Employing a strategic mindset to overcome challenges

If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably does not lead anywhere. Frank A Clark

As I think about the year ahead, I believe that we will all need a strategic mindset which enables us to make plans, monitor our progress and consider alternative approaches where needed. We can no longer afford to have a single approach to anything that we do, and we all need to consider the skills we have available to us which will support us in being flexible and open to alternative approaches.

“I believe there is value in helping our students to develop a strategic mindset and make the most effective use of their metacognitive skills.”

Nurturing a strategic mindset in the pursuit of goals

At Lauriston, goal setting from an academic, co-curricular and personal perspective is an important activity. Our Tutors in the Senior School undertake goal setting and Termly meetings with their Tutor groups and in the Junior School, our teachers work closely with our girls about how each can develop a ‘growth mindset’.

Within our wellbeing lessons, academic classes and co-curricular activities, we are giving attention to the development of metacognitive skills and empowering the girls to be aware of their thinking processes, manage their motivation to learn and improve their self-regulation thus create a higher propensity to achieving goals set.

I am interested in the research currently being undertaken by Associate Professor Patricia Chen and her colleagues, including Professor Carol Dweck, on the idea of a strategic mindset which involves asking oneself strategy-eliciting questions such as “What can I do to help myself?”, “How else can I do this?”, or “Is there a way to do this even better?”

From the three studies completed by Associate Professor Chen, people who scored higher with a strategic mindset reported using more metacognitive strategies. It appears that being strategic means more than having specific metacognitive skills but also an orientation toward considering these skills and using them.

Metacognitive skills such as planning, monitoring progress and flexibly adjusting approaches are important skills to use when working in different situations and resolving various types of challenges. The strategic mindset requires a person to frequently ask oneself such questions to provide an internal prompt to generate and use strategies appropriate to the task—a useful approach especially when encountering new challenges or ongoing difficulties.

Strategic thinking in action

One way to illustrate the strategic mindset is to think about a student who is studying Economics or Mathematics. The student wants to master some challenging concepts before her examination. The student might know a variety of study techniques, but she may not spontaneously think to apply them. By frequently asking herself the strategic mindset questions (“What can I do to help myself master these concepts? How else can I study to be even more effective?”) she might prompt herself to plan, generate, monitor and adjust the study techniques when needed.

The researchers hope to demonstrate that a strategic mindset is associated with more spontaneous use of metacognitive strategies during the pursuit of goals this may lead to a better understanding of how to help individuals achieve their goals.

University of Pennsylvania, Psychologist, Angela Duckworth, who has undertaken ground- breaking research on ‘grit’ or perseverance, has said that while ‘grit’ is about orienting oneself to a long-term goal in pursuing it despite setbacks, strategic mindset is thinking about any short- or long-term goal in ways that constantly look for efficiency. Duckworth believes that grit and strategic mindset complement each other in that an individual might have ‘grit’ but not be willing to try new and different ways to achieve his/her long-term goal which is not an ideal situation.

For example, our Year 9 students are now embarking upon their first five weeks at our Howqua campus. They will be participating in their academic program, undertaking their first hikes and runs, along with getting to know their roles and responsibilities on the campus. These three questions: “What can I do to help myself?”, “How else can I do this?”, or “Is there a way to do this even better?” can be used in every aspect of their daily program. When undertaking duties in the dining room for the first time, working with the other girls in their House on their first House clean, or preparing for the first hike, each of these questions can lead to each girl thinking through how she can best achieve her goal for each situation she finds herself in.

Perhaps the strategic mindset may appear to be more useful in the classroom, but I can see benefit when our students participate in co-curricular activities or navigate their way through getting to know their roles and responsibilities each day at school. For those students who join the Running Club or participating in the Rowing program, there is benefit in considering the three questions and determining metacognitive skills which would be helpful to use. It is always useful to monitor our progress in a co-curricular activity and think about whether we can make some adjustments which would help us to improve.

Susan Just
Principal, Lauriston Girls’ School