Growth Mindset:
Shifting Students’ Thinking to Teach Resilience

Written by Julie Levinson on behalf of Epstein Hillel School

If you are a parent, you more likely than not have been met with cries of, “I cannot do it” from your child. Most of the time, it is only because it is a “new-to-them” task and the only obstacle standing between success and failure is a can-do attitude. Among the many exciting initiatives for the 2018-2019 school year at Epstein Hillel School is one spearheaded by school psychologist Dr. Nancy Harrison: infusing classrooms and the professional culture with a Growth Mindset.

There is scientific evidence to support the notion that shifting one’s thinking from, at its most basic, “I cannot do it” to “I cannot do it yet” will result in more resilient, stronger and all around more successful children. Based on this information, Epstein Hillel has taken steps to embrace the very real concept that sustained effort, even when faced with failure, is a key ingredient to student success and growth. Simply said, 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.

The growth mindset initiative was introduced to faculty and staff during the professional development week in late August. Dr. Nancy presented the indisputable value of incorporating growth mindset into the way students are taught as well as how the EHS faculty approach their own work. Excited by the presentation, the teachers were immediately on board.

For example, the STEM team has adjusted the language of their instructions for Engineering and Design day to incorporate the explicit goal of not just building, but also potentially failing, as a means to embrace the creative process. The program emphasis has shifted to include multiple iterations with a spotlight on process as well as finished product.

For the youngest students, veteran kindergarten teacher Barbara Sidman has long been a believer in teaching an open mindset. At the start of every school year, she leads a class discussion with observations about how some students are reading or able to do basic math while others are not. However, the real conversation begins when she points out that having knowledge does not mean that the students know all there is to know, and that hard work and not giving up will yield amazing results.

For her part, middle school Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher, Tali Marotz, notes that some middle school students are set in a fixed mindset having experienced learning difficulties, having feelings of pressure from parents to ‘’do better,’’ or continually comparing themselves to their classmates. Her goal as an educator is to encourage students to shift to a growth mindset which, she assures them, will improve their ability to acquire and apply knowledge, embrace challenges, and grow from their mistakes and/or setbacks.

Because persistence is one of the most important parts of mastering the Hebrew language, Tali takes great effort to “catch students in the act” of working with a growth mindset –
‘’I like how you tried to speak only in Hebrew,’’ or ‘’Making mistakes and being challenged are parts of learning Hebrew … you kept going, even when it was hard.’’

It has been remarkable to observe how the seemingly small shift from “I cannot do it” to “I cannot do it yet” results in greater all around success for students and teachers alike.

Epstein Hillel School is located in Marblehead, Mass.