Expanding Mindsets

Apr 16, 2017 by

The growth mindset applies to school culture, not just students.

Understanding the Growth Mindset

In 2006, Carol Dweck published Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.   The book details how students’ perceptions of their own learning abilities relate to their achievement level.  In the Dweck’s words, “students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset).” The growth mindset paradigm views education as a process where skills are developed through experience and aptitude is realized through risk.

Mindset in the Classroom

For students, resolve and determination become important concepts when adapting the growth mindset.  The term “grit” is used often by advocates of the concept.  Challenges are to be understood as opportunities for learning.  It is understood that learning can be hard and take significant effort.  One of the earliest and most difficult concepts for students to grasp when transitioning to the growth mindset is the normalcy of mistakes, especially when students are working on difficult materials.  This approach requires classroom teachers to engage in ongoing reflective practice to assess and adapt to their changing students.  The teacher employing the growth mindset will analyze their own approaches and reach out to others for feedback and advice.  Ultimately, the growth mindset is more than pedagogy, classroom management or curriculum.  It represents a shift in school culture at all levels.

Beyond the Classroom

As a cultural system, the growth mindset requires school leaders to be mindful of how they approach many aspects of school administration.   When hiring new teachers, it’s fundamental basis of effective school leadership to find faculty and staff willing to challenge students at all levels.  Professional development opportunities that train teachers on new ways to develop the growth mindset are widely available and should be a priority if that is the mission and vision of the school.  In dealings with parents, be considerate of how the growth mindset may contradict the emphasis on outcomes they likely experienced as students.  Continuous conversations with parents and the community by keeping them in the loop is important to garnering their support. Be prepared for an ongoing conversation with all school shareholders regarding why praise is the reward for facing challenges as well as displaying talent.

Problems with the Program

The growth mindset perspective is not without detractors.  Carol Dweck herself has acknowledged the dangers of “false growth mindset” where the concept is advocated in word, but not deed. For example, parents may support the idea of a growth mindset, but still take punitive action when their child does poorly on a test, as opposed to collaborating with the child to develop a plan to better or somehow otherwise master the material.  Prominent and prolific education author Alfie Kohn has leveled criticism at the vague nature of mindset perspective.  In his view, growth mindset education fails to address the systemic problems with education and is ultimately another variation of the “carrot or stick” model.

Mindset Impact

The buzz over positive mindset in education has been building for over a decade.  The concept is widely accepted by individual educators and administrators and has been adopted by schools as an overarching cultural initiative. Asking students, teachers and school leaders to continually improve themselves through challenge is not always an easy task, but there are studies indicating that changing the fixed mindset is critical for student achievement.  It is one small step at a time. The concept holds real promise for breaking the frustrating chain of generational poverty.  But make no mistake about it, this is much more than a simple shift in classroom practice.  The adaptation of the growth mindset is a cultural paradigm requiring a commitment from all education shareholders, especially school leaders.

Keywords: Carol Dweck, growth mindset, education leaders, cultural shift, educational paradigms

Comment Below if your school or district has intiatited any Growth Mindset Principles.


Claro, S., Paunesku, D., & Dweck, C. S. (May 25, 2016). Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Retrieved from: http://web.stanford.edu/~paunesku/articles/claro_2016.pdf

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books/about/Mindset.html?id=fT6U0Ee7_kQC

Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’. Education Week, Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html?cmp=cpc-goog-ew-dynamic+ads&ccid=dynamic+ads&ccag=growth+mindset+dynamic&cckw=_inurl%3Arevisits-the-growth-mindset.html&cccv=dynamic+ad&gclid=Cj0KEQiAuonGBRCaotXoycy

Kohn, A. (2015, August 16). The perils of “Growth Mindset” education: Why we’re trying to fix our kids when we should be fixing the system. Retrieved from: http://www.salon.com/2015/08/16/the_education_fad_thats_hurting_our_kids_what_you_need_to_know_about_growth_mindset_theory_and_the_harmful_lessons_it_imparts/

Meier, J. D. (2017). 10 Big Ideas from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Sources of Insight. Retrieved from: http://sourcesofinsight.com/10-big-ideas-from-mindset-the-new-psychology-of-success/

Schwartz, Katrina. (July, 2016). A Growth Mindset Could Buffer Kids From Negative Academic Effects of Poverty. Mind Shift. Retrieved from: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/07/26/a-growth-mindset-could-buffer-kids-from-negative-academic-effects-of-poverty/

Ziegler, B. (2017, January 27). 7 Reasons School Leaders Need a Growth Mindset. Retrieved from corwin-connect.com: http://corwin-connect.com/2017/01/7-reasons-school-leaders-need-growth-mindset/

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Barry Stern

    In a previous post to this newsletter I indicated how Berkeley HS (CA) moved toward a growth mindset almost 40 years ago. They created a course to help students deal with issues of current concern to them – drug abuse, police-youth relations, race relations, human sexuality, interpersonal relations. Students helped determine what they would study and how and how their work would be evaluated. Here is the link to the post:

    • Wafa Hozien, Ph.D. Senior Contributor EducationViews.org

      Thank you Barry for sharing and for that comment. I enjoyed reading your OpEd piece and the strategies that you employed are timely and relevant in connecting with students in today’s world.