The Importance of Teaching Kids a Growth Mindset

by Taresa Schmidt

You probably expect your child to come home from dance class at Stage Stars Dance and Acro talking about pointed feet, strong arms, and shuffle-ball-changes.

But what if they came home talking about all that and more this fall? What if they came home and told you about the power of “yet?” Or how they are learning to turn negative self-talk into positive thoughts about themselves?

Well, get ready. Because Dance Director Angie Craft and her staff are teaching much more than dance this fall. They’re teaching their students about cultivating a growth mindset.

The concept, coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, has been embraced by local schools and implemented in curricula for some time. But Miss Angie and her staff at Stage Stars have felt a shift in their students’ mindset in recent years. “Now more than ever, we’re feeling the anxious, stressful emotions of our students,” said Miss Angie. “And I think we need to focus more on their mental health, well-being, and emotional growth. Even inside the dance classroom.”

What is Growth Mindset?

In her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck introduced the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset. In a 2012 interview about these concepts, she said:

“In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

Miss Angie feels that recognizing these terms and teaching her students how to make that shift in mindset can be a powerful tool in the dance studio but, more importantly, in life. “Think about it,” she said. “We can teach our students that they are responsible for their own success! We’re giving them the power to change their way of looking at things and achieve the things they are willing to work for!”

Inside the Studio

This fall, each dance student in levels one through six will receive a folder to keep in their dance bag. At least twice a month, dance teachers will hand out worksheets and spend time in class reading, talking, and leading group and individual exercises to teach students about growth mindset and how it can benefit them. “We want them to recognize negative self-talk,” said Miss Angie, “and how it holds them back. We want them to learn to turn that negative talk into positive thoughts about themselves. When they get stuck in comparison with other dancers, we want to help them learn to get themselves out of that negative headspace and recognize their own potential. And as they grow as individuals, they will learn to grow as a team.”

The Power of Yet

One of Miss Angie’s team’s most powerful and positive messages that manages to find its way into just about every dance lesson is the power of yet. “When we teach a new concept in class and students are having a hard time mastering it, we often hear the phrase ‘I can’t do it.’ We always encourage them to change that statement to ‘I can’t do it yet.’ Just that small change of words, that recognition that something actually IS doable, opens up a world of possibilities to them,” said Miss Angie. “If they can embrace that they are actually able to do things that seem impossible if they change their mindset and work really hard, they are learning one of the most important lessons in life.”

This summer, Miss Angie and her team moved to action and started incorporating growth mindset concepts into their week-long Dance Company intensive programs. “We asked our dancers, ‘What does success look like to you? What does failure look like to you?’ And we saw some real ‘ah ha!’ moments for those dancers,” said Miss Angie. “They shared their thoughts, and so many of them realized that, although success looks different for everyone, we all share the same fears. We talked a lot about how to overcome those common fears to find our individual success.”

Miss Angie feels continuing these lessons with her dance company and incorporating them into fall dance classes is the best way to teach her dancers that they have a good place to go, a positive headspace to live in, when they start to have those inevitable, negative feelings. “I want all our students to know,” she said, “that their feelings are valid. But I also want them to learn to ask themselves, ‘What am I going to do about them?’ And we want to give them the tools to answer that question in a way that sets them up for success for the rest of their lives.”

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