“I’m not a math guy.”
If you have ever worked with teenagers, you’ve run into this type of statement. It’s where students have identified themselves based on past experiences instead of future ones. You may hear a teenager, or adults for that matter, express:
- “I’m more of a B student than an A student.” (or C student, D student, or even F student)
- “I was never cut out for Science” (or English, or History, etc.)
- “Really, I’m just not a good student” (or friend, father, mother, etc.)
These types of self-identification are supported and strengthened by testing systems that focus more on where the student has failed or succeeded by testing them at the end of a term or year. In coaching, we call this mindset the Fixed Mindset. A person who is stuck in a Fixed way of thinking stands in stark contrast to the words and behaviors of someone who has developed a Growth mindset.
I recently had the privilege of witnessing this transition as I was coaching a student who said he is not really a “Science Guy.” It was fascinating to explore what he meant and where this identity came from. We had a good coaching call around the idea of Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets, and he realized that his experiences had led him to think that he wasn’t cut out to learn science well.
It was a “good call” until we were wrapping up. At the tail end of the call I asked what thestudent’s plans were for the next few weeks, and his Driver’s Ed class came up. He said that he was not very confident about the class, and that, for now, he was a bit uncomfortable driving. Then he said something amazing: “I’ve never done this before, but I know it’s just a matter of getting used to it and working hard to be ready for the driver test.”
There was a bit of a pause, then I asked if he would say that he was not a Driver-Guy.
He let out a deep sigh, and we had a great conversation about what he learned in that moment. Since the call he has been excited about his upcoming science studies. He has a Growth mindset now, knowing that with better systems and focused effort he will see better results. He has gone from being stuck to saying, “It is just a matter of getting used to it and working hard.”
(Story shared with client’s permission)