Teaching students value of struggle in growth mindset

By CeciUrbanski

“Mr Miller makes it clear that he wants us to learn and do our best in his class; he’s always there to help us.” -Lauren Larson ’23

Physics isn’t the most important thing being taught in science teacher Mr. Nick Miller’s classroom. Students in Miller’s class are being challenged to look beyond the laws of motion to learn about themselves. 

When discussing the anxiety that many students have about academic failure, Miller said, “life is not just school, and school is not just tests.” 

A few years after receiving his bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Nebraska Lincoln, Miller began teaching at Marian in 2018. 

Though Miller originally worked in lab research, he quickly developed a passion for teaching after para-subbing in grade schools. 

He said, “I enjoy teaching; it’s fun to tell kids about all the cool things in the world and watch them learn.” 

Miller has a rather holistic and realistic approach to teaching. He said “school prepares you for life after school…I want my students to learn from their own experiences.” 

Assignments and deadlines are an inevitable part of most students’ futures; therefore encouraging students to practice time management, goal setting, and self discipline is critical to their success in college and beyond. 

“This struggle [the learning experience] teaches students how to develop their own coping mechanisms,” Miller said. 

In his classroom, Miller deliberately dedicates time for students to develop practical learning and coping skills. During the first portion of the school year, Miller devotes the first 10 minutes of every class to a program on Khan Academy called Growth Mindset. Miller said “the growth mindset is about believing you can get smarter and develop your skills.” 

Physics II student Lauren Larson said, “Mr. Miller makes it clear that he wants us to learn and do our best in his class; he’s always there to help us.”

As a part of this program students complete activities and watch a variety of videos pertaining to the growth mindset and then write short reflections on what they discovered. 

Though the program aims to improve classroom learning, Miller said “the assignments don’t have anything to do with chemistry or physics, but it teaches students how our brains grow; our brains are like a muscle that we must challenge to make stronger.” 

He wants students to avoid having a fixed mindset in life or “this idea that ‘I was born with or without the ability.’”   

Part of the growth mindset is embracing the process of failure. 

Rather than succumb to the feelings of self doubt that arise with academic failure, Miller said “when you make a mistake or fail you should try to go back and figure out what happened.” 

He urges his students to “reflect on their mistakes and figure out ‘what are the things I did or didn’t do?’ and ‘next time what can I do differently?’”

In regards to his deliberate lessons on the growth mindset, Miller said,  “I’ve expanded this program because having a growth mindset is important for every student no matter what they do in the future… I want students to appreciate small successes.” 

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