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Posts tagged ‘growth mindset’

5 Ways to Deal with Setbacks

setbackLife has some interesting twists, and sometimes things don’t go the way we expect. After a failure, we might feel lost, embarrassed, scared, upset, or even numb… we might not feel anything at all! At my last post, Perseverance in Solving Problems, I discussed how perseverance, grit and tenacity could be addressed in the classroom by creating a climate that supports challenging goals where mistakes are seen as normal and by developing a growth mindset in students. Today, I want to focus on some specific strategies that can be used to develop a growth mindset and deal with setbacks in your own journey or when working with students.

1. Identify how you feel. When we are dealing with difficult situations, we might feel a mixture of emotions. Being able to name these emotions, without judging if they are good or bad, will help you decrease their intensity and develop self-awareness. According to Damasio (2005), “far from interfering with rationality, the absence of emotion and feeling can break down rationality and make wise decisions making almost impossible”. Emotions contain information that can help us think, and when acknowledged, take a more objective stand in the situation we are facing so we can make better decisions.

2. Don’t be a victim. When we face setbacks and struggles, we might feel like we are victims (of discrimination, an unfair teacher, a bureaucratic system, etc.). When we feel this way, we tend to blame others for the difficulties we are facing. This mindset takes the individual’s power away, making it hard to change things and move forward. Moving away different alternativesfrom a victim mentality starts with self-awareness, being able to connect with our emotions, so we can manage our behavior (instead of just reacting) and move into a position where we can identify new or alternative solutions. Another way to avoid a victim mentality is to take setbacks as part of learning. Embrace challenge as part of life and learning!

3. Identify the lesson that you can learn from it. There is always something that we can learn, even from difficult situations or when we think “everything is lost”. This means taking the time to analyze what happened, learn from mistakes and find ways to make them less likely to happen in the future. Although this can (often) be a hard process, the lessons learned when dealing with setbacks are generally the ones that stay with us the longest. When you are dealing with a challenge or helping students overcome a difficult situation, ask the question “what can I learn from it?”.

4. Remember your strengths and your goals. Experiencing setbacks can make you question your self-worth, your goals, and the things that keep you motivated to keep going. Being able to identify your strengths, and how you can use them to overcome the challenge and find new solutions, will be key to reframe the situation positively and open up space for alternatives. Learning from setbacks often means changing your behaviors in ways that will lead to success, but not giving up on your goals! Having clarity on your goals will help you persevere, even when you are faced with challenges.

hands5. Find social support. Numerous studies indicate that social support is exceptionally important for maintaining good physical and mental health, and may enhance individuals’ resilience to stress. Talk with a friend, coach or mentor about your experience. Others can give you emotional support (someone who can listen when you are upset or scared), remind you of your strengths or offer some strategies that have worked for them in the past. So don’t be shy about asking for help!

According to Carol Dweck, a growth mindset creates a love for learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishments. Having a growth mindset means that we take on challenges wholeheartedly, learn from our setbacks and try again. We won’t be able to avoid difficult situations, but we can be prepared with strategies when they strike!

Perseverance in Solving Problems

The Mathematics Common Core Standards outline certain mathematical practices that students should develop in class. The first practice is “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them”; this means that students need to be able to make sense of the information in a problem through different approaches, select a process for solving the problem and explain why it makes sense, as well as use alternative approaches when necessary. This practice moves away from  “quickly getting the right answer” to focus on the process through which a solution can be drawn. But how do we teach perseverance to students?

Perseverance, along with grit and tenacity, has been recognized as essential to an individual’s capacity to Perseverancesucceed at long-term goals, and to persist in the face of challenges and obstacles. Researchers have been highlighting for a few years now the impact that these non-cognitive skills can have on students; some of the best-known scholars are Carol Dweck and her research on growth mindset (2006), as well as Angela Duckworth and her work on grit (2007). A recent report (Shechtman et al., 2013) highlights the common findings in research related to perseverance, grit and tenacity, which have direct implications for teaching and learning:

1.     Learning environments can be designed to promote grit, tenacity and perseverance. This means that educators provide opportunities for students to take on goals that are challenging, but within students’ range of proximal development (not too easy or too difficult). Educators should help students connect these goals with their values and interests, so students become intrinsically motivated to accomplish these objectives. At the same time, in order for students to pursue these challenging goals, the classroom climate should regard making mistakes and struggling as part of the learning process, and effort should be emphasized over ability. The bottom line is that you want students to feel safe making mistakes and taking risks, and feel supported in this process of struggling with challenging goals.

 2.     Students can develop psychological resources that promote grit, tenacity and perseverance. Research has shown that social and emotional competencies are malleable and can be learned (and taught!) over time. One of the aspects that often holds students back in their math work is not based on their knowledge of math concepts or procedures, but their academic mindsets. The beliemindsetfs, attitudes, dispositions or ways of perceiving oneself can have a powerful impact on performance and how students react in the face of challenge.  One of these mindsets is Dweck’s growth mindset: “My ability and competence grow with my effort”. You can actually test your mindset on-line and for free by accessing Dweck’s website Mindset. Exploring your students’ beliefs about their abilities and competencies, and addressing them in the classroom, will help you be more effective and help students learn better and be more motivated. In addition to considering students’ academic mindsets in your instruction, there is a second element that will help students persevere in the face of challenges: having specific strategies to deal with difficulties. You can develop a list of strategies with your students for  “what to do when you feel stuck” and post it in your classroom, so students have easy access to this information as they are working on their math problems or other activities. The same process of developing this list with students will highlight that making mistakes is okay and that we often need to use an alternative approach to solve problems.

Developing perseverance in your students is not an easy task or something that will happen right away, but perseverance runningthere are things that you can do to help students persist in the face of challenges: First, create a classroom climate that supports students taking on challenging goals where mistakes are seen as normal to the learning process; second, develop a growth mindset in your students by teaching that intelligence is not fixed, and provide with specific strategies that students can use when they feel stuck. By addressing both the learning environment and students’ individual resources you will be helping students develop perseverance and you’ll be providing the foundation for great learning!


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