Creating a Growth Mindset
For over twenty years, researchers have been studying the concept of growth mindset, the belief that an individual’s “most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work” rather than being something that is set and unchangeable.
We have the power to choose to have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset about ourselves. We can develop a growth mindset not only in our personal lives, but in our professional lives as well.
Embracing a growth mindset is impactful in education because it creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for accomplishment.
But how can having a growth mindset impact a school’s culture?
How can school leaders create a growth mindset culture in their schools?
And how do educators encourage growth mindsets in their students?
What is a growth mindset?
Let’s clarify the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
An individual with a fixed mindset believes their intelligence is inherent and static, and that their abilities and potentials were determined early in life.
They have a strong desire to look smart and will avoid challenges and stick with what they know instead of trying something new and unfamiliar. They believe effort is fruitless because you’re either good at something or you’re not.
They dislike constructive feedback because it feels too personal.
Individuals with a fixed mindset feel threatened when others succeed. Their defensive attitudes get in the way of cooperation and collaboration.
On the other hand:
Someone who has a growth mindset embraces challenges and seeks out new opportunities for learning. They believe effort is a path to mastery and failure is an opportunity to learn. Individuals with a growth mindset embrace constructive feedback, learn from mistakes, and admire the success of others. They look for lessons and inspiration in everything they attempt, whether they fail or succeed.
Individuals with a growth mindset facilitate cooperation and are open to the skills and suggestions of others.
Their desire to learn is fueled by their belief that their intelligence is fluid and continuously developing. They believe their abilities and potentials are still unfolding based on the effort they commit, no matter what phase of life they are in.
A growth mindset in school
So, what does a growth mindset look like for students, teachers, and school administrators?
Students with a growth mindset demonstrate an openness to new ways of learning. They are okay with making mistakes, are hardworking, and respond positively to feedback.
Teachers with a growth mindset collaborate well with colleagues, share constructive feedback, listen honestly to criticism, and focus on motivation over achievement when it comes to their students.
Growth-minded administrators support the learning and collaboration of teachers and respond honestly—not defensively—to constructive criticism or questions. These administrators set clear goals for themselves and their schools and think of themselves as learners who are also on this growth journey alongside teachers and students.
When educators encourage a growth-mindset culture at their schools and in their classrooms, they have the potential to close achievement gaps and help teachers and students move out of their comfort zones to encounter new experiences and attain new insights.
A growth mindset replaces fear with hope and confidence.
It allows individuals to see challenges as exciting opportunities and to break down stagnant views of how we see ourselves and others.
9 ways school leaders can create a growth mindset culture at school
If you are a school leader, you can work to create a culture of growth in your school by modeling growth through the following steps:
- Set goals and find support. Organize a group of teachers to report your progress to and encourage each other’s evolution. Trusting others can help you be more aware of what areas you can work on.
- Be transparent about your work. Create an environment where teachers and students can share their trials and errors. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Share the struggle you go through as you grow.
- Encourage respectful, mutual observation. Let teachers sit in on each other’s classes to learn from each other. Not to evaluate, but to start a conversation.
- Showcase constructive models. Highlight teachers that struggle to incorporate growth mindset strategies but find a way to rise above old fixed views. Emphasize that it takes work for most people to change and that you’re all in this together.
- Follow up. Give teachers constructive, detailed feedback.
- Be patient. Creating a culture of growth doesn’t happen overnight, but with consistency and support it will happen. Meet with teachers regularly and listen to their challenges while supporting their development.
- Reflect and share. Allow teachers to talk through their experience of pursuing a growth mindset in their classrooms and in their lives. Focus on what teachers learn during the process, not just the outcome.
- Ask for feedback. Speak regularly with your teachers. Show you are interested in their progress and give guidance where needed. Ask what they feel their strengths are, what areas of professional development they’re interested in pursuing, what goals they have for themselves and their students, what areas they feel they can improve on, and what kind of support they need from colleagues and administration to reach their goals. These questions set the tone for feedback that leads to a culture of growth. Be respectful and collaborative in your evaluations.
- Expect obstacles. It won’t be smooth sailing the whole way. Be willing to talk through obstacles, such as teachers who are resistant to the changes or feel the process isn’t working. Be patient, listen to their perspectives, and find ways to incorporate their strengths and their experiences to support your team goals.
For strategies to overcome specific implementation obstacles, download our playbook on Creating a Growth Mindset In Your School
8 strategies to help teachers foster a growth mindset in students
Teachers have great influence on shaping a student’s perspective of their unique capabilities and potential. Teachers who want to foster a growth mindset in their students should emphasize motivation over achievement and nurture a sense of “grit” and “struggle” among students by:
- Praising effort, not outcome. Repeatedly emphasizing that struggle is part of the learning process. Ensure struggle is productive, not destructive, by reminding students that each of us work to learn and overcome individual obstacles and that they are capable of doing more than they may realize.
- Giving students personal control. Give students freedom to decide how they will complete an assignment and allow them to select topics for writing assignments.
- Providing low-stake assessments that keep students’ recall fresh. Give regular quizzes or summaries of material.
- Collaborating and brainstorming. Offer work that encourages peer-to-peer collaboration so students learn from each other.
- Giving feedback that fosters struggle. Ask students to explain their reasoning or how they get their answers. Suggest alternative problem-solving avenues without stepping in and giving answers or criticism.
- Allowing space for mistakes. Remind students that errors provide opportunities for growth and learning.
- Communicating belief in students’ capabilities. The way we praise a child can encourage a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.
- Sharing stories of growth. Focus on small victories and personal examples to exemplify growth mindset to students.
For specific examples of supportive phrases that teachers can use when interacting with students, download our playbook on Creating a Growth Mindset In Your School
What this means for students and educators
Encouraging a growth mindset in our classrooms and schools can greatly impact the way each student views their potential. Educators have the power to create these supportive environments and help students feel capable and supported.
Teachers can feel empowered while working in a supportive, growth-minded school culture.
Though we may sometimes fall back into learned, fixed attitudes, we can constantly work to improve our personal beliefs of growth potential and encourage others to see themselves as adaptable, developing individuals as well.
By creating supportive, growth-minded environments in our schools, educators and students will come to see that their capabilities are as vast as their imagination.