Some of you may know from your children that knitting is an activity that I enjoy. I have cultivated a lot of different interests during my life of fifty-plus years, but the skill of knitting is one that required significant commitment, concentration and practice to master. I can still see the day I made the decision to conquer this textile art of sticks and string. I tripped on a bag of yarn in a closet one day and randomly decided, “Today is the day I learn to knit!”. Four years later, I have knitted dozens of pairs of socks (…maybe close to 100 pairs!), along with a few sweaters, blankets, hats, and mittens. Incidentally, in the English knitting guilds of the Middle Ages, the vast amount of knitting was done by men! Just saying.
Each week I spend time with our school’s knitting club and, invariably, I am working on a pair of socks, while my students are practicing getting their tension and stitches just right. I focus on socks during our time together for a couple of reasons: I can make them by heart without following a pattern anymore (as you might imagine, there are plenty of interruptions!) and let’s face it, handmade socks are actually useful.
The other day, I had a mishap. In the middle of knitting the heel of a sock, I got distracted, miscounted, and completely ruined the project, which had taken a few hours of time and had been going very well. I had no choice. I had to rip out the entire sock representing about 50 yards of yarn and head back to the drawing board.
It’s not the first time that something like this has happened to me. A few years ago, I made a similar mistake “on the needles” and had to “begin again”. At the time, my wife quietly watched me while I tore the whole project back and re-wound the yarn. It was a tense and tangly moment. When I had finished, she looked over at me, smiled, and said, “I like you. You have got a growth mindset!”
At the time, I was composed, but I am not going to lie: I was frustrated and annoyed with myself for making the mistake in the first place. But hearing those quiet words of encouragement about having a “growth mindset” made a difference in the moment.
It’s the same with children.
Sometimes we are too quick to criticize them when an effort backfires or praise them when a task is simply completed. Shouldn’t we really be modeling the importance of learning and improving? Should everything we do invite criticism or praise?
I think we need to let kids see us learning something new. It can be as simple as tackling a new recipe, or something more complicated like learning to play an instrument. Whatever we choose, we should remember to talk to them about why we want to learn the new skill. Tell them we know it will be a lot of work, but it will be so worth it to learn something new. Let them see us get frustrated and then keep trying. Inspire and model that growth mindset that is so important in learning and in life.
To children, it can seem like everything comes easily to adults. They often don’t see our struggles. Let’s show our children that struggling and persevering are normal parts of the learning process even for us. Isn’t it more important to protect their willingness and desire to try, than to help them get the right answer every time?
If any skill worth having takes about 10,000 hours to master, they (and we!) have to become really comfortable with the old saying, “if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again!”
Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).
We need to help our kids care less about looking smart and more about loving to learn!
Ric Anderson, Head of School