Carol Dweck, psychology professor and a top researcher on intelligence, insists that the brain is a malleable instrument that can be strengthened with use and that intelligence is not a fixed number but rather a trait that can grow with the right motivation. Her research states that “students' self-theories about intelligence have a profound influence on their motivation to learn. Students who hold a "fixed" theory are mainly concerned with how smart they are―they prefer tasks they can already do well and avoid ones on which they may make mistakes and not look smart. In contrast, she said, people who believe in an 'expandable' or 'growth' theory of intelligence want to challenge themselves to increase their abilities, even if they fail at first.” (Lisa Trei, “Study yields instructive results on how mindset affects learning” Stanford Report, February 7, 2007)
Those who are concerned more with their own image of how smart they look to themselves and others are afraid of failures and will do anything to avoid any failure. They avoid changing, even if it means languishing in life and not developing any new skills which they may surely need to survive in this ever changing world. Those who believe that they can control how smart they are and are taught to expand their intelligence through challenges and learning are then able to grow and adapt when the world around them changes. After all, “research (has shown) how changing a key belief―a student's self-theory about intelligence and motivation―with a relatively simple intervention can make a big difference.” (Trei) Students need to be taught that intelligence is not a fixed trait that only some are naturally gifted.
What does this mean to educators? It means that we as teachers must learn to teach and empower students to grow and change and teach them the skills needed to do that. We must touch the lives of each and every one of our students to make sure they get the help they need and learn to find their own elements of creativity. We have to show them that they must have some failure if they are able to succeed. We need to give them the ability to adapt in the rapidly ever-changing world. Yet we can't do it alone. The education system needs help in educating our students.
That is where mentors need to be able to step up to the plate. Teachers need to learn to utilize people in the community that can and should be able to help students. Professionals and amateurs alike should be able to reach out to students in the classroom and outside the classroom alike. Mentors can become like teachers, often in settings that are not school-like to reach kids that may not be able to be reached in the school setting.
Ken Robinson, in chapter eight of his book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, points out that most mentors serves most, if not all, of four roles; recognizer, encourager, facilitator, and stretcher. Mentors recognize that there is a need and also recognize how to go about filling that need. They also encourage students that nothing is impossible and expect students to live up to that encouragement. They facilitate the student through their work and teach students techniques that help the to succeed while being an example of those techniques and their successes or failures. Mentors also expand possibilities for students by stretching students past their limits and showing them that they can in fact do things.
Some might argue that teachers should be already doing this in their classrooms. That is true, teachers need to also be trying to mentor students. However, teachers have limited resources, especially the resource of time. Often they have thirty students in a class, and middle and high school teachers can see upwards of two hundred or more students in a day. The current school system makes it hard for teachers to reach out and individually mentor each of those students on even a weekly basis. Even the best teachers have students that fall through the cracks, and mentors should be there to gather those kids up, show them that they have the potential to grow and shape the world they live in, and help the education system in creating the future.