next steps, think about what you wish to get out of the next four years. 

As educators, one of the things we have come to realize more and more is how capable young people really are if they are given the opportunity to try and fail and learn from failure. In Silicon Valley they call it Failing Forward.  This is what I wish for each of you as you prepare for high school. Be willing to try and believe in yourself and be willing to fail. These aren’t simply nice words, but this sentiment is actually based on research.

Something you may have learned about is called mindset. It is a concept coined by Stanford University professor and researcher Carol Dweck. What she learned through her research is that there are two kinds of mindset each of us have. A growth and a fixed mindset. Here’s how Dweck defined these two traits:

‘In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.’

One startling thing that Dweck discovered was that those of us with a fixed mindset have the ability to change it to a growth mindset. It’s like when someone says, I’m not good at art or math. The truth is that we can accomplish much more than we think if we believe we have the ability to do it and the will to expend our efforts to accomplish something. As the great inventor Thomas Edison said:

‘None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Here’s how Dweck recommends we respond to our fixed mindsets:

‘THE FIXED-MINDSET says “Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent.”

THE GROWTH-MINDSET answers, “I’m not sure I can do it now, but I think I can learn to with time and effort.”

FIXED MINDSET: “What if you fail—you’ll be a failure”

GROWTH MINDSET: “Most successful people had failures along the way.”

FIXED MINDSET: “If you don’t try, you can protect yourself and keep your dignity.”

GROWTH MINDSET: “If I don’t try, I automatically fail. Where’s the dignity in that?”’

I like the way the great basketball player Michael Jordan put it:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed…. I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.

So my message to each of you is to remember to believe in yourself,  put in the effort to reach your goals, and be willing to fail, that’s a winning combination.”


The Power of Mindset

mindset2.001How we learn, think, are motivated, are creative, and how we as human beings develop and innovate, has been heavily researched at an accelerating pace over the past decade. The body of evidence about learning and motivation not only informs educators and parents about human behavior and development, but it also helps us reshape our approach to parenting and education. For example, praise to a child about something they achieved, it was assumed, built confidence. In fact, we now know that such praise can inhibit creativity and  learning, and that the kind of praise or feedback given to a learner strongly impacts their “mindset” about themselves for the better or worse. (see my previous blog about motivation)

Stanford University psychologist Dr Carol Dweck presents in her groundbreaking book Mindset,  years of research about how people achieve and succeed.  Each of us carries around a mindset about ourselves in many different areas of our lives.  Some of us have great confidence in our math abilities (growth mindset) or conversely don’t think we’re good at mathematics at all (fixed mindset). Each of us have formed mindsets about our various abilities in each of our endeavors, whether it be in the world of work, school, or personal relationships. These mindsets have a profound impact on what and how we achieve or don’t achieve. Here’s how Dweck herself describes in an interview the differences between a fixed and a growth mindset.

Fixed Mindset

“In my book I identify two mindsets that play important roles in people’s success. In one, the fixed mindset, people believe that their talents and abilities are fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that; nothing can be done to change it. Many years of research have now shown that when people adopt the fixed mindset, it can limit their success. They become over-concerned with proving their talents and abilities, hiding deficiencies, and reacting defensively to mistakes or setbacks–because deficiencies and mistakes imply a (permanent) lack of talent or ability. People in this mindset will actually pass up important opportunities to learn and grow if there is a risk of unmasking weaknesses.”

“What is the alternative?”

Growth Mindset

“In the other mindset, the growth mindset, people believe that their talents and abilities can be developed through passion, education, and persistence. For them, it’s not about looking smart or grooming their image. It’s about a commitment to learning–taking informed risks and learning from the results, surrounding yourself with people who will challenge you to grow, looking frankly at your deficiencies and seeking to remedy them. Most great business leaders have had this mindset, because building and maintaining excellent organizations in the face of constant change requires it.”

Edge in Education

The parent group, Edge in Education, at the International School of Prague meets regularly to discuss important trends in twenty-first century education. During our last gathering we discussed the concepts of mindsets and their impact on parenting and schooling.

Edge in Education Parent Group discussing Mindset

Edge in Education Parent Group discussing Mindset

To spark our thinking we viewed a TedX presentation about the concepts and research of mindsets.

Briceno uses the example of the prodigy chess master Josh Waitzkin, who discovered that having a growth mindset about so-called failure  had a surprisingly powerful and positive impact on achieving his subsequent goals.

The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability as opposed to resilience and hard work, we will be brittle in the face of adversity. Josh Waitzkin  (Psychology Today)

Waitzkin’s words, which reflect Dweck’s research findings, should have a profound impact on how we, as parents and educators, treat our children, as we try to facilitate learning and creativity. Schools that support a growth mindset empower children to be resilient learners, capable of achieving their goals and adapting well to change.

As we discussed the findings of Dweck’s research with ISP parents, it became apparent to me that we need to make the concept of mindset more explicit to our students and teachers. We need to teach our students and teachers that we don’t have to be trapped in a fixed mindset. We have the power to move our fixed mindset about our abilities to a growth mindset. The scientific evidence clearly shows that those of us who assume we are ‘no good’ at math, or art, or languages, are mistaken.

Briceno points to three steps each of us can take to develop a growth mindset:

  1. Understand that the concepts of a growth mindset is supported by science.
  2. Learn about deliberate practice and what makes for effective effort.
  3. Listen for your fixed mindset voice, and when you hear it, talk back with a growth mindset voice. Simply put, if you hear “I can’t do it”… Add “yet.”Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 11.30.42 AM

The point about the mindset research is not that we all have the same abilities or gifts. The point is that all of us are capable of achieving much more than we think we can, if we can learn how to apply a growth mindset to what we want to master. Believing that success is possible fosters resilience and motivates us to keep trying. Unfortunately, when it comes to achieving our goals, we are often our own worst enemy.

Josh Waitzman

Josh Waitzman