Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

Monday, November 10, 2014

Developing a Growth Mindset with Your Students


Many of you know that I am very passionate about the idea and importance of a growth mindset. Heroes a guest blog from a friend of mine Mrs Becky Walker a friend and colleague who teachers in Memphis . Becky began her career in the field of education in 2000.  In addition to classroom teaching in upper elementary and middle school grade levels, she has taught gifted education and science education for grades one through six.  She has also served as a mentor teacher and instructional coach.  She is currently teaching sixth grade at Margolin Hebrew Academy in Memphis, TN.  

Here is an article she wrote for the school newsletter:

Over the summer, I read a book called Mindset by Carol Dweck (  The book centers on the two mindsets that the author identifies and explains: the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.  

Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that people are endowed with a certain level of intelligence, certain personality traits, and or even a certain moral fiber.  They don't believe that much can be done to change these things about a person.  Those with a fixed mindset are concerned about being judged and therefore strive to prove that they are worthy.  Success for them comes from proving that they are smart enough, good enough, etc.  They must be validated and often fear having their deficiencies exposed.  This fear is driven by the fixed mindset – the belief that having to work at something or (even worse) failing at something, means you aren’t smart or talented after all.  

Individuals with a growth mindset believe that success is about developing themselves.  In direct contrast to the fixed mindset, the idea is that putting forth effort is what you do to become smarter, better, etc.  This type of thinking allows people to continue to improve their minds, their skills, their talents.  Even when an outcome isn’t what they had wished for, they are able to see value in the experience, learn from their mistakes, and move forward.  This is not to say that failure isn’t just as painful for people with a growth mindset.  What is does mean, however, is that they learn to work hard and overcome obstacles, rather than letting the failure define them and destroy their self-esteem.  

So what does this have to do with sixth grade? Everything.

Dweck states that “as parent, teachers, and coaches, our mission is developing people’s potential.”  Clearly, the growth mindset is focused on doing just that.  As a teacher, I have always tried to acknowledge my students’ efforts, but this book really provided so much clarity about how and why this has such an impact. It is critical that the students know how much hard work and perseverance are valued in the classroom.  This is often a very difficult concept for students who are accustomed to catching on quickly and doing well without much effort.  If they have a fixed mindset, they may feel that being challenged –or doing anything requiring effort – means they aren’t as smart as they thought.  They may be afraid to risk failing.  

Dweck also makes a great point about “yet.”  The kids don’t come to school because they already know everything; they come to school to learn.  When they tell me that they don’t know how to do something, I remind them about “yet.”  The sixth graders and I have talked about this repeatedly throughout the year already, and it’s become a key word for us anytime they start to reach that level of discomfort that comes from being asked to try something they fear will result in failure.  I remind them that they don’t know how to do it yet, but that they are at school to learn.

Of course, it is not enough to discuss with them the need to take risks with their learning and to ask them to trust the concept of “yet.”  As their teacher, I have to provide the type of learning environment that fosters this type of classroom culture, gives students ownership of their learning, and keeps the dialogue open surrounding the concept of success.   The classroom is ours, though, not mine, and the students have been very open and willing to participate in the process of developing the classroom in this way.  Already, their growth mindsets are making a difference, and as we continue along our journey through sixth grade, I look forward to the opportunity to see them thrive.

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