The ‘Fresh Prince’ of Growth Mindset & Success:

The Wall is how Will Smith begins the telling of his life story in this autobiography, titled Will. In sharing his time spent building a wall outside of his father’s store front as an adolescent, Smith provides a window into his relationship with his father and the foundation of a personal story grounded in dreams, goals, the understanding of one’s true self and hope. 

Rather than focusing on the wall, an 11-year Will was challenged by his father to reframe his thinking by concentrating on the sequential individual actions that lead to success. Brick by brick the wall was constructed. As errors were made and frustrations mounted, so did innovation, problem solving, reframing and the ultimate sense of accomplishment upon completion. The wall taught Will the importance of goal setting, self-regulation and resiliency. Tools that have empowered him throughout his groundbreaking career. 

As I read this opening chapter and reflected on the resiliency needed to persevere “brick by brick,”  I couldn’t help but frame Smith’s story in my experience as a parent and educator.  As a parent and educator, I know quite intimately that resiliency is needed for students to be successful in class and beyond. Thus, the dichotomy of resilience in education today is increasingly problematic. Frankly, resiliency is a word often said but not fully understood. For example, prior to the pandemic and before a shift in cabinet positions, former Ontario Minister of Education Lisa Thompson asserted that “resiliency” was at the centre of a policy shift that would see class sizes increase in Ontario publicly funded schools.

Such rhetoric is disconnected from an authentic understanding that resilience is a response to stressors that need to be nurtured over time. Like Will Smith building the wall, the whole student requires a hopeful system of support for resiliency to be fostered. Thus, whether it’s Ontario education then or now, any policy mounted on the promise of promoting resiliency is a broken, if not followed by an intentional plan to integrate goal-setting, self-regulation and resiliency in schools. 

Intentionally Matters. Hope Matters.

From his opening chapter, Smith pulls back the curtain on his celebrity and the persona that has made him one of the most successful actors in Hollywood history. At the centre of this nuanced self-reflection is a commentary on setting goals, adapting and embracing failure. His ability to set a goal, self-regulate and be resilient has shaped who he is. Such a pathway is not exclusive to celebrities. 

All of us are on a pathway to our individual greatness and thus need the tools to be successful. When we lack goals, the inability to self-regulate obstructs resiliency. As such, there is a potential to become trapped in a regressive mindset or behaviour. Thus, it’s essential that parents and educators be intentional when it comes to nurturing children who can envision their wall and build it brick by brick.  

An extract from Will

Goal Setting:

With self-regulation as an Ontario education learning skill, it’s important to recognize it’s inherently linked to Goal Setting.  A goal reflects one’s purpose and refers to quantity, quality, or rate of performance (Locke & Latham, 1990). Goal setting involves establishing a standard or objective to serve as the aim of one’s actions. Goals are involved across the different phases of self-regulation: forethought (setting a goal and deciding on goal strategies); performance control (employing goal-directed actions and monitoring performance); and self-reflection (evaluating one’s goal progress and adjusting strategies to ensure success (Zimmerman, 1998). 

Goals motivate people to exert effort necessary to meet task demands and persist over time. Goals also direct individuals’ attention to relevant task features, behaviors to be performed, and potential outcomes, and goals can affect how people process information. Goals help people focus on the task, select and apply appropriate strategies, and monitor goal progress (Schunk, 2001).

Understanding goals and setting them is a precursor to self-regulation and also has the ability to signal hope. Having a goal is having hope.


Dr. Stuart Shanker, a self-regulation expert shares that “self-reg teaches a child a foundational set of skills: not just how to deal with a deluge when it happens, but more importantly, how to prevent the deluge in the first place by recognizing when they are becoming over-stressed and why, and what to do about it.” 

Looking back to goal setting, self-regulation serves an individual’s ability to adapt as needed as they work towards their goal. With this, the self-efficacy that self-regulation provides is foundational to an individual’s success. 

Thus, students must be provided with opportunities to pause, reflect, revisit goals, next steps etc. They must be taught that self-regulation is looking at one’s self with intention and purpose as they work to reach their goals. 


If self-regulation is about teaching a set of skills, resilience is about activation.

As Dr. Stuart Shanker asserts, resiliency, “rests on how well we can stabilize after a challenge, serious or otherwise. That’s what an “adaptive response” to stress or adversity consists in: the ability to get back to our optimal state of equilibrium.”

The notion of “our optimal state of equilibrium” is critical in being able to reset with a sense of self-empowerment and hope in the pursuit of goals. What occurs when a balance cannot be found has the potential to impact positive next steps.  For students, this can include being disenfranchised with schooling and making decisions that can have negative consequences on their social and emotional well-being. 

Growth Mindset Matters:

This brings me to my experience as a parent and educator during the past 22 months of the pandemic. With school closures, extracurricular activities halted, families isolated and the world changing in so many ways, the need for a Growth Mindset is more important than ever.

It’s our duty as parents and educators to nurture our children and students, hold them to a culture of high expectations, all while being supported and loved. A culture of high expectations means looking to lift each brick one at a time with students knowing they can and will succeed.

At times the journey isn’t easy, but with hope and goals in mind the outcomes can be transformational. In fact, in my own work as a high school administrator, I find that those students who are in the most need are those who lack goals, self-regulation, resiliency and have a fixed mindset. They’re not sure what they are working towards are stigmatized by “failure” and thus navigate particular life paths with unease. 

As we continue to navigate a pandemic world let’s also continue in our efforts at home and school to cultivate hope so young people can meet and build their future one brick at a time. For this to happen we have to be intentional in empowering young people to set goals so that they can self-regulate and have the skills necessary to be a resilient and hopeful life-long learner.

Watch the video below and reflect on the following:

As a parent or educator, how can you foster a Growth Mindset at home or school?

What conversations are you having with your children or students?

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