We live in an era where the biggest accommodation service, Airbnb, owns no real estate, and the biggest taxi service, Uber, owns no cars. We are seeing a shift from the traditional job economy to the gig economy. The gig economy is a free market system where organizations hire freelancers, project-based experts or part-time workers as opposed to having employees with permanent jobs. This means the workforce has to navigate through an economy where there is rarely the humdrum of routine, and no consistent pay cheque at the end of the month. There is also a rise in the nomadic lifestyle among the millennials offering more control and freedom over their work. This new economic reality poses an interesting challenge for educators – how do we prepare our students for a future when the future of work is changing so rapidly?
American futurist, Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” However, this process is marred by failures and obstacles and our current education system does not help us see failures as opportunities. How can we have life-long learners stepping out of our schools if we create a Pavlovian response of shame and guilt to failure? We need a fundamental shift in our mindset – both as educators and as learners.
According to Carol Dweck, a Stanford University professor, there are two types of mindsets – fixed mindset and growth mindset. A person with a fixed mindset is someone who thinks each one of us has limited intelligence and that it cannot be changed. A person with a growth mindset is someone who thinks that our intelligence can be developed.
To help students understand what a mindset is and how our intelligence is not set in stone, talk to them about the plasticity of the brain. Remind your students when they learnt to ride a bicycle, the more they practised after falling, the better they became and now they can never forget cycling. Similarly, when we practise a skill, our brain makes new neuron connections that make us better at it.
Become growth mindset ambassadors
Before teaching anything, we must embrace it ourselves. When you experiment new things in class, the students see you as partners in their learning journey. Even as educators, we can inspire our students to be lifelong learners by sharing stories of how or what we are currently learning. Your students will be more open to challenges when you tell them how you are learning mixed martial arts, learning to play the ukulele or writing a novel. When they see you learning new things, it will become part of the school culture.
Mind your language
The way we praise our students builds a mental model of how they see themselves. Carol Dweck, in her article, ‘The Perils and Promises of Praise’, talks about how praising a student’s intelligence is not always good. Here is an excerpt from the article –
Let’s get inside the head of a student with a fixed mindset as he sits in his classroom, confronted with algebra for the first time. Up until then, he has breezed through math. Despite paying no attention in the class and skipping his homework, he always scored an A. But this is different. It’s hard. The student feels anxious and thinks, “What if I’m not as good at math as I thought? What if the other kids understand it and I don’t?” At some level, he realizes that he has two choices: try hard, or turn off. His interest in math begins to wane, and his attention wanders. He tells himself, “Who cares about this stuff? It’s for nerds. I could do it if I wanted to, but it’s so boring. You don’t see CEOs and sports stars solving for x and y.”
We need to give feedback that focuses on the student’s effort because, in the end, we want to reward the hard work and not just the end result. Praise often focuses on effort rather than intelligence, as follows:
• You studied regularly for the exams and your hard work has paid off! Great job!
• When one strategy didn’t work, you tried something else to solve the problem! Keep going!
• I liked how you didn’t give up easily and kept working hard on your essay.
Label goals, not students
Students can see the impact of the growth mindset when they get tangible results. Challenges are an integral part of the growth mindset. Help students set SMART goals at the beginning of the school year or after each assessment. SMART goals are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. This also helps when a student says, “I can’t do algebra at all! It is not my thing!” Growth mindset helps them unveil the power of yet! Tell your fixed mindset students that they can’t do algebra yet! If they set a SMART goal and plan, the fear of algebra will soon be history. Examples of SMART goals are:
• I will score 80% in maths in the January monthly test.
• I will read 200 words per minute by the September reading test.
• I will write an essay every week for three months to improve my writing.
• I will run 800 m within 3 minutes by December’s sports day.
As teachers, if we can share our SMART goals with the students, it will be the icing on the cake. If we can help our students change their perspective to see failures as avenues of improvement, problems as solutions we don’t know yet and uncertainty as opportunities to explore, we might give them the tools to charter the future of work with ease.
• Image – https://www.flickr.com/photos/butterseite/2658061277
The author is a passionate educator who believes in nurturing good human beings before anything else. She works as a Programme Officer at Udaan India Foundation where she leads the Children’s Programmes. Udaan India Foundation is a Mumbai-based not for profit organization working with children and youth from low-income communities in the field of education. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.