I’ve been reading and rereading Opening Minds – Using Language to Change Lives (Peter Johnston). And the more I read, the more it connects with what I’m experiencing right now. Johnston talks about Carol Dweck’s work on ‘fixed’ versus ‘dynamic mindsets’, which I found popping up in other texts recently – Tuned Out (Hume) and Breaking Free (Zmuda). Johnston writes that those with fixed mindsets or fixed personal characteristics will choose performance goals (eg. “I feel smart when I finish first or it’s easy.”) while those with a dynamic mindset will choose learning goals (eg. “I feel smart when I figure it out by myself or I can teach others.”). The latter expects learning to be hard and more interesting, thus failure is part of the learning process. One cannot exist without the other. He provides multiple examples of how simple words like “yet” serves to change everything in how an individual perceives the environment and thinking process. For me, this is really about the subtle messages that we give out with the language we use. And even more, it is about giving individuals a ‘voice’ (something I’m rather big on).
Have you heard people say “I’m not any good at technology”? Imagine if the same people said, “I’m not any good at technology YET.” By simply adding a single word (YET) to the same statement, the individual has effectively provided “hope” for themselves. They may not feel very comfortable now but it can change into a “possible” just by working on it. It is not an ‘either/or’ place but a ‘move towards’ experience. Imagine how this might work in Math or Reading or Writing where students adopt a mindset that dooms them to forever feeling like they can never conquer that mountain! What if we were able to change the narrative? What if through a conscious effort in our language we were able to flip their views of the world?
I’m going to do some more play with this notion and see what happens over the year. I’d be very interested in any thoughts that you may have on this journey.