A “Growth Mindset” Together

(Written for Pedagogy of Partnership Institute, Winter 2020)

Growth Mindset is likely one of the most important and influential developments in education in the last 25 years. Carol Dweck, the mother of the Growth Mindset movement, together with others discovered through research that when students believed that their abilities could be developed, they were more excited about challenges, more open to putting in high levels of effort and ultimately, became higher achievers in school. This was in contrast to students who believed they were either “smart” or “not” in some fixed way. For those students, high level challenges were seen as threats upon or judgements of their innate status and thus, they often avoided demanding academic situations, ultimately achieving less. Dweck’s research gave rise to numerous methodologies to help students cultivate a Growth Mindset. My own third grader has already been introduced to Growth Mindset concepts at his school, with growth reflection time provided, and key phrases plastered on walls and bulletin boards in halls and classrooms. Indeed, this approach has created extraordinary opportunities for students to see themselves in a more positive light, to cope with setbacks in a healthy way and to equip themselves with a habit of mind that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Pedagogy of Partnership (PoP) shares much in common with Growth Mindset. Its emphasis on goal setting and reflection helps students see themselves as being on a constant trajectory of growth. What is even more exciting about PoP, however, is that its practices add a remarkable layer to Growth Mindset, a layer that is deeply resonant with the wisdom of classical Jewish approaches to text study, especially havruta (partnership) study. Rabbi Hanania Gavriel Yehoshua Shabtai (19th-20th C. Greece and Israel) introduces his collection of responsa by discussing the nature and importance of hiddushim (novel insights into the Torah). In the course of this discussion he offers words which also speak to the heart of havruta study and the layer that PoP adds to Growth Mindset. He writes, “…one should not say ‘if I achieve wholeness for myself, what does it matter to me if others do?’… How faithful are the words of the author of Nishmat Hayyim (Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel) who stated, ‘we are not born only for ourselves’, for humans are social beings and it is incumbent upon them to be of benefit to others…and there is no greater joy for God in the world than when the Jewish people together develop new insights into the Torah and thus make it greater through their new insights…”(Introduction to Responsa Minhat HeHag). These ideas, that one can and has a responsibility to develop him or herself as well as support others in their development, and that studying together creates a possibility for new meanings that do not exist when one studies alone, are here identified as core to the learning experience. They are also core ideas nurtured by PoP’s approach to havruta study. 

 More than just putting students together to learn, PoP havruta sessions become the stage to develop mindsets which address the key ideas above. For example, PoP helps students nurture a perspective that says “if all the partners work together we will come to learning and insights that we would not have come to on our own, in the same way, or with another set of partners”.  This statement encapsulates a faith in one’s self to grow as a learner, a simultaneous sense of obligation and support with one’s havruta partner, and a celebration of work done together. Additionally, PoP reflection sessions are designed with questions that help students cultivate awareness both about how they are growing, as well as how they are contributing to their hevruta partnership.  For instance, reflection sessions will offer prompts to students such as, “What is one idea/skill from my partnership learning I can take into another area of my life?” as well as, “One thing I did to help my partner was…”. Prompts are also offered to appreciate how a student was supported by their havruta partner. Where Growth Mindset begins and ends with the self, PoP incorporates deeply Jewish principles regarding how we relate to others into a rich educational framework.

Education has benefited tremendously from the insights of Growth Mindset. Through PoP, students in our schools stand to benefit even more from an immersion in the Jewish principles of mutual responsibility and robust learning partnerships. If beyond a mindset of growth PoP also enables our students to develop a habit of mind that includes a sense of obligation towards others and a deep seated belief in the power of working together, we stand to offer them a gift from their Jewish education that may be the most valuable yet. 

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