Growth Mindset In the Classroom and at Home

Growth Mindset Gives Hope

By Annette Benedetti

“Kevin struggles in school, we are just hoping he graduates. Sarah’s the smart one in our family. I wonder which college she will choose.”

Does this sound like something you heard when you were a child? Perhaps your friends have said similar things about their children—or maybe you have caught yourself saying or thinking similar types of things about your own kids. According to the renowned Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, thoughts like these are a result of being stuck in a fixed mindset.

The mindset is a groundbreaking concept developed by Dweck and her colleagues after studying the behavior of thousands of children. She coined the term “mindset” to describe the underlying beliefs people have about their potential for learning and intelligence. According to Dweck, there are two types of mindsets: fixed oriented and growth oriented.

The IQ tests that many of us took to prove how smart we were long before we had made our way through grade school, is a perfect example of fixed mindset, which is the belief that one’s basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are static traits, and that regardless of how hard one works they do not change.

In contrast, growth mindset, which is being embraced by educators in Central Oregon and across the country, is the belief that an individual’s abilities and traits can be developed with hard work and dedication. This is supported by recent research on brain plasticity, which has shown that experience and practice can cause neural networks to grow new connections, strengthen existing ones and speed up transmission impulse.

The mindset concept may seem insignificant, but Dweck argues that an individual’s mindset sets the stage for them to be either performance-goal oriented or learning- goal oriented—especially in the classroom. According to Dweck, individuals with a fixed mindset are likely to have the desire to look smart and so they are more likely to avoid challenging work that they may not easily excel at.

On the other hand, individuals who embrace the growth mindset value learning and are more likely to pursue interesting and challenging tasks that will result in gained knowledge and experience.

Robi Phinney, Principal at La Pine Middle School, is passionate about the growth mindset concept and how it can be applied in classrooms. She says, “Learning takes effort and when challenges arise students have to learn how to persevere to reach different goals.” She believes that the child’s mindset can mean the difference between them choosing to take a risk and raising their hand to offer an idea or ask a question, or remain quiet. Phinney says that teachers have to have embraced growth mindset in order for it to be part of their classroom. “That means that they must take risks themselves and be open to trying new teaching methodologies, collaborating with peers, and seeking feedback through peer reviews…” she says.

In an effort to help her teachers incorporate growth mindset, Phinney provides regular training and learning opportunities on the concept. She says that in the past she has offered to pur- chase Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” for her staff as part of a book club; she has also invited guest speakers like Kendra Coats, D.Ed., Early Learning Curriculum Developer & Professional Learning Specialist for Mindset Works. And on a weekly basis, Phinney sends her staff articles and includes pieces that help them understand and incorporate the concept into their daily work.

The following are three concrete ways teachers (and parents) can encourage a growth mindset at school (and at home):

  1. Teach students that mistakes are ok. Mistakes are part of learning —we all make them. Teachers can help kids honor their mistakes by rst admitting to their own.
  2. Promote the power of yet. When a student is struggling or makes a mistake say, “It’s ok. Maybe you didn’t get it today, but you’ll get there—you’re just not there yet.”
  3. Give real life examples like learning to ride a bike. Ask them questions like, “When you learned to ride a bike did you just get on a bike and ride or did you work towards it?”
  4. Praise students based on their efforts instead of their fixed intelligence. Instead of saying, “Wow Jason you’re so smart!” say, “Wow Jason you really tried hard on this.” And then ask, “What are you most proud of?”


When asked what she found most exciting about the growth mindset concept, Phinney says, “I’m most excited that it gives kids hope, and that’s something we can measure with the Gallup survey in our district.”


With the Gallup survey as a measuring post and increased hope as a goal, it’s hard to argue with positive results. After all, as Phinney points out, “If you have hope at the end of the day, it makes tomorrow a whole lot easier.”



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