Recent committee work about improving my school’s climate led me to seek a bridge between two ideas about how thinking about thinking weighs heavy on our ability to lead.

In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck developed the distinction between fixed and growth mindsets. Fixed mindsets come from a deterministic worldview. Holders of fixed mindsets avoid challenges and throw in the towel early. They don’t connect success with effort, ignore even useful criticism, and resent the success of others. The result is to get stuck and feel hopeless.

Holders of growth mindsets believe that their effort can make a difference. They embrace challenges, persist in the face of roadblocks, and value feedback. They’re not threatened by others’ successes. As a result, they continue to grow and reach ever-higher achievements.

My school’s climate improvement work ties into the need to improve our mindset which currently seems to bend more to the fixed side of the divide: The reason being that a critical mass of teachers have had their growth mindset beaten down by district policies and outside forces who strong-arm us into complying with self-defeating orders. (See here and here and here, for example). 

Bending our mindset back to the growth side won’t come easy and will take a lot of support and a lot of coaching. Dweck offers advice about making this happen. But when I was thinking about how to contribute, I realized there’s a connection between our overall mindsets and our  states of mind, our immediate internal mental status.

I learned about states of mind when I took Cognitive Coaching in order to facilitate National Board Candidates for the Arizona K12 Center. According to the Cognitive Coaching model, there are five states of mind, which I have defined in personal terms:

  • Flexibility: Knowing and effectively exercising my options
  • Craftsmanship: Seeking mastery of my skills
  • Consciousness: Monitoring a situation and mediating my feelings and actions
  • Efficacy: Knowing I has the capacity to impact a change and being willing to do so
  • Interdependence: Accepting help from others and contributing to their own efforts

A person’s states of mind tend to be temporal and contextual. So, a big part of coaching aims at producing a cognitive shift in the colleague from, say, a low state of consciousness to a high state. Cognitive Coaches learn a raft of techniques to enable these cognitive shifts.

But anyone at any time might improve their states of mind reflecting on related questions:

  • Do I know my options?
  • Do I exercise them effectively?
  • What’s one skill I get better at?
  • Am I really monitoring situations and mediating my response?
  • How can impact at least a little change?
  • Who’s offering help?
  • To whom can I offer help?

So maybe, just maybe, improving our global mindsets might best begin examining our immediate states of mind.

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