7 Steps to Adopting a Growth Mindset at Your School

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You have no doubt seen the “growth vs. fixed mindset” movement come across your inbox or Twitter feed. But what does this mean for you and your school?

If you’ve never experienced the growth mindset, it might not mean much to you. The reality is that once you have seen students (and teachers) embrace this unique mindset, then you become fully convinced of its value. As a principal, I worked with a teacher who taught and led the with a growth mindset. The difference it made with her students was astonishing. Each of them began to see themselves as mathematicians, solving problems and taking on challenges beyond what they might have otherwise. They pushed themselves and each other with with language like, “What are we missing?” and “How can we learn from the mistake we made on this the first time?”

The whole idea of growth mindset applies to the staff at your school as well. Do teachers constantly look for ways to improve their teaching based on the failures they have seen? Do you hear teachers say, “I can definitely do better on that next time.” As educators, we need to consciously change our mindset to move away from a fixed mindset and toward one of continual growth.

The growth mindset movement began with the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck found that a person who maintains a “growth mindset” thrives on challenges and sees failure as a chance to grow. Her work began after she encountered a Chicago high school that used the term, “Not Yet” if a student didn’t meet the expectations for the class. The absence of a failing grade allows the student to see what they are doing as a learning journey.

Here are some ways to adopt a growth mindset at your school:

1 – Desire

Students who have a fixed mindset desire to see themselves as smart in every situation and look to prove themselves. On the contrary, students with a growth mindset stretch themselves, looking to take risks and meet challenges head on.

Encourage your students to take risks by rewarding the process, not the outcome. If there is a negative response to failure, they won’t even attempt challenging tasks.

2 – Evaluation of Situations

A fixed mindset evaluates each situation as a possibility of failure, deciding whether or not they are willing to risk failure. A growth mindset wonders if the experience will allow them to grow and asks themselves, “Will this help me overcome something I have struggled with in the past?”

Encourage your students to evaluate situations challenge themselves and take risks (within reason, of course). Charge them with assessing their outcomes. What made them succeed or fail? What should be changed next time?

3 – Dealing with Setbacks

The perspective of a person with a fixed mindset sees a setback as evidence of failure or lack of intelligence, while the growth mindset embraces the bumps and hurdles along the way and continues in their efforts.

Embrace the power of “Yet” in your classroom by encouraging students to look for “Plan B” when they experience a setback.

4 – Challenges

Challenges become something that causes us to give up when approached with a fixed mindset. The students that sees the task with a growth mindset embraces the challenge and resists the temptation to give up, instead thriving on the opportunity to grow.

Allow your students additional time and supports on challenging tasks. When two minds come together the problem becomes easier to solve.

5 – Effort

A task that calls for an extra amount of effort causes a student with a fixed mindset to question whether or not it is worth the effort. Tasks requiring more effort are seen as a chance to grow since effort is a function of learning for students with a growth mindset.

Develop a culture of open-mindedness. Recognize the attempts that students make as progress toward a goal with reinforcing language like, “How can you use what you have so far to move on to the next step of the process.”

6 – Criticism

A student or teacher with a fixed mindset ignores constructive criticism, instead relying on what they think they already know about themselves. A growth mindset is open to constructive criticism, knowing that it gives an opportunity for improvement.

Help your students to understand how to support each other, instead of telling someone that they can’t do something, be solutions focused with questions such as, “have you thought about trying it this way…?”

7 – Success of Others

Those with a fixed mindset are threatened by the success of peers, thinking it means that they have failed. If students have a growth mindset, they look for inspiration in other’s success, viewing it as an opportunity to learn from them.

Study some of the great thinkers of our time. One of my favorites is from Star Wars when Luke Skywalker says, “I don’t believe” and Yoda replies, ”That is why you fail.” Celebrate the success of others, like this young boy after he learns to ride his bike, Boy Gives Speech after Learning to Ride His Bike.

10 Growth Mindset Statements

Now, what do you do with this information? The ideals of the growth mindset need to be part of all of your conversations. Growth mindset needs to be the language of the entire school – from the School Board to the students. My dad always told me, “What you don’t know could fill the depths of the oceans, go back and figure out the why of everything.” I look back on that and smile – he was helping me see any challenge as a chance to learn or experience more. That attitude and perspective needs to be part of everything we do in our schools.

When students understand that abilities are developed, they more readily adopt learning-oriented behaviors that enable them to achieve their goals. Learn more about how the growth mindset can lead to different behaviors and results…

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