Help! I need somebody! Help!
My daughter is not quite two, yet her little brain is abuzz – learning new things at every turn of the corner.
Almost constantly she comes up against something new, something strange or challenging, and every time without fail, she looks up at me with her big brown eyes and says “help!”
It astonishes me how easily she is able to admit she needs a helping hand. How quickly she recognizes she’s facing something new and challenging and she may not get it right the first time. This mindset is what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” And most children my daughter’s age have it.
They are perfectly okay with asking for help, and not just asking, but receiving it.
When does that change? When does it become taboo to ask for help? At what point do we stop feeling confident in our need for help and instead hang our heads down in shame that we can’t do something on our own?
What if we had the power as teachers to cultivate that growth mindset so that our children wouldn’t lose it?
The truth is, we have that ability. We can help our children strengthen their growth mindset. So how do we do it?
Model it. If you want your students to learn that it’s okay to ask for help, you need to model that. Most teachers I know do not like asking for help. They like to get it all right the first time and can’t even imagine asking for help to get it done. Teachers have a great burden on their shoulders – the desire to be seen as an expert in their field and the weight of the fact that no one becomes an expert on their own.
It’s a real struggle, and if you want to model what it means to have a growth mindset, you might have to work against your natural tendency to do it all (and to do it all by yourself).
Watch your words. Building a growth mindset in others is largely about how we speak to each other. While success sometimes does come to each of us because of work we did alone, the truth is the most successful people got there because they counted on someone for something. They reached out for help. So ask your students to reflect on the support they received working on a tough project or the help they gave to others as they worked through a difficult process.
Help your students recognize that receiving help doesn’t mean they are any less.
In fact, accepting help shows how much more you have to offer because you are willing to be helped, and no doubt, to help others.
I hope my daughter never loses her sense of adventure, her love for trying new things, and coupled with that, I hope she never stops asking for help. It’s a joy and honor to watch her little mind grow, and just as with my students over the past many years, she’s no doubt teaching me more than I will ever teach her.