Growth Mindset changes students’ lives

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From left: Richard Hradek, Mineola High School Principal Smith and Isabelle post under their school mascot, the Mustang. Photo credit: Maylan Studart

By Maylan L. Studart

Thanks to a young student, a new initiative has taken Mineola schools by storm – students say Growth Mindset has helped them push through everything from becoming better athletes to improving grades.

A documentary titled “The Process: A Year of Growth Mindset at Mineola” that follows Mineola students and teachers for one year as they implement Growth Mindset in the school district will be screened Thursday, March 28, at 7 p.m. at Mineola High School.

“If you believe you’re just not good at something, you’re not going to improve at it,” said Mineola High School Principal Whittney Smith. “If you believe you’re not good at something yet but that with deliberate practice you can get better at it, then you will.”

Richard Hradek, 13, is an eighth-grade student who spread the word of Growth Mindset to his entire school district. He began using Growth Mindset thanks to his sixth-grade teacher Jennifer Maichin, who introduced the concept she had read about in her classroom.

“Growth Mindset is the belief that if you apply strategies and efforts into what you do, you can get better at anything with deliberate practice,” said Maichin, a learning specialist in Mineola Middle School. “It’s a belief system.”

Growth Mindset was developed by world renowned Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, who authored “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” in 2007 after decades of research and experiments with children. Stanford Magazine’s 2007 story on Dweck’s research into mindsets is one of the most popular articles the university has ever published.

Dweck concluded that there are two ways people think of their abilities and success: through a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. People who believe their abilities are fixed tend to think people are born with talent or intelligence and that maybe they’re just good at math. Those with a growth mindset tend to believe their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work and tend to think that with practice they can achieve and that they can become good at math.

Dweck’s research on transforming the mindset found that children who were praised for their hard work took on more challenges than children who were praised for innate talent.

“There’s a difference in ‘Wow, you must be really good at that’ and ‘Wow, you must have worked really hard at that, What did you do to get there?'” said Maichin. “The process makes them successful, not just the fact that they succeeded.”

This finding coupled with scientific evidence that to learn neurons need to make strong connections in the brain through effort, Maichin introduced a program in her class two years ago. But Richard did not embrace it right away.

“He had to listen to the message over and over again,” Maichin said. “I had to remind him that he needed to struggle to learn, that there were things he can do about it.”

As the year went on, Maichin said Richard took Growth Mindset to heart and completely adopted a new attitude. “There was a change in Richie towards the middle of the year when he said, ‘I’m not going to give up,'” said Maichin. “He didn’t care that he wasn’t on top of the class because he was working on his own learning.”

He liked it so much that he said other students in other classes needed to know about it, too. That’s when Richard took it upon himself to spread the good word.

“I tried to bring [Growth Mindset] out to my other classmates as well and talked to my teacher about it and we made a few plans to help the children get a better understanding of it,” said Richard.

Richard and Maichin shared the program through meetings and videos in presentations to other teachers until it got the attention of Mineola Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Matthew Gaven.

Maichin said Richard talked about Growth Mindset so much that it inspired her to push the initiative to all students in the district. She said the school administration said this was something everybody could benefit from and Gaven and Superintendent Michael Nagler got involved and made it happen in 2018.

That’s how the documentary took off. Because Richard created several video presentations introducing the Growth Mindset concept to teachers and students, the school decided to follow several teachers throughout the school to see and understand the implementation and results of the initiative. Richard is the documentary’s narrator.

Isabella Polanco, 15, is a soccer player in 10th grade who’s also been using Growth Mindset since sixth grade in her math class. She said it started off as a learning tool, but she went on to apply Growth Mindset to a broader spectrum of school life when she reached high school.

“I feel like I use it a lot, especially since I play soccer for the school so It’s always helpful to continue to persevere especially when you’re trying to develop your skill set,” Polanco said.

“When I’m trying to develop a new skill, sometimes you get physically exhausted, sometimes you get mentally exhausted, so Growth Mindset is a good tool to use just to continue because the only way to develop a new skill is to continue to work at it.”

Students say it’s not easy to use Growth Mindset when you are really struggling through a problem and you need it most. “It’s not easy when you’re in difficult situations and you actually have to use it, it’s hard,” said Richard. “Sometimes I have trouble doing it as well, it can be challenging, but you have to stick with it, you can’t have a hard time and then think ‘OK, have a Growth Mindset’ and then stuff gets harder, I’m just going to quit. You have to keep going.”

Teachers say going through difficulties and struggling is the only way students will learn a subject and get better at it, as well as learning how to deal with these emotions and surpass them.

Hradek’s grandmother, Ann Palmieri, said that thanks to Growth Mindset, he went from being down and trailing the class two years ago to improving his grades as well as social skills and now is well-known in the school.

“He has a very good sense of self-worth now,” said Palmieri. “He’s even joined the Dignity Club that mostly juniors and seniors attend.”

Since Growth Mindset, Richard has spoken on stage to the entire Mineola Middle School to introduce Growth Mindset, was the subject and narrator of a documentary and will be a speaker during Thursday night’s event.

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