Our Director of Education, Kelsey Rooney-Dorst, shares how a growth mindset is a key to student success.
Over the last 6 years, I have had the privilege of teaching and working with over 350 students at Sistema Tulsa. One of those students is Iyana, a flute player. She’s been with the program since its inception in 2015. I distinctly remember many of our flute students in the first year getting frustrated with the instrument. It is a difficult instrument to learn, especially for 4th graders.
I recall them saying that they would “never be able to play this passage” or that they “should just give up” if they made mistakes. This is what educators and researchers call a “fixed-mindset.” The belief that failure limits our abilities or that one’s potential is predetermined. Part of a teachers’ job is to help students believe in themselves, trust that their potential is limitless, and understand that they can do anything if they work hard, practice, and make a commitment to improve.
Iyana is still taking lessons at Sistema. She now plays First Flute in our advanced symphony, CYO. During a lesson the other day, we were practicing one of our pieces for our Spring Performance Series. In this particular lesson, Iyana was learning 4 new notes in the highest range of the flute. While we were practicing, I asked her to play a scale that was written in the music that included the 4 new notes. She played it and made a few mistakes.
I looked at her and said, “Try again, you can do this.”
She looked back at me and said, “I can do this.”
Is it okay if I practice it for a minute on my own?” she asked.
She practiced and played it perfectly, and we moved on with the lesson.
Something like this seems so small: A student makes a mistake and the teacher says, “try again.” What stood out to me was how confident Iyana was that she would be able to learn this passage. She believed in herself so much, that she took something she had just made mistakes on and said, “I can do this.” This is what educators and researchers would call a “growth-mindset.” The belief that failure is an opportunity to grow and that you can learn anything that you want.
Six years ago, I guarantee that none of my students were saying “I can do this” immediately following a mistake, but during that lesson, Iyana did. It shows how much she has grown as a lifelong learner and musician.
My hope is that all students at Sistema understand that mistakes are a part of the process of learning and feel this growth-mindset as they advance.
Dweck, C. S. (2007). The perils and promises of praise. Educational Leadership, 65(2), 34–39.