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Why Is a Growth Mindset Important for Educators?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “mindset” as “the established set of attitudes held by someone.”  A person’s mindset combines their intelligence, personality and talent. The question is whether these are fixed traits or if they can be cultivated. In her decades of research on achievement and success, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D., has identified two types of mindsets: fixed and growth.

According to Dr. Dweck, people with a fixed mindset believe their qualities and talents are unchangeable. They also believe that talent is a prerequisite for success. Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, take the approach that their most basic abilities can be nurtured through hard work and dedication.

Talented people achieve great things through practice and dedication. Students’ brains and talent are just a starting point. Dr. Dweck’s research findings have shown a connection between learning and growing.

The Growth Mindset in Education

Teachers tend to praise students’ smarts. However, this feedback promotes the fixed mindset and limits learning. In “Developing a Growth Mindset in Teachers and Staff,” Keith Heggart says that teachers taking a growth-mindset approach recognize students’ hard work and the process they used to arrive at the solution.

It is important to understand that encouraging a growth mindset takes more than effort. Effort is one part of the equation. The other part requires learning from the things students have tried that did not work and encouraging them to explore more ideas to test. Educators adopting a growth mindset must view it as a journey that requires follow-through.

With all things being equal, Dr. Dweck’s study has shown that praising students’ actions and efforts leads them to undertake more challenges and succeed. On the other hand, students with a fixed mindset believe they are not smart enough and cannot do anything to change it. Therefore, they are unlikely to tackle challenges, feeling it is pointless to try.

Teachers can benefit from the growth mindset, too. Heggart shares four ways to accomplish this:

  • Model the growth mindset: Like students, teachers are capable of learning and improving. Teachers learn how to model the growth mindset for their students.
  • Try new things and make mistakes: A growth mindset involves testing new ideas and approaches. Rather than focusing on whether the idea or approach will succeed or fail, work to learn from the process.
  • Review learnings: To create space for new ideas, it is important to include time for reflection. Teachers reflect on what they have learned from the process.
  • Use formative feedback: Formative feedback is provided on an ongoing basis and helps students — and teachers — improve as they go. Summative assessments, like midterm exams or final projects for students, and performance reviews for teachers, assess the student’s or teacher’s performance at the end of an instructional unit or school year. Switching from summative feedback to formative feedback enables continuous improvement for students and teachers. It therefore makes the feedback more meaningful and applicable.

Encouraging the school and staff to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset will not happen overnight. Educational leaders who understand the effectiveness of the growth mindset can start by learning how to provide effective feedback.

They can enroll in professional development courses or graduate courses like Feedback and Goal Setting in the Northwest Missouri State University online Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction.

How can educators implement a growth mindset in their classrooms? “Let’s legitimize the fixed mindset,” Dr. Dweck answers in Education Week. “Let’s acknowledge that (1) we’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, (2) we will probably always be, and (3) if we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to stay in touch with our fixed-mindset thoughts and deeds.”

Learn more about Northwest Missouri State University’s Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction online.


Education Week: Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’

Edutopia: Developing a Growth Mindset in Teachers and Staff


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