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3 Ways Educators Can Promote a Growth Mindset

Students with a growth mindset outperform others in the face of setbacks.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

Students with a growth mindset believe intelligence is malleable and increases with hard work. Students with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is predetermined and immobile. What’s interesting is not who is right, but who performs better.

Studies show that those with a growth mindset outperform others in academic achievement, academic risk-taking, and resiliency in the face of setbacks. Why? The same reason you dress up before a first date or fold in a game of poker: If you think greater effort will have a greater effect, you step up. If you think success is beyond your control, you do less.

The importance of the research is undeniable. Growth mindset leads to motivation, which leads to greater academic growth. (For more about the relationship between intelligence and motivation, check out “Stop Praising Kids for Being Smart.”)

If brief interventions from research studies demonstrate lasting change, imagine what happens when teachers and school leaders develop systems meant to nurture a growth mindset for an entire year?

To study a wide and diverse array of subjects, researchers design interventions that can be quickly and easily administered (often by graduate students). Psychologists and researchers do not have the perspective those in education do, which is continued exposure to the exact same student population for an academic year.

How then can educators leverage their position to take growth mindset to the next level?

(1) Promote self-efficacy, the psychological term for when a person feels that success is within their reach. For some classrooms that could mean trackers for objective mastery, but for others, it could be filling in a weekly bar graph for all quiz grades. Rigor is good but only if self-efficacy is not lost in the process. Self-efficacy is the foundation for a growth mindset.

(2) Expose students to different topics to cultivate interest. Both you and I may believe our trombone skills can improve with dedication, but you may opt to spend your Thursday evening playing volleyball, while I might try out a new waffle recipe. We have different interests. Students may find reading, writing, and even math problems more interesting if they compare America and Norway’s prison systems, examine the effects of stereotypes, or create FBI profiles of criminals. The content is equally as important as the skills cultivated by our leasson.

(3) Create relevancy by connecting learning to long-term aspirations. Students need to see their academic goals aligned to their future goals. Poetry may be a great way to build compassion and perspective, but our students who want to be social workers, nonprofit founders, and journalists may need their teachers to help make that connection. (For a greater discussion of student motivation, check out my blog Teach to Impassion.)

Believing your intelligence improves with effort is an important part of the student success equation, but there are other important parts, and it’s up to educators like us to find the best ways to promote them all.

Growth mindset is only a piece of the puzzle that motivates humans. When we became teachers, few of us were interested solely in academic achievement. Instead, we want students to become addicted to the self-satisfaction that comes from reaching ambitious goals. We want student identity-development and learning to be so interconnected that to promote one necessarily means to promote the other.

As a community dedicated toward educational equity, let’s recognize the importance of growth mindset research, yet take its implementation to ambitious, unseen heights. 

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