The Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck writes in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success that people generally adopt one of two ways of approaching the world: a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.  If you have a fixed mindset you believe “that your qualities are carved in stone”.  If you have a growth mindset you believe that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”

Dweck’s ideas echo those of Martin Seligman in his classic book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. “Habits of thinking,” Seligman writes, “need not be forever.  One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” Like Seligman, Dweck has found that we can change our mindsets.

I believe the mindset teachers bring to school makes an enormous difference for both teachers and students.  A teacher with a fixed mindset sees her abilities as pretty much what they are. Therefore, there’s really no point in professional learning since either we are born teachers or we are not. On the other hand, a teacher with a growth mindset views teaching as an opportunity for continual professional growth. This teacher can always get better, always improve, always reach more children.  For a teacher with a growth mindset, much of the joy of teaching is her own experience of growth and personal development.

The implications for students of the kind of mindset teachers bring to class are even more significant. A teacher with a fixed mindset sees his students as pretty much already where they will be.  If every child’s qualities are carved in stone, then every child’s potential is limited or fixed.  However, a teacher with a growth mindset sees his students as coming to class with enormous potential. Every student holds within him or her an amazing potential waiting to be unlocked. And to this kind of teacher, one of the great joys of teaching is to find the key to unlock that potential.

Radical learners have a growth mindset.  They are inspired by the joy of learning, and their joy rubs off on their students. Who would you want to teach your children, a teacher with a fixed or a teacher with a growth mindset? What is your mindset?

Are you a radical learner?

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  • Barb Millikan

    Radical learners

    I loved joining radical learners and finding Carol Dweck’s work posted today. Her work in Mindset had a profound impact on my work as a principal. The fixed mindset is rampant in schools. Children quickly identify who is smart and who is not. Who can read and who can’t. Who’s the best athlete and who’s not.

    Kindergarteners come to school thinking anything is possible, but the fixed mindset starts to work on them as soon as the first day of school. We need to do everything we can to combat the fixed mindset of children and adults.

    The Growth Mindset became a critical idea I shared with parents, teachers, students and colleagues. We have to believe that every child can learn and grow intellectually. It’s not just about reaching a standard, it’s about developing minds.

    One year I taught math to twelve highly intellectually gifted second graders. Being second graders, they had lots of ideas they wanted to share, usually all at once. I loved learning how their brains worked. After a week I made a significant observation. Some children kept talking about how smart they were, especially in math. They wanted to do math that was hard, but were reluctant to try complex problems. When asked to explore multiple ways to approach a problem, they would often gave up easily and demanded, “Just give me the answer!” The other group of children were much more willing to tackle a tough problem. They listened to each other’s ideas, willingly questioned their own ideas, and were able to persist on a problem for long periods of time. Some of them were tentative but kept working to find solutions.

    I asked everyone in our school to make a conscious effort to think about how we give children feedback. Instead of telling children how smart they are, praise the children for effort. Everyone has gifts and talents, we just need to see them and nurture them.

    • Martha Moore

      Growing minds encompasses the essentials of teaching and learning. As a parent and educator, I value ideas that focus on encouraging persistence and reflection. Too often, the focus is on the quick and immediate which precludes allowing time for perculation.

  • Kate M.

    Jim, thank you for the insightful postings.

    Reading this particular article and as an aspiring school psychologist, it is crucial to believe and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that children grow, change, develop, and learn. This mindset guides and inspires my actions, my energy, and my beliefs. And while I acknowledge the two diametrically opposite stances, I would argue that there is a gray area in between the fixed and growth mindset where a lot of teachers unknowingly linger because it is easy or they feel overwhelmed within the classroom.

    I wonder how much a teacher with a fixed mindset could be “converted” so to speak. How can we engage individuals with a fixed mindset? Given the growth mindset, I *know* that these individuals with fixed mindsets change and grow…how can we enact a change without polarizing the issue in a school?

    • Jim Knight

      Hi Kate, you ask a great question. Dr. Dweck would say that we control our mindset, and anyone can change. However, how we best empower people to do that, well that’s a tough question.

  • Leigh R.

    Jim,

    I could not agree more that teachers with a fixed mindset “stunt the growth” (so to speak) of their students. As an aspiring school psychologist and a former third grade teacher, I saw many teachers who perhaps started their professional life with a “growth mindset” but after several years became burnt out. They saw their students simply as an obligation-not an opportunity to promote radical learning.

    I agree with Kate that there is usually a grey area between the two stances. As future school psychologists, we should provide educators with supports so that their teaching environment is less overwhelming. Hopefully, this will help them reach their potential and therefore “unlock” the potentials of the their students.

    • Jim Knight

      Hi Leigh, Yes I agree. And the main point of this blog is that we don’t have to do this work alone. We can keep our growth mindset if we can find others.

  • Donna

    I do not think that teachers start out with the mindset that learning is a fixed commodity. If this was their stance from the beginning, they probably would not have become teachers. I think that over time the “system” erodes their enthusiasm, because they become so bogged down in fulfilling federal, state, and local mandates. Furthermore, bureaucratic mandates stifle creativity in teaching because regulatory requirements often dictate what to teach and how to teach it. I think that most educators are radical learners at heart, but being in a confined system has stifled their creativity. I think that it will take a grassroots effort to reinvent the educational structure and transform it into a mindful learning environment for both teachers and students.

    • Jim Knight

      Hi Donna, I think that grass roots revolution starts by us standing up, respectfully, for learning.

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  • http://sneakered.yonkly.com/delsiedesort262 Chadli

    Radical learners

    I loved joining radical learners and finding Carol Dweck’s work posted today. Her work in Mindset had a profound impact on my work as a principal. The fixed mindset is rampant in schools. Children quickly identify who is smart and who is not. Who can read and who can’t. Who’s the best athlete and who’s not.

    Kindergarteners come to school thinking anything is possible, but the fixed mindset starts to work on them as soon as the first day of school. We need to do everything we can to combat the fixed mindset of children and adults.

    The Growth Mindset became a critical idea I shared with parents, teachers, students and colleagues. We have to believe that every child can learn and grow intellectually. It’s not just about reaching a standard, it’s about developing minds.

    One year I taught math to twelve highly intellectually gifted second graders. Being second graders, they had lots of ideas they wanted to share, usually all at once. I loved learning how their brains worked. After a week I made a significant observation. Some children kept talking about how smart they were, especially in math. They wanted to do math that was hard, but were reluctant to try complex problems. When asked to explore multiple ways to approach a problem, they would often gave up easily and demanded, “Just give me the answer!” The other group of children were much more willing to tackle a tough problem. They listened to each other’s ideas, willingly questioned their own ideas, and were able to persist on a problem for long periods of time. Some of them were tentative but kept working to find solutions.

    I asked everyone in our school to make a conscious effort to think about how we give children feedback. Instead of telling children how smart they are, praise the children for effort. Everyone has gifts and talents, we just need to see them and nurture them.