In 2006, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University published a groundbreaking text called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Carol Dweck, the author of the aforementioned text, defined two distinct types of mindset present in human beings: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. In Mindset, Dweck provided readers with the following definitions of the two trains of thought:
Fixed Mindset: The belief that we’re born with a fixed amount of intelligence and ability. People operating in the fixed mindset are prone to avoiding challenges and failures, thereby robbing themselves of a life rich in experience and learning (Dweck, 2006).
Growth Mindset: The belief that with practice, perseverance, and effort, people have limitless potential to learn and grow. People operating in the growth mindset tackle challenges with aplomb, unconcerned with making mistakes or being embarrassed, focusing instead on the process of growth (2006).
It’s becoming increasingly important for today’s educators to focus on ingraining growth mindset within their students’ psyche. After all, when push comes to shove, children these days appear more apt to run away from a challenge, preferring instead to wave the white flag in defeat rather than pushing through the perceived immovable obstacle standing in front of them.
The Problem with Fixed Mindset
The fixed mindset, especially in young children, can be the ultimate detriment in a student’s quest to achieve optimal levels of academic and social growth within a given school year. When a child begins questioning their own ability to learn, retain, and apply new information, they quickly become apathetic. These students will feel no reason to put forth their best effort in class and on assessments. To them, it’s an exercise in futility. If, in their mind, they are incapable of performing at a level higher than they’ve achieved in the past, why waste additional time prepping for the same result?
A fixed mindset will make progress virtually impossible. After all, the goal of every lesson is to provide each student with the knowledge necessary to build upon a previously acquired skill. A student with a fixed mindset, unfortunately, will tend to believe that they’re destined to only reach a certain point before their brain comes to a screeching halt.
This year, I’ve struggled reaching a handful of students. In the past, making connections had been a strength of mine. For the most part, I’m still successful. I’ve developed a strong teacher-student working relationship with 97% of my kids. However, I can’t ignore the 3% of kids who, whether they know it or not, still need my guidance. They’re saddled with a fixed mindset. They feel as though their path has already been carved out.
I’ve made it a personal challenge to make a positive impact in the lives of these children by June. They need to know that their future is far from set in stone. Once they start to believe that, they can set goals for themselves. From there, the work toward achieving those outcomes begins.
A Growth Mindset Can Propel Students
Whereas students with a fixed mindset tend to fasten themselves to a contrived world of mediocrity, kids with a firm growth mindset believe the sky’s the limit. They are willing to take risks in order to find success. They’re able to accept constructive criticism, knowing the information passed along is given with the best of intentions. Students with growth mindset understand that to ultimately win the game called life, they must accept that there will be losses along the way.
While teachers may get frustrated with students with a fixed mindset, it’s vital that they do not give up on those kids. The good news is that growth mindset can be taught. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. It’s hard to change a person’s perception of themselves. However, it can be done.
How to Foster Growth Mindset
There are dozens of ways a teacher can ultimately help a student develop a growth mindset. I strongly believe that the individual teacher should have the autonomy to use the methods that work best for them. However, if you’re trying to put together a list together and could use a few suggestions, here are a number of techniques you may consider.
Ditch the Word “Failed.”
Instead, focus on the term “learning opportunity.” The student may have under-performed the first time. However, they shouldn’t be allowed to think that they can’t ultimately achieve success with the assessed material. Help them see that, whether or not they’re afforded the opportunity to try the exam again, the grade doesn’t define their ultimate ability. The grade simply defined their understanding of standards at a given point in time. With a willingness to put forth effort and risk stumbling on the journey to knowledge, students will begin to see that their success in the classroom has not been predetermined.
Share a Personal Anecdote
I’ve never prescribed to the notion that a teacher must be a robotic, soulless version of the person they are outside of school. Over the years, I’ve found that students want to develop a genuine connection with their educators. They want to develop a sense of comfort within the four walls of their classroom. That’s a good thing. Their comfort with you will allow them to ask that lingering question, attend after-school extra help sessions, and strive to make you proud of their accomplishments. Don’t be afraid to open up and be human in front of your students.
We didn’t get to where we are now by being perfect every second of every day since birth. We’ve made our fair share of mistakes and miscalculations. But, we learned from them. We grew from them. Ultimately, we found success from them. Let your students know that. Give them concrete examples of how you once overcame what seemed, at the time, to be insurmountable odds. Let them know that if you were able to make the necessary adjustments to succeed, they can too.
Grit (noun): courage and resolve; strength of character.
Grit is a word that should be shouted from the rooftop of every school across the country. It’s a powerful tool. In fact, Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, tells us it’s a person’s grit, not IQ, that may be the most instrumental determiner of future success. In the New York Times Bestseller, Duckworth tells of her own personal epiphany as she became determined to find success through grit. “I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest” (2016).
We need to do our part to help cultivate a future generation comprised of global citizens who will fight for their goals, who will take calculated risks to achieve success, and see disappointing results as an opportunity to better themselves. We, as educators, have the unique ability to have a profound impact on the future. By promoting grit, we are helping students prepare for the challenges that’ll inevitably come their way.
Believe that Growth of Mind Will Lead to Growth in Data
The entire premise of cultivating a student body with growth mindset is predicated on the belief that a school’s faculty will be on board with the culture shift. While it’ll be difficult to see immediate results by the fostering of growth mindset, trust the theory. Over time, the fruit of your labor will become clear.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset : the new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit : the power of passion and perseverance. New York, NY: Scribner.