How a growth mindset can help you overcome obstacles

This blog is not going to summarise all of the evidence that a growth mindset can aid not only your teaching, but can help you to develop your resilience. There are enough blogs that can do a better job than mine. But in the week in which I lost a treasured family member, I have spent time questioning myself, and whether I have a growth mindset.

As a contributor on Teachers Pay Teachers, I see mindset resources uploaded daily. Until I quit my job to start my own business, I had never even heard of the term. Research suggests that those of us with growth mindsets have more grit and optimism, helping us to focus on the project in hand, the relationships we have and the continuation of learning.

Like many others, I have overcome many obstacles throughout my life. I had never considered whether I had a growth mindset until this week. This week my family lost my Papa- a patriarchal figure to three generations- and definitely my father figure. The loss has been devastating, but the loss didn’t really happen on Monday; Alzheimer’s cloak shrouded the man we knew for a decade.

In the beginning, the effects were small and laughable: wrong names, missing keys. But over time, I could see the vacant expression lasting slightly longer. Money started going missing and Papa would eat ice-cream by the bucketful. Things became strained in the family as Papa could no longer do all of the things he did previously. No longer a mechanic, a gardener or bowler, Alzheimer’s took all but the twinkle in his eyes.

Just over a year ago, I handed in my notice. I felt short. On resilience. On everything. We took a visit up to Scotland during the holidays, and I saw the deterioration in Papa’s condition. I could see the pain it was causing my family. And although I didn’t feel I could offer much more than my compassion, I wanted to be stronger.

Driving home, I made my wife scribble down all of my ideas for a new business. For months, it was pinned to my whiteboard at home before it was discarded in a heap of junk. We found it a few weeks ago, and laughed about how different the actual business is compared to what I had planned.

People tell me I made a bold decision when I gave up my job. I wanted more, and I wanted to get it. I knew it would be hard work, and my wife worried about how we would pay the mortgage. I love teaching, but I wasn’t getting the same fulfilment out of it. I wanted a job that gave me strength rather than one that drained the life out of me. I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of person, and I knew that I had to commit to the project.

Psychologist Susan Kobasa believes that personal control is a crucial aspect of having a growth mindset. Focusing on areas where you have the most impact rather than procrastinating is a central part of success. Certainly, there have been periods in my life where self-control seemed thinly spread, but I have noticed that when I do take care of my emotional health everything else falls into place.

A growth mindset is about moving forward. It is about accepting that bad things happen rather than being a victim. Without knowing it, I have been developing my own mindset over the year by working on my own projects- the things that give meaning to my life. My business idea changed as I evolved. I didn’t plan to offer private tuition, but it made sense in the long run. When doing supply in the beginning, I was out of the house during the day and far less motivated to work during the evenings. Tuition allows me to keep up-to-date with curriculum changes and try out all of my new resources before I sell them.

Personally, I am a better person. I am calmer and more considerate. I am more grounded. A brief spell back in a school setting only confirmed what I already know about myself. I may be a great teacher, but the profession as it stands is no longer right for me.

I had to diversify. I read professional blogs. Words of chaotic lives, political conflicts and a feeling that there is never enough time to do everything shows a profession on the brink.  I lived my life that way until I found the inner strength to say enough was enough. Particularly when I was single, working long hours never bothered me, and crashing at the end of the night with a glass (or bottle) of wine was a choice.

Having a growth mindset is about making a choice. It is about making the right choice for you, and not feeling guilty. I have a friend who has had to accept early retirement due to poor health. Very few people have been in touch, yet she was one of the best maths teachers they had. Life goes on, and trying to keep your head above water whilst teaching often leaves little time for anything, or anyone, else.

Teachers don’t always believe they have a choice. I read posts about NQTs wondering whether teaching will get easier, the workload get smaller. I read comments posted about future choices because they have already chosen to move out of the profession before they have even started. In another life I may have thought that was a complete waste, and I’m sure for a lot of those would-be teachers it is. But I watched as my wife crumbled through self-doubt in her training year, and felt relief when she said that she was jacking it in.

In my opinion, what people find hardest is accepting what other people think of their choices. This is something I have struggled with for years, and at certain moments I am still crippled by self-doubt. Working in schools is stressful; it can try the best of teachers. But now I try to leave the past where it belongs, and make plans for the future. You can too!


About the author: Now an English consultant, Jill formerly worked as both a secondary Head of English and a primary teacher.

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