The Growth Mindset: Key for Students . . . and Teachers!

“Becoming is better than Being”

Carol Dweck

Okay, if you’ve read my blogs before, that’s right you two, I’m referring to you,  you know I am a big fan of Carol Dweck’s.  Her work on mindsets is magnificent and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  Evergreen People, drop me a line and you can borrow my copy although it is a bit dog eared.  Carol, as her good friends call her (I am not one but I am quite sure she would like me if we met) stresses the importance of developing a growth mindset.  A growth mindset is a way of thinking about yourself as a learner.  A person with a growth mindset would believe that with enough perseverance and energy, they could achieve excellence.  This even supports Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of putting in 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.  Although there is a natural predisposition to excellence in some, it is almost ALWAYS accompanied by practice.

The opposite of the growth mindset is fixed mindset.  Carol would suggest that people who work under the impression that intelligence is fixed reside here.  If you were born smart, you’re smart.  Hard work, although valuable in getting things done, does not affect intelligence at all.  People with a fixed mindset have a tendency to give up much more quickly if they do not understand something.  Why? It reflects on their intelligence and them not being able to accomplish something easily means they lack intelligence.  “I can’t do this, I’m not intelligent enough.”may be their mantra.  In the same light, high achievers may not take risks in their learning as they may not succeed right off, and that would reflect on their natural intelligence.

As I read Carol’s book, it really struck me how important it is for schools to help students develop growth mindsets.  As teachers we’ve all seen it.  A diligent student will fail at an assignment and work doubly hard to succeed the next time, just because somewhere they have learned that perseverance pays off.  In turn, we have also seen high achieving students do less well on an assignment and have a breakdown as this goes against their natural belief in their predisposition to understand without hard work.  I have heard time after time, teachers remind their classes that with hard work, they can accomplish anything.  That is a great example of us trying to instill a growth mindset in our youth.

Teachers . . . it’s time to take out your professional practices and look in the mirror under the harsh light of your perceptions of intelligence.  Do you believe that you can get better as a teacher if you work at it?  If so, what are you doing to improve?  Are you constantly evolving your practice, throwing away those timeless practices that just aren’t working any more and replacing them with other strategies you’ve learned through your research?  Are you part of positive group, like a PLC, who meet and look deeply at learning and engagement?  As a person who believes in growing with hard work, are you working to improve your instruction?

Or . . . are you just a great teacher because you have a knack with kids?  You were born social and really get kids . . . it comes naturally.  PD and self reflection are for the weak.  Under the light of a growth mindset, that just doesn’t hold water.  While you may well have a gift with relationship, you need to work to develop mastery.  Some of the practices that you learned while  you were a rookie teacher just aren’t best practice anymore.  What worked in 1989 doesn’t always work as our students have changed so dramatically with the infusion of technology.  We need to grow to adopt to the new reality of learning.

The Point I am trying to make is this, work hard and be fearless in your endeavour to improve.  Develop a growth mindset in regards to your teaching.  We can all get  better.  As Carol says “becoming is better than being“.

Keep on learning



Interesting Reads

Mindsets - Carol Dweck
Teaching Boys who struggle in School - Kathleen Palmer Cleveland
Drive - Daniel Pink
Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell



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  1. Cindy Escott

    I’m a huge fan of this book as well, Dave! That’s why we had great chats in our Book Club on staff. While I think a lot of people “get” the merit of the growth mindset, I still believe there are a lot of people who gravitate to the fixed mindset just out of habit. This is a good reminder for everyone to not only look at what we say to students but also what we say to ourselves. We can really do anything we set our minds to – it may take longer and perhaps won’t be as pretty as we expect, but with some hard work, we can do it! Thanks for the reminder!

    • davedempsey

      I agree whole heartedly with your statement that most people, even people who understand the concept of mindsets, slip right into the traditional belief of fixed IQ and ability when they are in the day to day roles. That being said, how dangerous is that for teachers? We can close doors for kids a little too easily when we slip into that mindset. What I really hope for my kids, all kids actually, is that they are in classroom environmenst that are open enough to allow them to pursue their strengths and are supported in doing so. These open environments may well take the teachers away from being the sole person who decides the “ability” of the child and allows them to set the bar for themselves, creating and pushing in areas that they are actually drawn too. These environments give children the freedom to grow as they can and may stop the ability grouping that comes naturally in a classroom.

      In fairness, I think more and more educators see the importance of choice in the empowerment of learners. Let’s let our kids find their own passions and pursue them with the mindset that if they really pursue something, they can succeed.


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