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Why Having a Growth Mindset Leads to Success

Feb 18, 2016

By Karen Landon, Program Mentor, Teacher Education

The biggest difference I see between my students who are successful and my students who struggle is their mindset. There are two ways to look at obstacles: with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A student with a fixed mindset believes that they can’t do something. Students with this mindset say things like, “This is task is too hard” or “I am just bad at math.” A student with a growth mindset believes that they can do anything they set their mind to; that they have the ability to improve with hard work and effort. These students say things like, “I’ll make an appointment with the writing center to help me with these revisions” or “I haven’t done math for a long time. I’m going to train my brain to do math again by joining a cohort.”

Mindset can make all the difference between struggling to make OTP and finishing 25-30 CUs in a term. Let’s look at two students who had very different first terms to see how mindset played a role in their outcomes. Student A is a working mother and military wife. She completed an astounding 68 CUs in her first term! In addition to that, she passed the basic skills exam for her teaching license, completed her resume and teaching philosophy, and completed all of the pre-clinical tasks required of her such as background checks and FERPA verification. She is currently doing her student teaching and will be graduated by April.

I asked her what she would say to other students who wanted to accelerate. She told me “Just believe you can do it and then do it!” It doesn’t get any simpler than that, but it goes back to mindset. You need to believe in yourself. Saying “I can’t” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Believe that you CAN! Make a plan and stick to it. Look what can be accomplished when you believe you can and then you do!

Student B lives alone and has few obligations, but frequently skips her scheduled study time to watch Netflix or go out. She only passed 1 class in her first term and now will have to repeat the classes she failed in term 1. She will spend more time and money on her degree because she is not making on-time progress, much less taking advantage of WGU’s unique opportunity to accelerate. She is also on academic probation from financial aid and risks losing it next term. She frequently says “I can’t” or “I’ll try, but I don’t know.” That kind of talk is also a self-fulfilling prophecy. She is giving herself permission to fail before she even starts. As Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is not try.”

What kind of student do you want to be? Do you want to be the student who finishes their degree in a fraction of the time, only spending $6,000 for a bachelor’s degree; or do you want to be the kind of student who is here for 10-11 terms, spending $30,000+ for the same degree? WGU gives you the amazing opportunity through our unique competency-based model to accelerate and complete your courses in less time. Take advantage of it! The choice is yours. Your destiny, your future career, is your choice not chance.

My most successful students follow these tips:

  • Make a Study Schedule and Stick to It: It doesn’t matter if you feel like studying, just do it. Give yourself permission to not be brilliant during every scheduled study time. We all have days at work where we are great and days where we know we could have done better, but we still go to work every day. Studying is no different. If you wait for a time where you feel like studying, it may never come. Instead of saying “I don’t feel like studying” say “I am going to do it.”
  • Find Extra Minutes: In addition to your study schedule, get creative about when and where you can add in extra time. Download the WGU app on your smart phone to use while you are in waiting rooms or on break at work, bring your tablet on a long car trip, study flashcards on the treadmill, listen to a webinar while folding laundry or making dinner; those extra minutes can add up to a lot of bonus time! Not only will you start meeting your goals, you’ll surpass them. Instead of saying “I have no time to study” say “I can make time.”
  • Utilize the Learning Resources in Your Course of Study: There is a whole toolbox of resources in your COS designed to help you succeed. The “course announcements” and “course tips” sections of your COS have lots of great things like calendars for cohorts and workshops, sample tasks, study guides, task videos, recorded webinars, flashcards, Quizlets, and so much more. These tools are there to help you if you are struggling. Use them! Instead of saying “This is too hard” say “Let’s see what extra resources are here to help me gain competency in this subject.”
  • Work with Your Program Mentor: Make your regular appointment EVERY TIME. This will not only help you make progress, but keep you in good academic standing. Your appointments are your attendance and skipping an appointment is like skipping class. Your Program Mentor is there to help cheer you on, help you avoid common pitfalls, and keep you on track. Don’t avoid them simply because you didn’t make that week’s goal, work with them to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid it from happening again. Instead of saying “Plan A didn’t work” say “Good thing there are 25 more letters in the alphabet. What’s my next plan?”
  • Set Aggressive Start and End Dates for Your Term: And stick to them! Set those end dates as deadlines and don’t miss a deadline even if it means missing out on a fun weekend or adding in some additional study time. I like to pace my students to finish at least one course (or a quarter of their term) a month. This gives them time to accelerate in the last two months and allows for wiggle room should an emergency occur. It also helps avoid any stress and last minute scrambling. Instead of saying “I still have two more months to finish these classes” say “I will finish in half the time so I can work ahead.”
  • Work with Your Instructor: They are there to help you, don’t be afraid to reach out. If you find a particular subject challenging, set an appointment with your instructor to get study tips before you start. Their expertise can really cut down on frustration and help you to overcome common mistakes. You can also work with your instructor in webinars and cohorts. Some courses even have live help lines. These tools are there to help you be successful. Don’t be afraid to utilize them! Instead of saying “I don’t even know what to ask my Instructor. I’ll just sound stupid” say “I am going to ask them to share their knowledge so I can learn.”

It is never too late to adjustment your mindset. A fixed mindset believes that things don’t change; that you cannot improve. A growth mindset believes that people are constantly learning and improving. What kind of mindset do you have? Your “I CAN!” is exponentially more important than your IQ.

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