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Mentoring Skills: Art of Learning

In this issue we are going to take a look at The Art of Learning. I believe having an open mindset and a willingness to learn can be critical to filling the void that’s created when a person leaves one lifestyle in favor of another. Here are some insights I’ve gleaned from Dr. Carrol Dweck on theories of intelligence.

Learning Theories:

Most people fall into one of two categories when it comes to how they learn and how they continue to learn.

1. Entity: They see their overall skill level and intelligence as a fixed entity.

2. Incremental: Believe that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped – step by step, incrementally.

Dr. Dweck’s research has shown that when challenged by difficult material, incremental learners are more likely to rise to the level of the game, while entity learners are more brittle (lack of grit?) and prone to quit. Children who associate success with hard work tend to have a “mastery-orientated response” to challenging situations, while children who see themselves as just plain “smart” or “dumb” or “good” or “bad” at something, have a “learned helplessness orientation”.

Every now and then we run into people that are a bit narcissistic or have what we call super optimism. They are convinced that they are unique and the “I got this” attitude dominates even though they are falling short on just about every task or challenge. We are living in an age where the belief is that naming your child Destiny and then telling them they are the best at everything is the formula for success. The problem is, it’s not. If you’ve just finished 10 years in prison and you come out thinking that you’ve got this on your own (entity learner) then you’re going to fail, plain and simple, you’re going to fail. The opposite would be true as well, coming out thinking that the end results will be the same so why even try something different. There is so much to learn and build on that contributes to a successful reentry and those who adjust and begin to learn incrementally will soon discover the benefits.

How are these theories programmed into us?

  • Entity: Tend to have been told they did well when they succeeded and told they weren’t any good at something when they failed. Example – Johnny aces a math test and is told “you’re great at math”. Johnny fails at an English test and is told that “you’re not good at English”. * The link is now made to ingrained ability

  • Learning: Tend to have been told they did a great job and keep up the good work. If they do poorly on something they are told to study a little harder, ask questions, and you’ll do better next time. The association then is made between effort and success. Becoming good at something requires hard work.

I often hear program participants say that reentry is hard. My response is “No sh*t Einstein, what did you think it was going to be like”? This tells me I probably have an entity learner and that we need to get busy and start learning effort and resilience. Pick one thing and get it done – then pick another – then introduce something new to learn that’s way outside the box. Happy Learning!

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