Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Simone Biles and Growth

Have you been watching the Olympics? If you follow gymnastics outside of the Olympics you already knew what a rockstar she was. But the rest of us who only watch gymnastics during the Olympics have just learned this: Simone Biles is incredible.

At 19 years old, she is already the most decorated gymnast in US history.  She is also the first American gymnast ever to win the grand slam of all-around titles: U.S. National Championships, World Championships, World Cup (American Cup), and Olympics. Yesterday, she won her 4th gold medal, the first time a gymnast has won 4 gold medals in over thirty years. She is being called “arguably the best female gymnast in the world”.

She’s amazing. She is tiny, she’s strong, and she makes everything look easy. Seriously, y’all. She makes being an Olympian look easy.

But how did she get there? She didn’t come from a family of Olympians (actually she came from a non-traditional family) She didn’t start training while she was in diapers (actually she didn’t even see a gym until she was 6 on a field trip). She didn’t even have the most experienced coach!

Now, I know, I know. Simone Biles has an incredible natural talent. This is indisputable.

But she has something else. You can call it grit. You can call it perseverance or determinism. This kid -- a public-school kid who was raised by her grandparents who didn’t start or even try gymnastics until after the age of most Olympians -- worked her butt off. She went from “new” to “ok” to “decent” to “great” to “most decorated gymnast in US history”.

She didn’t get there overnight. And she didn’t get there because everything came easy to her.

And she didn’t get there because someone looked at her six-year-old-self and said “there’s an Olympian”.

She got there because she had a growth mindset.

Students’ mindsets -- how they perceived their abilities -- are powerful factors. They might be one of the MOST powerful factors in a student’s success.

Students who believed that their intelligence could be developed (growth mindset) were a whole lot more successful in school (and in other areas, like gymnastics, for example) than those who believed that their intelligence was fixed (fixed mindset).A LOT more successful.

Did you catch that? Kids who believe their intelligence can INCREASE are WAY more successful than kids who believe their intelligence is “stuck”. Even more successful than “smart” kids who know they’re smart!

Guess what? Teachers who believe that their students’ intelligence is fixed (“She’s one of my smart kids” or “He shouldn’t even be in this class”) find that their students are LESS successful than those of teachers who believe that their kids intelligence can be grown (“She worked hard to get there” or “He improved a lot from then to now”)

Simone Biles has a growth mindset. She didn’t just assume that she could get “this far”. She believed that she could improve more. And improve even more on top of that. Her coach believed that she could improve. Her coach believed that Simone could improve even more and more.

Now, this isn’t just about effort. Growth mindset is about believing that intelligence is not a fixed thing. That a person’s intelligence can grow and expand -- in kids’ minds and in their teachers’ minds.

I challenge you to examine your beliefs in mindset. Do you believe that your --and your students’-- intelligence is FIXED? Or is it elastic and flexible? Can people -- and students -- get smarter?

If you believe yes (and I challenge you to at least consider it), check out these awesome resources  about Growth Mindset for teachers http://www.edutopia.org/article/growth-mindset-resources

Maybe the next Simone Biles is in your class. Or the next Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton!), John Hanke, or Simone Manuel. Someone getting smarter and more skilled all the time.

As always, I love to hear from you! Email me at newmantr@pcsb.org

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