Fixed Mindsets Among Educators Play a Role in Destroying Student Morale

For the last couple of years, I have had the pleasure of working and visiting an array of schools that have allowed me to develop an understanding of what environments conducive to learning should feel like. If I could summarize all my visit observations and highlight the three areas that stood out most as factors leading to school success and high achievement, they would be:  a positive school culture, high expectations, and exhibited growth mindsets amongst the staff. Ironically, in that same vein, the one common factor I witnessed that negatively affects a school’s culture and success has been teachers’ fixed mindsets. As a teacher myself, it is difficult to acknowledge that perhaps, we as educators, take a larger role in our fractured school’s system than we are comfortable to admit. Still, I stand firmly by the belief that if we want to make true impact, we must first check ourselves and admit fault, as our schools will continue to stay stagnant otherwise.

During the last couple of years, the topics of growth and fixed mindsets have gained popularity as research has further solidified the impact that each of these can have in any and all environments. According to Dweck (2006), Stanford University Professor of Psychology, growth mindset is described as a “belief system that asserts that intelligence is a malleable quality and can be developed.” In essence, the educators I have come across that exhibited a growth mindset believed that “with effort and hard work from the learner, all students can demonstrate significant growth and therefore all students deserve opportunities for challenge.” Now, if in addition to this belief, you add an effective teacher equipped with instructional tools and strategies that allow him/her to differentiate and respond to a learner’s needs, all while nurturing critical thinking processes and developing lifelong learners, the results are environments that are optimum for student learning.

Unfortunately, there are educators that I have come across that have allowed themselves to develop “a belief system that suggests that a person has a predetermined amount of intelligence, skills or talents,” a belief that Dweck (2006) has recognized as a fixed mindset. Often times, these teachers have been the easiest to recognize as they make it clear that they don’t really believe students can be successful, making excuses for the many ways in which a student will fail, rather than attempting to challenge them or seeking ways to differentiate to make the material accessible. These are the educators that are draining our schools. They are the ones whose attitudes and actions have and continue to take a toll on our students.

As an educator, being in the presence of teachers with fixed mindsets has taken a toll on my own spirits. If I, an adult that is aware and can understand why some adults may develop these mindsets over time, can be affected by the negative aura of those with fixed mindsets, I can’t help but wonder how our students manage to survive in their classes. The truth is an educator’s mindset directly influences how a child feels about him or herself and how he or she views him or herself as a learner. With a teacher’s unwavering support and affirmation, a child can grow up to be confident and relentless. Similarly, without a teacher believing in him/her, a child grows disconnected from school and uninterested in learning.

We can’t teach students who do not believe that they can succeed in our classrooms, so why aren’t we focusing less on how “low” test scores are and reflect on why our students are not succeeding? Maybe, if more educators took the time to reflect, they can realize that it is their fixed mindset that has become a barrier to student success and maybe, just maybe, if they begin to believe a little more in their students’ potential and ability, the results can change. Until that happens, I encourage us all to not be so quick to point fingers to all the barriers interfering with student success, as the root causes can sometimes be found within our own mindsets.

What do you think?

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Alma Renteria

Alma Renteria

Alma-Delia Renteria is a proud product of Lynwood schools. As a student in Lynwood, Alma was very involved which developed in her a passion for community outreach and education. After graduating UC Riverside, with a B.A. in English and a year earlier than anticipated, she decided to make her “4th year” of college a year of giving back by joining the national non-profit City Year. While at City Year Los Angeles, Alma built a strong network of education advocates which encouraged her to apply and join the prestigious Teach For America program. Upon joining TFA, Alma began her education career as a middle school teacher in Downtown Los Angeles. It was while teaching that she realized the need to do her part to help serve the community she grew up in. Alma was elected to the Lynwood School Board in 2013, where she made college accessibility/readiness a main priority. Alma completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University and is currently serving her second term as Board President for the Lynwood Unified School District. She also serves as a Digital Learning Instructional Coach at a dual immersion school in Pico Rivera.

One thought on “Fixed Mindsets Among Educators Play a Role in Destroying Student Morale

  1. Yolanda

    I wholeheartedly agree.
    1. How would you suggest a teacher or staff go about changing their mind set?
    2. What could be offered to staff to help bring change to mind set thinking?
    3. How would you suggest we spend monies to help facilitate the Mindset shift?

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