Most educators can easily answer, “Why is a growth mindset important?” Even if you are still in the process of earning your education degree, you can identify when students are flexible in how they respond to difficulties. You know they will be creative in their search for new approaches. A growth mindset is revealed in the optimism and perseverance students exhibit when tackling a challenge.
You can also spot when a student is displaying a fixed mindset. Their thinking is more rigid around their capabilities. They believe they are unequivocally bad or good at tasks. This difference highlights the real importance of a growth mindset — that students can embody growth mindset attitudes even when they once had fixed beliefs about themselves.
Fixed Mindset Versus Growth Mindset
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck coined the idea of a growth mindset.1 She studied the idea that our beliefs about ourselves and, especially, our ability to rethink those beliefs can have a profound impact on our lives. A major part of this growth mindset research was related to what we consider personality.
A fixed mindset about our personality assumes that things like our creativity, intelligence and moral character are static and cannot be changed. This belief structure assumes that any success we have is due to our inherent intelligence or ability. People with a fixed mindset strive for success to prove this sense of being smart or capable. They avoid failure at all costs to look good in front of others.
A growth mindset assumes that our personalities can change and grow. People with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity to learn and try something new. Challenges can be a way to learn more about the world around us or to stretch our capabilities. A person with a growth mindset believes they can learn what they do not already know rather than assuming that they will never be good at something or that they are not smart enough to do something.
Both a fixed mindset and a growth mindset can manifest at an early age. When they do, these mindsets can control many of our future behaviors. They also strongly affect how we deal with both success and failure in personal and professional situations.
The type of mindset a person has can affect their level of happiness. A person with a growth mindset will reveal a passion for learning, whereas a person with a fixed mindset hungers for the approval of others. People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and creativity, as well as things like love and friendship, can be grown and cultivated with practice and time. They are less likely to be discouraged by failure because they reframe challenges as learning opportunities. This allows them to feel happy and content.
The Importance of a Growth Mindset for Students
Since a growth mindset is developed in young children, students need to understand how to develop a growth mindset. When children believe that their abilities can be developed, they can then understand that their natural intelligence and talent are just the beginning. They can work toward whatever goals they have and develop the skills and qualities that they aspire to possess.
Some students with a fixed mindset may believe that the high achievers in their classes are naturally gifted, but as an educator, you know that this is usually not the case. High-achieving students put in the work, too. Helping students understand that hard work, effort, time, patience and thoughtful determination can make a difference in achievement can show them how to develop their persistence. They need to understand that they are capable of whatever they set their mind to, as long as they are willing to continue striving.
Teachers do not need to simply stress the importance of a growth mindset. They can also help to develop it by sharing information about brain plasticity. Researchers have shown that the connections between neurons in our brain can change as we grow and gain experience. These new connections not only add to the neural networks but also speed up the transmission of electrical signals in the brain. Strategies such as asking questions and challenging ourselves can also build neural pathways.
When students understand how their brains can grow, they may be more willing to try new experiences. Teach students that any time they experience something unique or ask questions about topics they might not already know about, they are physically growing their brains. This means they are building their intelligence and establishing a growth mindset. Research has shown that when seventh graders were taught about brain plasticity and that intelligence is something they can grow, their math grades improved.2
It is usually easy to determine which students in a classroom demonstrate a growth mindset. Teachers may see these growth mindset characteristics in some students:
- Asking questions when they don't know about a topic
- Eagerly diving into challenging projects
- Persevering when they come across a roadblock
- Putting in effort or trying things multiple times
- Listening to feedback and applying it
- Getting inspired by the achievements of others
Helping Students Develop a Growth Mindset
A student with a growth mindset will work toward their goals, even when that work is challenging. They will perhaps even purposefully pursue topics that are challenging because of the learning that results. Students with a growth mindset persist despite failure and are more likely to see failure as a stepping stone in the learning process. A growth mindset can result in reaching higher levels of achievement than peers with fixed mindsets who often plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.
The good news is that when teachers recognize that a student is operating with a fixed mindset, there are things they can do to help change these thought patterns.
1. Share the Research
Students who are taught about how memory works and how the brain can grow show increased effort and motivation compared with students who do not receive the same training.
2. Watch What You Say
Teachers can influence mindset by giving specific types of feedback. General praise about intelligence, such as saying, “You are so smart!” can negatively affect motivation and achievement. Instead, give praise for effort, rather than innate intelligence, to encourage students to progress and show more challenge-seeking behaviors.
3. Honor Student Abilities
Educators often see a fixed mindset in mathematics. Traditionally, math algorithms are taught as the only way to solve a problem, which ignores the problem-solving techniques students often start with. Teachers can begin math lessons by sharing open-ended problems and asking students to share their strategies rather than teaching only one way to solve the problem.
4. Create Opportunities to Fail
A growth mindset develops when students have to respond to challenges. By presenting challenging activities, teachers can allow students to struggle and fail in a safe, supportive environment. Some classroom activities that support a growth mindset in this way might be projects such as building bridges or towers out of unique materials like noodles or toothpicks. These challenges permit students to think critically about a problem and develop new strategies if they fail. Make sure to offer students multiple attempts at these activities, so they can build on each opportunity to learn and change their methodology.
5. Model Your Own Growth Mindset
When you talk about yourself to students, make sure you are modeling a growth mindset. Tell them about times you struggled with a task, kept trying and eventually succeeded. Be sure to highlight failures in your life and explain to students how you grow and learn from them.
6. Embrace Imperfection
Teachers who want to help their students develop a growth mindset should include feedback around imperfections in student evaluation. Instead of dismissing imperfection as undesirable, a teacher can celebrate the challenges that students have gone through and help them reflect on the growth that they have made.
7. Build a Supportive Community
One reason a fixed mindset persists is that people are afraid of looking foolish in front of others. When a teacher builds a supportive classroom community, students are willing to be brave in the face of new challenges. This can help them develop a growth mindset because they care more about learning than about looking good in front of their peers.
8. Teach Students What to Do With Feedback
Developing a growth mindset is rooted in the ability to learn from mistakes, failures and challenges. However, if a student does not know how to receive feedback, they may have difficulty moving forward and implementing change. Be explicit about how to handle feedback to promote a growth mindset.
9. Embrace the Process
Teachers who include more process-oriented activities can help build a growth mindset in students. By valuing the process rather than the result, teachers show students that they can learn and make changes at any point along the way.
The Importance of a Growth Mindset for Educators
Like students, teachers also need to develop a growth mindset. To do so, you may need help from your school administrators or mentors in your education degree program. Some strategies that you might ask your school administrator to consider include:
1. Professional Development
The growth mindset is a popular concept in education and many professional development courses teach educators how to model a growth mindset with their students. You may even be able to take growth mindset coursework when earning your education degree. Studying this topic can help you become aware of your mindset and learn more about how to bring a growth mindset to work and your students. Teachers can improve their pedagogical practice by developing a growth mindset and believing they can overcome the challenges that they face in the classroom.
2. Participation in Leadership
Teachers who never try, never fail. If a teacher continues with the same practices they have used for their entire career, they are not demonstrating a growth mindset. A school administrator can encourage teachers to step out of their comfort zones by asking for their feedback about campus-related issues. By asking teachers to think creatively about how to solve problems that affect the campus, administrators are asking teachers to try new approaches. When teachers come to problem-solving and decision-making with a growth mindset, they can help make the school a better place whether their ideas are implemented or not.
School administrators can ask teachers to reflect on their teaching experiences. A growth mindset is often developed upon reflection. When a teacher considers something that went well, they may want to keep doing it. Conversely, when they reflect on something that did not go well, they can think about what needs to change. You can include self-reflection as part of your daily or weekly lesson planning process to determine the parts of your teaching practice that need to change. When administrators implement this practice school-wide, they are demonstrating the importance of a growth mindset.
4. Formative Reviews
Many teachers dread the end-of-year performance review. These summative reviews give them information about their teaching practice when it is too late to implement changes with the current class of students. The teacher does not have enough time to change their practice based on feedback. Instead of relying only on reviews at the end of the year, school leadership could provide many formative evaluations throughout the year so that teachers can reflect on their practice and make the changes that they need to feel more successful.
When you earn your teaching degree at Grand Canyon University, you will learn many techniques to help develop a growth mindset in your students and develop classrooms full of confident, adventurous students who are ready to learn from every opportunity. Learn more about Grand Canyon University’s College of Education and our degree programs and join our efforts to elevate the education profession.
1Stanford News, New study yields instructive results on how mindset affects learning, in July 2021.
2Youcubed, Ability and Mathematics: the mindset revolution that is reshaping education, in July 2021.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.