Committee for Children Blog

Understanding and Inspiring a Growth Mindset—4 Ways to Get Started

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A new school year is about to begin. As you revisit your goals and plans for the year, imagine cultivating these characteristics in your students:

  • They are equipped to deal with challenges when faced with difficult work.
  • They believe in their capabilities and in their capacity to improve.
  • They seek challenging learning opportunities and view them as opportunities to learn.
  • They thrive on obstacles and rise to the challenge when things get difficult.
  • They believe they have control over their present and future.

It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

The scenario above is an example of what Carol Dweck, Stanford University Psychology Professor, has termed “growth mindset,” which she has spent more than 30 years of her life researching. She reminds us that the mindset one brings to a challenge is often more important than the initial ability for determining motivation, success, and achievement. She has found, time and time again, that students who believe their intelligence can be developed (a growth mindset) surpass those who believe their intelligence is immovable (a fixed mindset). In other words, students who believe their brain can grow stronger through hard work often show achievement boosts greater than those who stop trying in the face of challenges.

One just doesn’t “get it all” right away. Like social-emotional skills, growth mindset is developed over time. It’s a journey rather than something one simply has or doesn’t have. Dweck has shown that all children are capable of growth and that we must provide places of opportunity to foster that growth by continually providing students with alternative views about their capacities, conveying our belief that they can improve, and encouraging them to think about and use new strategies to rise above challenges.

These are a few ways for doing that:

  1. Praise improvement instead of intelligence or ability. Move away from focusing on effort or results alone. Praise students for their strategies in facing learning challenges and tie those processes to outcomes. Replace “good job” or “you’re so smart” with examples such as these:
    a. “When you learn a new way of managing your strong emotions it grows your brain.”
    b. “Wow, you really improved because you practiced the new strategy for solving your problem!”
  2. Emphasize the importance of facing learned challenges by encouraging students to work harder, ask for more help, find more learning opportunities, and try new strategies.
  3. Help children feel good by encouraging them to thrive on challenges rather than responding to their setbacks as harmful. Inspire students to think and use new strategies when they are “stuck.” Ask them “What can you try next?” when you see them facing a challenge.
  4. Provide students with more study skills and strategies for coping with disappointment and difficulty.

For more information on growth mindset, these resources are a good starting point:

The Power of Believing You Can Improve
Teachers, Parents Often Misuse Growth Mindset, Dweck Says
How Can Teachers Develop Students’ Motivation—And Success?
Carol Dweck Revisits the Growth Mindset