Updated: Mar 11, 2021
By Lamisa H.
I grew up around a lot of smart kids. Children who were placed in gifted and talented classes and who seemed to comfortably move onto selective schools and succeed in everything they tried. In my school I was the only brown person, so being “smart” was the only category I could fit myself into. I tried to live up to it by carefully curating an identity of self-assured intelligence that I never let slip. I pretended to finish books that I wasn’t even halfway through. I stole the Pre-Uni answer booklets from my parents because I could not confidently answer the questions on my own. I grew up feeling like a fraud.
I’M SMART, I'M SMART, I’M SMART
I sought out validation of my intelligence from my peers, instead of actually trying to better myself in my studies, and this mindset followed me into university. What this looked like was hiding my work from my peers and not trying in tasks in the first place, for fear that my subsequent failure would be my fault. Hearing my friends say “I didn’t even study for this” before acing a test re - affirmed my belief that intelligence was gifted and effort wasn’t necessary for the talented to succeed. I thought my passion for teaching would carry me through university with flying colours, so naturally, when it didn’t, I stopped trying altogether.
Dr Carol Dweck was the first to coin the term ‘fixed mindset,’ which is the belief that talent, rather than effort, generates success — that you are either good or bad at something and there is no changing that. Many of us still innately believe that while you can learn new things, the intelligence you were born with can never grow. In a ‘growth mindset’, people realise that they are capable of changing and growing their most basic abilities, like intelligence and talent, through effort and dedication. A growth mindset is imperative in achieving what a fixed mindset would never allow us to believe that we are capable of attaining. The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life and the successes you are capable of achieving.
PRACTICE WHAT YOU TEACH
I’m a new teacher. It is essential for me as an educator to cultivate my own growth mindset before trying to teach others. Recently, I got hired for my dream job at a not - for - profit called Story Factory - an innovative “school” that upturns traditional teaching methods, focusing on growing confidence and creativity. When I first met Bilal Hafda, the StoryTeller-in-Chief, I knew that I wanted to be him when I grew up. His empathetic teaching methods (giving students prompts rather than orders, refusing to correct their spelling and building off any ideas that may seem untraditional) became the teaching method I wanted to emulate.
A school is a difficult place to run. Most of the time you get the feeling that you are making work so that students behave, and it’s a battle trying to figure out how your tasks are meant to be meaningful each step of the way. The rigidity of the syllabus does not allow for creativity in the classroom, which can lead to neglecting to teach real-life skills that students can carry into their lives, leading to disillusionment with the education system. In trying to grow my own knowledge, I asked Bilal what he wishes he could teach:
“I’m going to cheat and say that there are two skills that I don’t think gets enough attention - confidence and creativity. You need [people] to feel comfortable enough to try new things and meet them at the point they are at. Creativity is a bit like that too, with more emphasis on play. I believe the two are interwoven, and that the right [learning] environment allows [people] to work on both skills.”
RE - LEARNING
There is no better way to witness the success of a growth mindset than in a classroom. As educators, we learn from our students every single day. They teach us resilience, they show us new perspectives and they surprise us when they resonate with content we didn't expect them to. They break down our preconceived notions of them - the barrier between teacher and student. They make us work harder because that hard work pays off. They remind us that our lives are all about growth.
Trying to adopt a growth mindset in my everyday life is something I continue to struggle with, but now I know that the most important step is recognising that effort always overrides talent. Even in writing this piece and allowing others to read this work is a step in the right direction. Now, when I receive feedback from the team I can take the response at face value and not as a critique on my intelligence. I am now closer to achieving greater things than the high schooler who once believed her intelligence was pre - determined and forever stagnant.
Lead Editor: Palwasha A.