Did you know young people with strong academic or learning mindsets are more likely to succeed in school and beyond? Adults – parents, educators and even mentors – can play a critical role in helping students cultivate these mindsets.
At Spark, a national mentoring organization serving students in the middle grades, we believe all young people have the opportunity to discover who they can become and that all adults can have a role in equipping them for that journey. Spark brings students out of the classroom and into the workplace for one-to-one mentoring that includes skill-building, career exploration and the development of an interest-driven project. Our focus on serving students during an important developmental period and the unique way in which our program engages mentors and educators, led to a strategic effort to make mindsets an important part of our training and curriculum.
When we learned about the growth mindset toolkit for mentors developed in partnership between MENTOR and Stanford University’s PERTS with the support of the Raikes Foundation, we took advantage of the opportunity to apply the research and resources. Before I tell you how, let me broadly remind you what the research says:
People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and abilities can be developed over time. This is often contrasted with a fixed mindset in which intelligence and abilities cannot be changed over time. Very simply, research shows that students with a growth mindset do better in school.
Around the same time of the growth mindset toolkit launch, Spark was working to incorporate the research from the Foundations for Young Adult Success report and the Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners literature review, both from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, into our program design. This research says:
Mindsets, defined as “beliefs and attitudes about oneself, the external world, and the interaction between the two,” develop during early adolescence and can be shaped by developmental experiences and relationships over time. Four mindsets of particular importance when it comes to student learning and academic performance are belonging, self-efficacy, relevance, and growth mindset.
Building on this research as well as the work of psychologists Carol Dweck and Albert Bandura, Spark developed a three-fold approach to support mindset development in the youth that we serve.
With a focus on these three audiences, Spark’s taken a comprehensive approach to applying mindset research and resources with the goals of integrating them into the Spark culture for staff; helping mentors to establish and practice them in the workplace and with students; and supporting teachers in fostering them in the classroom.
Our hope is that when staff members, mentors and educators understand and encourage academic mindsets, we will see the results in students’ actions. In the 2015-16 school year, 85% of Spark students demonstrated positive academic mindsets such as school relevance, growth mindset, school belonging and self-efficacy. We are encouraged by these early outcomes and look forward to continuing to engage in this work.