Imagine you are sitting in class. The teacher asks a question. You think back to your homework the night before, and you’re 80% sure you know the answer. You go to raise your hand, but something in you is pulling it back down. You’re not completely sure about the answer, and you don’t want to be wrong.
Why are you so scared of failure? What if, instead of worrying that you might answer the question incorrectly, you viewed your teacher’s question as an opportunity to expand your understanding of the concept?
A fear of failure leads many students to developing an attitude that academics are about being “right or wrong” or “smart or dumb.” These sentiments lead to what we call a “fixed mindset,” which can be extremely detrimental to a student’s learning process, and ultimately their ability to succeed.
What is a “fixed mindset” and how can I avoid it?
Someone with a “fixed mindset” views intelligence and creativity as fixed features. A “fixed mindset” leads to the attitude that standards for success are static and that failure should be avoided at all costs.
Many times, in school, students feel that they are being measured against rigid assessments that leave little room for growth from failure. These kinds of assessments encourage the development of a “fixed mindset,” which affect a student’s relationship with success and failure, and ultimately their attitude toward academics.
This “fixed mindset” is further cemented when you consider that students can succeed in school without putting forth much effort. When a student is praised for doing something well without trying, it demeans the value of effort and improvement. This kind of feedback loop tends to be built into our school system, where achievement overrides effort, and growth doesn’t seem to matter.
While the school system and our natural tendency as humans might feed the development of a “fixed mindset,” students should strive for a “growth mindset.” Someone with a “growth mindset” thrives on challenge and sees failure as an opportunity for growth and improvement. A “growth mindset” encourages advancement upon existing abilities and sees character, intelligence, and creative ability as unfixed features that can be worked on in a meaningful way.
How does tutoring help cultivate a “growth mindset?”
There are no grades in tutoring. Success and failure are part of the learning process and a one-on-one environment removes the outward competition or judgement students feel in school. Tutoring involves a reckoning with oneself, where the only person to “beat” is you.
A one-on-one environment allows a student to recognize his or her strengths and weaknesses in a comfortable, positive setting. Better yet, tutoring pushes a student to challenge his or herself and encourages the treatment learning as a variable process rather than viewing academics as a division based on success or failure.
Cultivating a growth mindset ultimately creates a passion for learning instead of a hunger for approval. Further, this mindset will allow students to expand their horizons, try new things, and strive for success without the fear of failure.