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Fostering a Growth Mindset in our Children: The power of yet

With a growth mindset and a belief that skills can be developed over time, we can encourage our students to embrace challenges
Photo by Christine on Unsplash

We’ve all heard, or even said, “I can’t do that.” 

“I’m not good at math.”

“I can’t make that goal.”

“I don’t understand this.”

But what if you add the little three-letter word YET to each of those statements?

“I can’t do that YET.” 

“I’m not good at math YET.”

“I can’t make that goal YET.”

“I don’t understand this YET.”

“YET. A powerful three-letter word that means, ‘an implied time, still, even or nevertheless.’” - Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. 

On this Good Friday, as many anticipate and will celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, it seems to be a good time to talk about YET.  

Dr. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset and a Stanford University professor, has dedicated her life and research to helping people develop a “growth mindset” and reminding us that “even if we haven’t ‘yet,’ if we keep working at it, we can reach our goal.”

My professional career has been spent motivating, counseling, and advising college students. Working in student leadership development, I modeled many of our programming efforts on the relational leadership model presented in Exploring Leadership (Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 1998, 2007). This model focuses on leadership being purposeful, inclusive, empowering, ethical, and process-oriented. I am grateful to call Susan Komives a friend, mentor, fellow Mortar Board member, and sorority sister as well! There are no “born leaders” - leadership is a learned behavior. This approach emphasizes leadership as “a relational and ethical process of people together attempting to accomplish positive change” (Komives, et al., 2007, p. 74) and also introduced me to a growth mindset.

A growth mindset is essential to helping our children accomplish their goals.
The "Power of Yet" prints are a constant reminder that we are all capable of big things if we commit ourselves to hard work and growth.

About three years ago, I added these prints  to my office on campus. I found that many students with whom I met didn’t believe in their abilities and these prints offered a visual reminder and conversation starter about growth mindset and “the power of yet.” Almost every conversation I had with a student - and even colleagues - would somehow circle back to the growth mindset.  These prints are also a powerful, visual reminder to ME that I can embrace challenges and persist in the face of setbacks.  

A growth mindset and the “power of yet” are also important for parents, coaches, and teachers to consider. As parents, how we respond to our student when they are “worried about an AP class being too difficult” or “looking for an easy class” can model our own mindset. There is a large difference between a discussion about adding an AP class to an already busy and challenging course and activity schedule, while thinking of whole student scheduling, OR avoiding a rigorous class “because it could be hard.” Remember - we can do hard things!

A fixed mindset focuses on maintaining an outward appearance and the status quo. This mindset believes that intelligence is static and can lead to a desire to “look smart.” This approach can lead students to avoid challenges, give up easily, ignore useful feedback, and feel threatened by the success of others. According to Dweck’s research, this mindset can lead students to “plateau early” and achieve less than their full potential; they see the world as “deterministic.” From this view, hard work and persistence won’t actually change the outcome - the person has little ownership in their own behavior and choices. We have all heard statements that fall in this mindset. “He got more playing time because his dad is a coach” and “I didn’t get admitted because I’m a white male.”  Let’s reframe that and look at the CHOICES and EFFORT. How we respond to feedback will determine our path.

With a growth mindset and a belief that intelligence can be developed, we can encourage our students to embrace challenges - that effort and hard work are the “path to mastery.” There is no predetermination; we have free will and can stretch ourselves (and our brains!) to achieve great things. Just like we can exercise and train our body, we can exercise our brain!

Another important reminder for parents is not to peg or assign your student to a “role.” Don’t label one child as “good at math” and another at “good at writing.” These labels can last and also lead to a fixed mindset. I’ve observed many students - particularly females - pursue and excel in STEM fields and later share, “I was always told I wasn’t good at math.” 

As parents, we want our children to achieve and reach their goals, but we have to help them realize that they can affect the outcome through hard work. If my son is upset about his playing time in a game, I can encourage him to seek feedback, practice, run, and train. Or I can say, “Yeah, your coach must have something against you and that’s not fair.” This approach might feel right in the moment; some people even justify this attitude by labeling it as being a “momma bear.” But by taking this approach, my son won’t recognize HIS role in his playing time.

We can all do hard things.  Remember “The best is yet to come,” but we have control on the YET.  

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