Growth Mindset: Celebrating Failures

Guiding Individuals from Changing Mindset from Fixed to Growth

February 14, 2020
By: Brittany Handler, Instructional Designer, Touro College School of Social Sciences

More often than not we are bombarded by slogans like “Failure is not an option.” Why isn’t it an option, especially in education? As we grow up, we have this perceived notion that failure is simply not okay. Yet, when we are babies…toddlers even….and we fail at walking for the first time, we don’t think to ourselves, “Ya know what, this walking thing just isn’t for me.” We persevere, we get up and try, try again… and eventually, we make it through. We crawl, then we walk, walking turns into a run, and then we could end up doing marathons!

Perhaps we have this mindset with failure as adults, because when we see failure, it’s typically attached to the negative. Liver failure, power failure, crop failure. According to Merriam-Webster, failure is not only defined as ‘an omission of occurrence or performance, but the state of inability to perform a normal function;’ to fall short at succeeding. What Merriam-Webster “fails” to recognize is that through our mishaps and shortcomings, we learn fundamental skills, develop newfound abilities, and gain knowledge through experience which leads to finer comprehension.  

I’ve learned during my experience as an educator of adult learners, that it was my responsibility to guide these individuals to change their mindset from “fixed” to “growth.” Fixed mindsets prevent learners from evolving their skills and abilities. Recovery after a failure is harder, and at times will halt any future opportunities. Adult learners with a growth mindset don’t necessarily see failure as the end of their journey. These individuals easily bounce back from failure. Failure propels them to problem solve, to try new things, to investigate and continue to learn.

This takes time. Adopting a growth mindset doesn’t happen overnight, especially when we have this old one ingrained in us somehow. I knew I needed to implement small changes everyday to begin reaching for that change. Here are a few simple tricks I practiced when I began building a growth mindset with my adult learners:

  1. Pay attention to your words (and your thoughts). I started this by replacing the word “failing” with the word “learning.” I thought, if my words and thoughts are dark and negative, the results may follow suit. I had to really listen to what I was saying, and then switch up the narrative and tone. This allows you to become self-aware. Focus on your ’opportunities for growth’, instead of your ‘weaknesses’, censor yourself, become your own guide, and see how things start to change.
  2. Learn from the mistakes of others. It was important to me to realize that as humans, we share some of the same faults. What can we learn from Timmy who just fell off his skateboard? Perhaps that is extremely important to always wear a helmet. Maybe I had just learned that when it’s my turn, I'll need to start 10 feet before Timmy’s original start point in order to gain enough speed for that jump to be successful. The same can be said in school or in research. We must learn from the mistakes in others and then apply that newfound knowledge to our own discoveries. Make sure you are acknowledging and embracing not only others’ imperfections, but some of your own. This is what makes us unique.
  3. Incorporate the phrase “not yet” into your vocabulary. The use of “yet” shows that there is a learning curve ahead of you. I had to stop my students from saying “no” or “not” and quickly add in the “yet” before they were able to recognize it for themselves. There are difficulties your students may need to overcome or an obstacle they may need to tackle, but eventually they will get there. This shows them that they can improve, and that they are almost there – that not obtaining ‘it’ now, doesn’t mean the end, or that it is over.
  4. View Time and Effort Realistically. Slow and steady wins the race, remember? I had to be patient, and understand that if it takes a while for my students to reach the final outcome, it’s okay. In this process, I realized that in most cases, the end results are less of the focus – and what truly matters is how motivated, engaged, and enlightened they have become. I had to remember as an educator that the effort my students put into the process, and that hard work should always be rewarded before the inherent skill or ability. Together, we had to be more realistic about the time and effort it takes to complete a task or learn a new topic. Mastery won’t be attained in unfeasible time frames. Be kind to yourself, and be kind to your students - it will take time and effort to build this new mindset, and that is a-okay!
  5. Challenge Yourself! I tried to find challenges in my everyday life, not just in the classroom. When you choose to climb that mountain, you are choosing to overcome difficult situations, experiences, questions, and more just to get to the top. Challenges force you to solve problems, which propels your mind forward towards a goal. It fuels the drive to get there. That process is sometimes even more powerful than the end result.