Upstream Thinking . . . You, Upstream

“You can’t help a thousand people, or a million, until you understand how to help one. . . . Macro starts with micro.”

~ Dan Heath

Heath’s quote reminds me of the importance of starting with ourselves. How can we possibly engage in collective and collegial practices unless we are prepared to first do the necessary work of opening ourselves up to learning and growing as educators?  

Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, published a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This book documents over thirty years of research into how people succeed and details Dweck’s theory on two mindsets she discovered in her subjects. She named these mindsets the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset.”

A fixed mindset is a belief that we’re born with a fixed amount of intelligence and ability. People operating with a fixed mindset are prone to avoiding challenges and failures. A growth mindset is a belief that with practice, perseverance, and effort, people have limitless potential to learn and grow. People operating with a growth mindset embrace tackling challenges and are unconcerned with making mistakes or being embarrassed, focusing instead on the process of growth.  

Two key characteristics indicate which direction our mindset tends to lean: our beliefs and our focus. With a fixed mindset, we tend to believe that we are born with set skills and talents, that we can’t learn and grow, and that our focus is on our performance and outcomes and not wanting to look bad. With a growth mindset, we believe that skills are built; we can learn and grow, and our focus is on the process of getting better rather than the outcome. 

You possess both fixed and growth mindsets when it comes to different aspects of your life. How you choose to see the world at any given moment can make an enormous difference in your success. Dweck says, “. . .  As you begin to understand the fixed and growth mindsets, you will see exactly how one thing leads to another–how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road“ (2006, p. 63).

Beliefs lead to thoughts, or an internal narrative, which lead to action. What you believe influences what you think and what you think influences your actions. Your actions, what you say and do, can have a tremendous impact on others in your collaborative teams and in your classroom.  A team member with a growth mindset can positively influence collaborative team interactions. A growth mindset helps to enhance collaborative relationships and foster a growth-oriented team culture. A growth mindset changes the way you relate to the people around you, and the mindset is infectious.

You need to do things differently, see how it goes, talk about it, adjust what you are doing, and try it again. We are all on a path of continuous improvement.

As you continue this journey to effective and meaningful collaboration with your colleagues, remember that this is a process that begins with addressing your beliefs. Once you have determined whether your beliefs are reflective of a growth or fixed mindset, you will be much more likely and able to change your actions, which will lead to incredible growth, not only in you but in your students as well.  As Heath says, “You can’t help a thousand people, or a million, until you understand how to help one.” In order to be an upstream teacher, what might you need to start with in order to foster a growth mindset?  What steps can you take to help yourself so that you are better prepared to help others?