Embracing challenge doesn’t mean you always have to like the challenges with which you are faced. Sometimes it means putting emotional responses to one side and getting on with the challenge regardless – in the knowledge that you will learn and grow from the experience. For example, a student may find themselves faced with a set of fifty multiple choice questions they have to answer, each of which is more challenging than the last. In this situation, they wouldn’t have to enjoy the challenge to embrace it. They could, but they wouldn’t have to. All they would need to do to embrace the challenge is take a look at the questions and say to themselves: ‘OK, let’s see how we get on with this. Let’s see what we can do to get through it and learn from it.’
The point is that embracing challenge is as much about managing your own responses to challenge as it is about enjoying every challenge you face. Of course, if you enjoy the challenges as well then that won’t be a bad thing, but it isn’t a necessary prerequisite for embracing challenge.
Carol Dweck’s research suggests that students with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges than students with a fixed mindset. This is because growth mindsets begin from the premise that intelligence, talent and ability are open to change. Challenges are a route through which we can grow. By embracing them, we use our own agency to direct our own development.
When promoting growth mindsets in your classroom, it is good to define what challenge means for you and your learners. This way, when you or they are talking about it, you can all be sure that you are referring to the same thing.
It is also worth showing students why embracing challenges leads to more learning, and why this route is open to everybody, regardless of their starting point. Here are two great ways to do this:
- Bring in some of the work you did when you were at school or university. Show students specific examples of when you embraced challenges and the results which followed. Stress the relationship between your choices and the subsequent consequences. Ask students to tell you what alternative consequences might have arisen if you had chosen to avoid the challenges instead of embracing them.
Show students anonymised work from the year before. Use this to exemplify different ways in which previous students have embraced challenges. Try to show a range of examples. For each one, draw out the relationship between thought, actions and consequences. Ask your learners to consider how life might have been different for last year’s students if they had not believed that challenge was for them.