Are We Expecting Too Much? Applying a Growth Mindset to Anti-Racism

by Sheona Kellman

"Human Resources" by is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Human Resources” by is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In this age of political correctness and perpetual “wokeness,” where the rules always seem to be changing, is it fair to expect administrators, teachers, students and parents to be fully culturally and racially aware? Especially in an international school environment, isn’t it unreasonable to expect the school community to “know all the rules” which serve as indicators of tolerance for so many races and ethnicities, for example? We are human, not omniscient. Why set the standards of cultural intelligence so high?

There is a popular text promoted by pedagogues in our school community entitled Mindset, written by American psychologist, Dr. Carol S. Dweck. In her book, Dr. Dweck posits that people fall into two categories when it comes to mindset: they either have a fixed mindset, that is, they believe that talent, intelligence and other characteristics are what you were born with and cannot be altered; or they have a growth mindset, which is, they understand personal abilities and individualities as qualities which can be adaptable and developed.

This begs the question, so what would a fixed mindset towards race and racism look like? Examples could include:

  • Having an unwavering point of view about individuals based on stereotypes.
  • Avoiding conversations about racism or engaging in racism arguments.
  • The belief that it is not necessary to educate oneself on other races and cultures, or anti-racism itself.
  • Ignoring institutional racism by declaring that “I do not see colour” or
  • Stating “I am not racist” only to be dismissive of the perspectives of people of colour who point out seemingly innocent behaviours which may hold implicit bias.

The growth mindset, in combination with emotional intelligence, can be instrumental in one’s anti-racist journey. No one expects everyone to know everything, but just by taking the time to listen to diverse individuals in an effort to understand, as opposed to listening to respond, can be a valuable start in the right direction. Empathy, self-awareness, awareness of others, reading relevant literature, introspection and creating meaningful dialogue on race while embracing the challenge to keep working to decrease one’s bias are all reflective of a growth mindset.

We have been focusing so much on the children recently, and the need for anti-racism education in school to facilitate such a growth mindset, that in some ways we have neglected the adults. Human Resource Management initiatives for administrators and staff could be critical in applying a growth mindset to diversity and inclusion. Such areas include: recruitment and selection, health and safety, career planning, training and development and performance management.

It starts with human resource planning, which involves understanding the needs of the school, and of course an international school would have diversity and inclusion needs. A fixed mindset says, “We have been doing things this way for X number of years, there is no need for change.” A growth mindset understands that as the diversity of the student body increases, there will be a need to increase the diversity in staff members, giving children an opportunity to see themselves reflected in their mentors … but recruitment and selection needs to be based on more than skin colour. Racists and anti-racists can manifest themselves in any hue, therefore it is not enough to hire someone because she is Black or he is Asian or they are from the Pacific Islands. Comprehensive and diverse recruitment and selection would, of course, require candidates to have appropriate qualifications, knowledge, skills and abilities for their chosen discipline. Beyond this, structured interviews need to incorporate questions which help to assess emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, and anti-racist as well as anti-discrimination values.

Enabling a growth mindset to anti-racism should not end once an employee has been hired. The health and safety and personal well-being of all staff members of all races and cultures is important, however, it is essential that an organisational environment is created that staff members of colour, who tend to be in the minority, know that they work in a safe space, and have identified individuals to whom they can go if they are made to feel uncomfortable. Career planning is also useful so persons of colour can see their place in the organisation and the clear, equitable conditions for upward mobility within it.

The objective for training and development of staff in anti-racism education should not be just to fulfil requirements needed to teach it as a subject to children. The goal should be to come to terms with one’s own educational needs through introspection and actively seek to develop anti-racist values. It is easier to teach a subject that one knows intimately through experience, and it makes for a more empathetic colleague as well.

Training should not only be limited to staff members, teaching and non-teaching, but to administrators as well. Lessons in situational leadership, enhanced by cultural and emotional intelligences would be useful. Such would help administrators recognise that each employee cannot be handled the same way due to varied situations and cultural differences. Sensitivity training, diversity and inclusion training, and reflective listening can help leaders know how to adapt leadership styles to diverse individuals. This can also demonstrate their growth mindset by making adjustments to their strategic planning and management to facilitate anti-racist and anti-discrimination agendas.

Of course, with all this training there must be assessment of trainees in performance review and development to measure and facilitate their growth; and there must be monitoring and evaluation of the programmes to ensure optimum efficacy.

Another beautiful factor of the growth mindset is the understanding that these changes do not have to be made alone and there are organisations, right here in Geneva, that can help us find our way, such as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), and even the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Dweck gives this counsel to parents seeking to encourage their children to have a growth mindset, “… the best thing they can do is teach children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, seek new strategies, and keep on learning.” It would do well for all of us to take this advice and apply it as we seek to improve our cultural intelligence and racial tolerance.

Published by APPEAR

APPEAR was formed in May 2019 after parents whose children had been negatively affected by racism at school, realised that the response from the administration needed improvement on the taboo topic of racism. APPEAR's aim is to rise awareness about this and work together with the school to make our schools a safe space for all.

One thought on “Are We Expecting Too Much? Applying a Growth Mindset to Anti-Racism

  1. Well said. Racism in our community requires a systematic approach and just focusing on isolated incidents and the students is equivalent to fixing a flat tire on a car that is out of gas. Need to take a comprehensive approach and growth mindset is good conceptual framework. Let’s hope that this happens—if not then racist incidents like the shameful and deeply hurtful video, name calling, and other psychological bullying of students and parents will continue to be the norm.

    Liked by 1 person

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