Nothing feels better than achieving a goal we’ve been working toward for a long time. But the journey to accomplishing something new often includes lots of trial and error—it’s a process of making mistakes and letting them teach us how to improve. New York Times best-selling author Kobi Yamada’s latest book Trying illuminates how confronting failures and facing self-doubt can be key to discovering what’s possible. It’s a story for anyone who has experienced the pain of trying something new and not having it turn out as they’d hoped.
Elementary school teacher and picture book enthusiast Maya Le Espiritu is very familiar with encouraging young people to discover the magic in making mistakes. As a second and third grade teacher and creator of the popular Instagram account @Maistorybooklibrary, she finds creative ways to support students in embracing all parts of the learning process and developing a growth mindset.
We asked Maya to share her experiences as an educator and the ways she cultivates a growth mindset in the classroom and beyond.
As an educator, why do you think a growth mindset is important?
Too often I see my students become embarrassed if they get something wrong. This fear of mistakes makes them hesitant to try new things, to take a chance, or to put their full effort into their work. It’s important for students to understand the value of using failure to grow. Growth mindsets help them believe in themselves and pursue their goals and dreams despite challenges they may face.
How do you encourage a growth mindset when students have difficulty learning a new concept?
I always remind my students that there are different ways to learn something. Not everyone learns the same way. If I teach a lesson, we practice the new concept, and if they still don’t understand, I model for them a growth mindset from my point of view: I tried to teach something but that way didn’t work, so let’s try teaching it a different way. This encourages them to think that if they don’t understand something now, it doesn’t mean they will never get it. Just try another way.
Reading books featuring characters who use a growth mindset also helps model for students how to never give up and how to keep trying. The character’s initial feelings of discouragement often mirror their own, and the students can use that connection to also learn from the character the value in pursuing their goals regardless of any setbacks.
What would you tell a student who is afraid to fail?
In the classroom, I believe scaffolding is important for students, and as a teacher it is my job to give them the support they need to take a chance. If they are afraid to fail, often I have them try it with me first, giving support only as needed. Often they don’t need too much help, but feel more secure with me there to guide them if they were to need help. Once they realize they are able to do it on their own, they now have confidence.
In other situations where I am not able to scaffold for them, I tell them sincerely, and with enthusiasm, that if they don’t get it the first time, then they get to do it again! The little ones are responsive to adult reactions and emotions, and my enthusiasm for the possibility that they may get to try something again, should they fail or not get it the first time, encourages them to take a chance.
How do you help students find pride in trying something new?
Often my students resist trying something new because they think it is too hard. I think it’s important to validate the students’ feelings and for them to be able to determine when things are difficult for them. Having that realization is key to developing perseverance. Thus, in response, I will acknowledge their feelings, and tell them, “You’re right. This is something hard to do.” Then I always follow it up with, “And you can do hard things.” In saying this, I reinforce for them that they are capable and that I believe in them as well. This response also leads to less resistance from the student, as I am agreeing with them, but just because something is hard doesn’t mean they can’t do it. Once they’ve done it, they take pride in knowing that they did something that was difficult.
Are you looking to encourage resilience and the development of a growth mindset in a child in your life? Explore our children’s book Trying and its free companion study guide, filled with engaging discussion questions for students, teachers, and parents alike.