This week’s focus is on resilience, a necessary underpinning to a growth mindset.  Why is that, you may ask?  Well, they go together like thunder and lightening or bees and honey – but which comes first the chicken or the egg? To find out, let’s answer the question: What is resilience?  As defined by dictionary.com, it is the “ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy. Ah, resilience helps overcome the obstacles we encounter throughout school and life.

I was thinking of the relationship between these two concepts because the other day I watched a video talk of Dr. Robert Brooks, a psychologist, and a major proponent of fostering resilience in children and teens as a way, in essence, to create a growth mindset.   He specifically speaks of the “resilient mindset,” which “charismatic adults,” i.e., important people, like parents and teachers, who have a major influence on children, nurture in them.  Specifically, these charismatic adults do the following:

  1. Accept children and teens for who they are and not what parents, or teachers want them to be and strive to identify and reinforce each youngster’s “islands of competence.” (i.e., strengths)
  2. Develop problem solving and decision-making skills, which are associated with “personal control” and a sense of ownership.

In the video, Dr. Brooks identifies two areas in which parents need to have a growth mindset with their children:

  1. Parents need to let children solve problems rather than solving them for them. Taking away ownership from children and teens reinforces a sense of incompetence. (i.e., you are not capable, therefore, I will solve the problem for you).
  2. Parents and teachers need to give children choices. This idea of choice stems from Edward Deci’s work on Self Determination Theory (SDT), based on the belief that increasing children’s sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness promotes intrinsic motivation and engagement, including enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity.
  3. What is the basis for this conclusion? I.e, how do we know that kids will be more motivated and solve more problems if you give them choices? Deci conducted a study of high school students. In Group 1, the students had a choice of Homework A or B (which in reality was the same homework); Meanwhile, Group 2 had no choice. The study found that Group 1 worked harder and did more homework than did Group 2.

Armed with this knowledge about fostering autonomy and competence, I have experimented with choice in homework and unfortunately, the result has been mostly the choice not to do it.  So, engaging in a growth mindset, I am going to tweak and narrow the choices and see if I get better results.  I, therefore, say, that choice is a good thing, but that it should be given under controlled conditions, a choice of one out of two not one out of infinity, because for many students, choosing can be overwhelming and the default is not to choose at all.

So the take away message for this week is that resilience is important for a growth mindset because we need to build up the ability to fall down, brush ourselves off and get back up.  Moreover, building a sense of autonomy, competence in real work, relatedness (or connection in the words of Brene Brown), helps us to be more resilient, creative and productive.  Who can argue with that?  Have a great week.

Interested in more information?  Check out these resources:

Books: Brown, Brene, Rising Strong, The Reckoning, the Rumble, the Revolution (Penguin, Random House, 2015).

Brooks, Dr. Robert, Raising Resilient Children, (2001, McGraw Hill)  (check the website listed below for a link to his many other books).

Websites: http://www.drrobertbrooks.com (Check out the link to the video “Raising Resilient Children and Teens in the Digital Age, Dr. Robert Brooks and Rich Brooks (his son).

Self Determination Theory, http://selfdeterminationtheory.org