What is Growth Mindset?

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The term growth mindset is on fire in educational circles today.

What does it actually mean?

The true definition of growth mindset has been investigated for decades. With the original intent of researching how individuals responded to failure in mind, Dr. Carol Dweck was able to determine that there are two different mindsets, a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Each one of them directly influences how someone responds to failure and what his or her position will be moving forward.

A fixed mindset believes the mantra, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset”. Only those with a fixed mindset often are unable to cope with even small negative events in their lives and don’t see a way to grow from the experience.

A growth mindset would be more apt to adopt the mantra, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Those who have a growth mindset, they have more of a mentality to put in the work and whatever situation is handed to them can be an opportunity for reflection and growth, and thus more success.

This then begs to ask the question of whether or not you can train a person to have a different mindset.

It is clear that having a growth mindset is more beneficial to all parties involved. Setbacks happen in life and having the proper mindset to move forward from those setbacks, seeing them as opportunities for growth, will make all the difference in future success.

People and fun, group of male and female school kids with young woman working as educator playing game outdoor

Teaching Growth Mindset to Students

The first way to address this change in mindset is to discuss the elephant in the room of almost every classroom:

It’s okay to fail.

Every time I have ever said that to a student, the looks of shock I was met with always made me chuckle.

The main reason is that the idea of what failure looks like varies.

By teaching your students it is okay to fail does not mean you are condoning failure. Poor preparation and a lachrymose attitude towards responsibility do not equate being “okay”.

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However, taking a risk and it not going as planned? Totally fine if you can learn from it moving forward.

If it means you will be able to do something better in the future because of the discomfort of the present, then it is worth it.

How do we teach that to our students who are often so afraid of failure…or afraid of even trying for fear that they may fail? (Spoiler alert…this is the underlying issue with many of our poor performing students).

Growth Mindset Through Goal Setting

I have always been big in having my students set goals for themselves. Since my very first year of teaching, I would have the students set a goal for the year that I would tuck away and then give back to them at the end of the term. Some hit their mark, some didn’t, but they were all excited to see what their “younger” selves had said.

This excitement is what helped me to develop my growth mindset through reflection year-long activity.

This activity not only allows students to set goals for themselves but also allows them to check-in on their progress as the term moves forward. There’s an opportunity to regroup if their accomplishments have been subpar and also the opportunity to strive for more if they are doing well.

items in teaching growth mindset self-reflection activity

My favorite is working with the grade check contract. I have individual, private meetings with each student in the class, some who receive the grade check contract and others that receive the mid-term goal sheet.

You would be shocked at how many students own the situation when you can speak to them privately in a non-threatening environment. I call the students out at random so there is no sign as to which category they fall into (though they all sit in class and try to figure out what my strategy is!).

The students who fill out the grade check contract really do put a lot of thought into it and let their guard down when discussing the options with you.

grade check contract example

It’s seriously my favorite.

The best part is when it is the end of the term and I fulfill their requests. I usually have them all lined up on my whiteboard ledge before the students walk into class. Their eyes light up if they see their prize.

There is always at least one student who exclaims, “You actually got the stuff for us?!”, which brings itself a whole different level of questions….how many teachers in their lives haven’t followed through with a promise to them that this seems absolutely foreign?

If you want to really help your students set goals, have a solid growth mindset, and also the ability to track their progress, I would highly suggest this activity. It is great for the students and you as well. You can check it out for your own use here.

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