Sunday, September 17, 2017

How I Teach Growth Mindset to Young Women

September is Growth Mindset Month here on Taxis, Tots & Polka Dots. And we have already established what growth mindset is, and how I teach it to young children. So now it's time to tackle another aspect for our readers more directly: how to teach it to young women.

Before I began teaching kindergarten, I worked as a high school colorguard coach in small town Missouri. By day two of our camp together, I easily recognized it as the most difficult job I'd ever had. They were unmotivated. They were rude. They talked back to me all the time, huffed at my instruction, and acted as though the very sport they auditioned for was the absolute biggest pain in their butt.

But I refused to quit. Not because I'm an insanely dedicated or thought I had exactly what these girls needed, but because I soon viewed it as a challenge to conquer, showing those girls they had no reason to be that way. That's basically the kind of the person I am.

By day four I was so frustrated that I sat them down in a circle before we began. "Do you want to be good?" I asked them.

They all just stared at me.

"I'll ask again," I said after several moments of silence, "Do you all want to be good?"

"Well, yeah..." they said.

"Great! That's wonderful to hear!" I told them. A few of them broke a smile. "But you could've fooled me."

Their faces fell.

And I shrugged. "You could've fooled me. Every time I give you anything to get better, you talk back to me, you huff at me, and you tell me you can't do it. You give up before you even try, and you get mad at me for believing in you. Why should I keep trying for you if you aren't even trying for yourself?"

One girl wasn't quite impacted enough by my tough love. "Because this is your job," she told me indifferently.

I couldn't help but laugh. "Please. I don't get paid enough to stay up past midnight writing choreography, driving two hours to get to and from your school for practices, and have you treat me like I don't know what I'm doing."

"Then why are you here?" the girl with too much nerve dared to ask.

"Because you're better than what you're giving me. But. I know it's easier to not practice and not try, so if you don't care and you're ready to give up, it'll be easier on me to not come anymore. If that's what you want."

No one said anything, so I just kept talking.

"I don't know what else to do. I don't know what else to try. So if you want to be good, and there's something you need that I'm not giving you, you just need to tell me. And I'll get it for you, I promise."

"It's harder than we thought," came a soft, sweet voice from the back, "It looked easy when you did it. But it's not."

It actually made me nauseous that I hadn't seen it before. "Well do you want to learn? How to make it easy?"

"Well, yeah," became the general consensus.

"Well it took me ten years to get to where I am with guard. You can get there, too. But not in four days. And not with that attitude."


Growth mindset. They needed it. Bad. But unfortunately, it's much harder to teach growth mindset to young women, because they are no longer young children. They aren't as moldable. They aren't as much of a sponge. They already have thoughts and ideas and opinions on how the world works, and they already have thoughts and ideas and opinions on how much they're worth. And about 99% of the time, they don't have it right.

It starts with a love of self. 
Can you teach this? Some say yes, some say no. And personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. There's certainly no set lesson plan. There's no formula or method. But I've found that believing in them is a good place to start. Most of the time, even if they believe in themselves, they're looking for someone who believes in them more. Who pushes them further because you know they can handle it, but who encourages and compliments them on what they already do well. Let them know they have your support, your encouragement, and your leadership. That's all a young woman really wants; from her educators, her parents, her man, her friends, etc. And the more she has that behind her, the more she will fuel and encourage and believe in herself.

Eliminate "I Can't" from their vocabulary.
You might have previously read how I don't allow my kindergarteners to use "I can't." I don't allow high schoolers to use it around me either. I don't believe in the phrase, quite frankly. Hepburn said it best... "Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I'm Possible." The more you speak those words, the more your brain believes them by default. But if you start reminding yourself that you can, with time, or effort, or practice, or whatever... your brain believes those by default also.

Place them where they can flourish. 
Too many times people believe that growth mindset functions best when a person is placed in a situation where they are heavily challenged. And that is true, sometimes. But in the beginning, it's completely natural for people to need to learn what it's like to succeed before they learn what it's like to grow. Success pushes anyone to want more success. That personal joy is contagious, and addicting. If a person has learned what it's like to shine, they will be more motivated to feel that way again. By placing them in situations they like so they can achieve success they truly enjoy, you are teaching them to work without them feeling as though they are working.

Push them, ever so slightly. 
Lots of things are too easy. Lots of things are too hard. Very few things are "just right." Finding that sweet spot is quite an art, but it's very important that you do. Find where they are comfortable and happy and just take one half step further. This teaches them to set goals but work slowly towards the success. Showing them how to trust the process forces them to find sweet successes when they reach the goal, and while they're still along the way.

Celebrate successes with them. 
This goes for any age. Any gender. Any person, really. It's just a wonderful thing to do! Successes are sweeter when shared with someone else. If you have been a complimenter, a supporter, and an encourager through the entire process, they will be so thankful when you are a celebrator as well.


Growth mindset is just as crucial in life as it is in the classroom. It's just as useful when you're an adult as it is when you're in a kindergarten classroom. It's pretty common for early childhood teachers to work toward it and teach it. But it tends to get lost somewhere along the way for young women. Once they start to question their beauty, their confidence, and their power (and they all do at some point), their growth mindset is shot to the wind. It takes constant reinforcement to ensure it stays a part of them, and it is no longer something they can learn and maintain on their own. They need the help of their educators, their parents, and one another. It's a trickier battle than it is with young students, but it's still a very important one.

1 comment:

  1. This was pretty helpful and it is a good read for adults who want to train their daughters or for teachers to teach their female students.

    ReplyDelete