Growth Mindset – Why not!?

How many of you have come across a student who is “at risk”?  At risk students are those that are in danger of not being successful and there are many factors that play into this: bad attendance or behavior, ELL, ESL, pregnancy, poor grades, perform poorly on standardized tests, and the list goes on.  Some of these students might even be the brightest in your class but just have issues that effect their ability to learn and grow.

How do we reach these students and provide a learning environment that fosters relationships, learning, and growth?  Have you ever heard about the growth mindset that was developed by Carol Dweck?  Some of you have and some of you have not.  For those that have not heard about the growth mindset I would encourage you to take 10 minutes and watch Carol Dweck give a TEDTalk speech.  It is the growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset.  In summary, the idea is that those who BELIEVE that they can perform will perform BETTER  than those who do not.

Duh right?  Most would agree that you have to believe to achieve, but if it was that easy then we would not be taking the time to talk about it.  Have you ever come across a student who just does not believe in themselves?  They come in all shapes, sizes, genders, ethnic backgrounds, you name it, there are some students who just do not believe.  Turning the corner with these students requires you to be humble, dedicated, patient, and also take the time to learn about their background.

As educators, we spend more time with some of our students than their parents do so besides teaching them it is crucial that we build strong relationships with them.  This will enable us to be much more successful in impacting student growth but also make us better educators.

The power of the growth mindset is that it encourages you to look at the way you carry yourself, offer feedback, support, and talk to your students.  In order for it to be successful, we need to make sure that we first dedicate ourselves to representing our communities, schools, and maybe most importantly ourselves, in a positive way.  Can you look at yourself in the mirror and say that you do this?

The growth mindset will help to cultivate these positive learning environments and foster connections with our students that will last a life time.  The challenge is that as educators you need to be committed to the growth mindset if you are going to use it.  I feel that is something that most people do not understand.  I believe that the growth mindset not only can help our students grow but also ourselves as educators.

We have discussed how this mindset could help those at risk or even those who are classified to have a disability, but what about those who are not?  I mentioned previously that some students have potential but lack the confidence to show it because it is not always “cool” to be smart.  What about our gifted students?  A growth mindset can still apply because the challenge for them is that they are ahead of the game so we need to encourage them to push the boundaries and challenge them to more advanced tasks.  This will allow them to still grow while still following the mindset.  For me the growth mindset is not the overall solution – it is an idea rooted in the foundation of learning.

I do not know about you but I have always learned better from positive, encouraging people vs. those who discourage or say things like, “Not everyone is good at math, just do your best”, is that supposed to motivate me to do better?  No, that allows kids to settle for mediocrity.  The growth mindset can apply to students of all learning levels, it is up to you on how you use it.

Now there are also arguments against the growth mindset.  Hattie shows that it only has an impact value of .19 and according to his scale, it is ideal if methods/strategies have at least an impact value of .4 to really make a difference.  Another challenge is that as educators you need to be committed to the growth mindset if you are going to use it.  It will not work if you do not commit to 100% and I feel that is something that most people do not understand.  The final comes from a parent.  In her article she proposes the fixed mindset for those who are gifted and talented.  Another great idea and she finishes discussing the weaknesses of each but again I say that any of these mindset are just about changing the way we think.  We still need blended learning, personalized learning, LMS systems, and other things along side of the growth mindset to impact growth.

I believe the growth mindset will help to cultivate these positive learning environments and foster connections with our students that will last a life time.  The challenge is, that as educators, you need to be committed.  If you dedicate yourself to improving how you support, offer feedback, teach, and communicate with your students this will have an impact.  This, I feel, is something that most people do not understand.  The say they have a growth mindset, regenerate a lesson design and offer great feedback for a day, week, or even a unit but that simply is just not enough.

What could be the harm in committing to provide great feedback in a timely manner, provide support both educationally and emotionally, encourage them through thick and thin to never give up, demonstrate how to be a positive role model and treat others equally, and then finally to believe in themselves.  When a person can do all of the above then they gain a sense of self worth and with that comes confidence.  This article, “3 Things Students Desire to Hear From Their Teachers” by Dr. Lori Desautel, states the things are: Believe, Purpose, and Question Me.  These all relate to the growth mindset.  It certainly is not the only way to impact growth, many other factors contribute to it as well, but if all we need to do is support our students 100%, whether they are gifted, special ed, at risk, or a “normal” student, then I say let’s do it!  Why not, what is the harm in that!?

Additional Resources:

Nurturing Growth Mindsets: Six Tips From Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’

Creating the Context for Growth Mindsets in the Classroom

Teaching Kids to Struggle #GrowthMindset

Why a ‘Growth Mindset’ Won’t Work

The Problem With Having a ‘Growth Mindset’


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