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Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Recommended by Matt Zoeller

The term "mindset" has become an educational buzzword in the last ten years and has really taken on a life of its own. One can use the term now with the assumption that the listener knows what it means. It's almost cliche now to put this word in your syllabus and tell students that you expect them to understand it and embrace it, but I still do because it's still completely relevant; based on my observations, I'm not sure people actually do know what it means.

The premise is that there are two ways or mindsets that people can have in life, and we all have each of them, depending on the circumstances. There is a fixed mindset, which is the belief that your capacity, skills, and knowledge about something can only be as good as your predetermined hardwiring, and you have most likely already learned those limitations. Then there is the growth mindset, which is the belief that anyone can improve at anything. The fixed mindset says things like, "I don't know. I'm not a math person," or even something as innocuous as "Sorry, I'm bad with names," or even "You are so smart!"

The problem with the fixed mindset is that it's a socially acceptable and very subtle permission to give up, do things poorly, and even just miss out on the wonders of avocado because you tried it once 12 years ago and didn't like it. On the face of it, it doesn't seem so bad, but as the book goes deeper into what it means and how it manifests itself, you can see how sneaky and pernicious it really is.

Growth mindset, on the other hand, favors the word "yet." As in, "I'm not good at algebra YET." The difference of course, is that instead of closing yourself off to ever being "good at math" (whatever that means), or "good memory," or standing up for yourself or feeling comfortable at parties. You aren't these things "yet," but they can, in fact, be learned to anyone who understands that they are learnable.

As a Spanish teacher, I often hear "I'm not good at languages" or other similar claims, and even though it bothers me, I enjoy pointing out that English is also a language and they are good at it, so let's think harder about what we're really saying here. Ten times out of ten, it really means, "this is not easy for me therefore, I don't want to do it." A growth mindset is willing to take on things that aren't easy because of the fact that they aren't easy. A growth mindset sees failure as a learning opportunity instead of seeing failure as proof of what they already knew to be true.

It's simple to understand but very complex and tricky when you really think about it in your own life. Reflecting on my own past, I can see now that I missed out on a lot of opportunities because I was afraid to fail or determined to prove something I already believed to be true. I now try to think intentionally with a growth mindset when I talk to my own kids, my students, and to myself.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Recommended by Dave Black

We live in an age of distractions, many of which are coming from our own devices. Social media services create algorithms designed to entice and engage. Alerts of all kinds fight for our attention. The incessant assault of new in-box messages seemingly demands immediate responses. Persistent advertising seeks to alter our financial habits and behaviors. Each of these perplexities, and many others, lead us away from our most important and satisfying work.

Cal Newport noticed this as he carried out his duties as a professor at Georgetown University. In order to complete his most creative work – the things that mattered most to him – he built strategies based on brain research for intentionally limiting distractions for set periods of time to carry out his work effectively. The set of techniques he developed became the basis for Deep Work.

Deep Work, a strategy I employ in my own life and that we use with Lights Academy students at Lutheran High School, emphasizes the following steps: Intentionally planning to manage distractions. Working on the tasks where one needs their most creative powers for a set Deep Work period of time. Finding an individual environment most conducive for this focus to work (seating, location, music? etc.). Take care of one's needs before engaging in Deep Work time (food, drink, bathroom, etc.). Setting aside time to recharge after Deep Work time (done right, Deep Work will be naturally fatiguing by the energy one invests in the process). Create different rituals for school, home, and other study locations.

I believe that all LuHi students can benefit from Newport's approach, not just Lights Academy students. Often I hear from students that they struggle with balancing homework with many other high school activities and interests. However, we have found in Lights Academy that the answer to this dilemma is frequently not connected to working longer but working smarter and more intentionally.

The basic tenets of this book are valuable not only for students but also for us as adults who live and work in 21st-century society. Newport provides us with strategies and encouragement to use our devices without allowing our devices to use us. While Newport's strategies were initially developed for his role in academia, the key principles of Deep Work may be adapted for many different settings.

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

Recommended by Hannah Buchholz

From what I've observed in the Admissions Office over the years of meeting with parents and learning about their students, I've seen firsthand the trend of specialization that David Epstein talks about in this book. In my own life, though, I resonate more with what he presents about generalists than specialists: "Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one."

To this day, I still ask, "What do I want to do with my life?" and I've felt the pressure of picking a lane. But I'm much more satisfied when I don't entrench myself in learning one skill but rather cast a wide net to learn as much as possible about many different things.

Epstein also talks about the downside of experts who silo themselves to master only one skill and can't think broadly enough to solve problems and bring unique perspectives to issues.

I think LuHi students can benefit from hearing Epstein's perspective. As incoming freshmen, we encourage students to try as many things as possible while in high school. Join a club. Try out for an upcoming theatre production. Register for an elective that is outside your comfort zone. As students start their senior year, I think they feel immense relief when they hear they don't have to have their future career path figured out by graduation.

Students with various interests and desires to try lots of different things aren't lacking or behind. Instead, they might be primed to excel at their jobs or shift more easily than their peers. At LuHi, we don't discourage curiosity, but in and outside of the classroom, we want students to expand their academic interests.

I'm often jealous of those who clearly understand their God-given gifts and are confident in what they want to be when they grow up. But this book offers encouragement and a solid perspective for those who enjoy being lifelong learners in many areas.

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