Dweck, Dorfman, and Moyer: Achieving Personal Success

Effort. Grit. Determination. Tenacity. Work Ethic. Competitive spirit.

These qualities, above others, contribute to success in one’s lifetime. Having read Mindset by Carol Dweck as a book study the the inaugural year of the Downingtown STEM Academy (2010-11), I have thought a lot about how these characteristics determine success. I have enjoyed encouraging the growth of my students and my three boys using a growth mindset approach; I never say they are talented or gifted but rather that their success comes through hard work. Their daily practice and constant performance builds success, not sheer luck, “giftedness”, or inherent talent. No book has changed my life quite like Dweck’s book. It is an easy summer read and very important for educators, parents, and athletes alike.

A few years ago, I heard All-Star and World Series pitcher Jamie Moyer speak on NPR about his then-new book, Just Tell Me I Can’t. I was amazed how well his message of determination and hard work meshed with Dweck’s growth mindset, but I am also a bit biased. Moyer played for the Baltimore Orioles in the mid 1990s, when I was a teen enjoying the burgeoning successes of my favorite baseball team. In the late 1990s when Moyer pitched for the Seattle Mariners, I saw him again when the Mariners played the Orioles at Camden Yards. Moyer did not pitch that day, but he did help shag fly balls in the outfield during batting practice. I remember distinctly, standing in the right-center field seats at Camden Yards, and the fans were cheering loudly for Moyer. He turned, smiled, and acknowledged the fans, giving thanks for their support. He tossed many batting practice balls into the stands that evening before the game, a move not common for visiting baseball players. In 2005 I moved closer to Philadelphia, and soon Moyer followed when he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies. I again enjoyed watching his dominating success as part of the Phillies success and World Series team in the mid 2000s. Perhaps I am biased because of my love of baseball and his contribution to two of my favorite teams, but I really enjoyed his book.

Now, I teach an hour outside of Philadelphia, at a school well-known for its continuing success. A school which encourages academic struggles and determination that leads to personal and school-wide success. Our motto, “Effort Creates Intelligence,” is a snapshot of our school culture. Reading Moyer’s book provided a real-world example of a growth mindset, or as my school distills, how effort leads to success. Moyer’s book is peppered with sports psychology and gems of advice both from Moyer and his mentor Harry Dorfman, who wrote many books about sports psychology, including The Mental Game of Baseball. Below are a brief overview of some of these gems.

“Failure is wanting without work.” -Harry Dorfman

“Believe it and you become it.” -Harry Dorfman

“Learn one thing a day, and learn it well. That gives you a chance to get better, because any problem can be solved. Any setback is temporary, and you can learn from it if you do the work.” -Jamie Moyer

“You can only control what you can control.” -Jamie Moyer (and surely Dorfman)

“Experience isn’t what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.” -Aldous Huxley

“When we fail to learn, we’ve learned to fail.” – Harry Dorfman 

Moyer’s book marks a practical example of Dweck’s growth mindset, Dorfman’s mental game of baseball, and precisely how to achieve success in your life, through hard work, dedicated practice, and constant, incremental improvement. Moyer’s example is a refreshing reminder that hard work pays off, and you can control your own destiny when others count you out.


Mindset Summer Book Study

Two years ago I first read Carol Dweck’s Mindset. Every summer I re-read her work and consider how it will change my professional practice. Because of my growing connectedness and sharing via Twitter, I have been asked to lead a Mindset book study this summer. So, here are the details I have worked out so far. Please add comments to this post or to the Schoology group if you want to adapt how we run our book study.

Who: I will moderate most book study sessions. I have no specific experience except having taught in a growth mindset school for two years and putting Dweck’s ideas into practice. I am privileged to work with colleagues who have all read the book and embody the growth mindset.

What: Twitter chats (#mindset13) and reflective discussion posts via Schoology. Create a free account and join our group discussion page.

When: June 24 – August 12 2013 with weekly Twitter chats on Mondays at 3PM EDT.

Where: On Twitter, using the hashtag #mindset13. Also, collected reflections will be posted on an open Schoology group. Please create a free account and join us there.

If you have questions, please add them to the comments below. See you during our Chapter 1 discussion on Monday, June 24, at 3PM EDT!

Mindset by Carol Dweck

If you have not read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, you cannot understand how your view of your students affects their outcome. Published in 2007 by Ballantine Books, Dweck’s book remains a constant among teachers and their professional learning networks.

Dweck’s premise is simple.  Individuals either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  Individuals with a fixed mindset believe “qualities are carved in stone,” and individuals in this mindset are always rushing to prove their qualities. In this mindset, individuals are believed to have gifts or talents that are unattainable by others.

A growth mindset, however, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” Gifts or talents they have not received do not limit one’s true potential.  In this mindset effort is praised, not giftedness or talent.

From these two mindsets Dweck delves into what these two views mean for parents, teachers, corporate managers, professional athletes, artists, etc. Doing so, she fills her work with examples of individuals who she believes fit into either mindset, solidifying her description of both paradigms.

As a teacher, this book has changed how I give encouragement to students. Rather than glorifying great work or outcomes, I praise the effort to achieve the outcomes.  A fixed mindset only focuses on the outcome, and slowly the focus drifts to how special one is to have reached an outcome. The growth mindset praises the effort, opening the routes to success to all who work hard. In my classroom, I praise those who work to decode difficult texts and apply this knowledge to new situations. While I could praise the end result, this tends to create a fixed mindset in students; they might believe they are so special for having achieved a certain plateau. By praising the work, students remain focused on the effort applied to achieve the goal.

As a parent, I now take this approach with my sons. I encourage them to continue practicing their drawing, sports, schoolwork, singing, drama, etc. I try not to focus on the goals they scored, the picture they colored, or the song they completed. While they receive the hugs and accolades, I continually remind them of the hard work they put in to achieve those results. My son now reminds his younger brothers that with effort anything is possible.

Dweck’s book does become repetitive, as her mindsets are explained in different professions.  However, this also makes the book easier to read. You can pick and choose which chapters to read, knowing the ideas are very similar. Even without this structure, the book is a very easy read. While research studies are referenced throughout the book, these references to not block the flow of ideas with overly scholarly thought.

If your school uses Dweck’s book for a voluntary book study, do not pass by the opportunity to read a book that will change your view of how people achieve success.