What is the Growth Mindset?

A growth mindset is an essential concept that all schools should foster. This mindset emphasises that abilities and intelligence can be developed, leading to better learning outcomes. 

We explain what a growth mindset is, why it matters so much and how teachers and schools can cultivate it in their classrooms.

What Does “Growth Mindset” Actually Mean?

The term “growth mindset” was coined by psychologist Dr Carol Dweck. She conducted groundbreaking research on mindsets at Stanford University. Dweck’s original research revealed two contrasting mindsets that people use to understand their own abilities and potential:

  • Fixed mindset: Believing that intelligence and talents are innate or fixed from birth. People with this mindset avoid challenges because they assume failures reflect a lack of inherent ability.
  • Growth mindset: Believing that anyone can enhance their abilities through dedication and effort. Setbacks are seen as opportunities to improve rather than signs of permanent shortcomings.

In other words, a growth mindset means believing that you can expand your talents and abilities through hard work. It’s not just about praising effort, but teaching students that dedication unlocks their potential to learn and excel. Fostering this mentality creates persistent, motivated learners.

Why Do Schools Need to Cultivate Growth Mindsets?

Too often, students get discouraged and assume they just “can’t” improve at difficult subjects. But Dweck’s research shows this isn’t due to innate inability – it’s the result of fixed mindsets that inhibit students’ development.

People with fixed mindsets avoid challenges because struggles indicate underlying flaws in ability. They don’t believe extra effort or new strategies will help them progress. But numerous studies prove that dedication and an openness to learn are key factors that drive achievement.

That’s why schools need to develop a growth mindset. All students have room for immense progress. Developing an incremental theory of intelligence makes academic work feel worthwhile rather than threatening. Growth mindsets motivate kids to expand their skills, stretch themselves through healthy challenges and reach higher levels of success.

Signs of Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets in the Classroom

How can teachers discern whether students have fixed or growth mentalities? There are certain observable signs:

Fixed Mindset

Students with fixed mindsets:

  • Avoid challenging assignments
  • Lose confidence after setbacks
  • Ignore constructive feedback
  • Feel threatened by peers’ success
  • Say things like “I’ll never be good at maths”

Growth Mindset

Whereas students with growth mindsets:

  • Embrace challenging work
  • Persist through obstacles
  • Learn from criticism
  • Find inspiration in others’ accomplishments
  • Say things like “What am I missing?”

Watch for these tendencies to identify areas for development. Then utilise growth-oriented strategies accordingly. A mix of fixed and growth mindsets is common sense beliefs depend greatly on contextual factors like specific subjects, tasks, social groups and so on. Meet students where they are and help them evolve.

How Can Schools Develop Growth Mindsets?

The great news is that mindsets are not fixed – they can shift and become more growth-oriented through intentional effort. Researchers have identified loads of practical strategies schools can implement:

1. Use growth-mindset praise

  • Praise effort, strategies  and progress – not innate “talent” or “brilliance.”
  • Spotlight students’ improvement over time rather than achievement levels.
  • Encourage prices to take risks and learn from mistakes.

2. Provide the right challenges

  • Present assignments slightly above current capability levels.
  • Ensure tasks remain meaningful despite difficulties.
  • Let students rework assignments to improve grades.

3. Model resilience and self-improvement

  • Verbalise the productive inner dialogue you use when struggling.
  • Openly share stories of how dedication helped you gain skills.
  • Try innovative teaching techniques in front of students.

4. Foster positive peer interactions

  • Use collaborative projects with flexible groupings.
  • Teach strategies for giving skill-building peer feedback.
  • Establish classroom rituals where students praise each other’s efforts.

5. Deliver growth-mindset curriculum

Look for research-backed programs that directly explain neuroplasticity and teach the difference between fixed and growth mentalities. For instance, Brainology is an excellent digital curriculum for middle schoolers that demonstrably shifts students toward growth-oriented beliefs.

Growth Mindset Activities For the Classroom

Beyond those broader strategies, teachers can integrate short growth mindset learning activities into lessons. These quick exercises teach the concept while keeping engagement high:

  • Mindset continua – Have students position themselves on a spectrum between fixed and growth mindsets depending on their self-perceptions regarding specific skills.
  • Letter to future self – Students write a letter offering advice to their “future self” on adopting growth mindset beliefs, then read them several months later.
  • Overcoming obstacles narratives – Students interview family or community members about difficulties they have overcome through motivation and new learning strategies.
  • Growth stories – Read inspirational stories, videos, or quotes demonstrating how change happens through dedication over time rather than innate ability alone. Analyse and discuss them.

Growth Mindset Questions and Answers

Let’s clarify some common questions about growth mindsets:

What’s the difference between growth vs fixed mindsets?

Fixed mindsets assume intelligence and talent cannot change much. Growth mindsets recognise you can always improve via better strategies and effort.

Don’t some people have natural gifts and limits?

Of course – but mindsets influence how much people fulfil their potential. Believing abilities can progress motivates the intense practice that maximises talents.

Is praise bad for fostering growth mindsets?

Not inherently – the key is to spotlight effort over perceived innate “smarts.” Phrases like “You really studied efficiently!” promote healthy achievement beliefs.

Are growth mindsets the only thing affecting achievement?

No – situation differences and tools matter too. But mindsets initiate the tenacious learning behaviours that optimise skill-building with any resources available.

Can teachers change longtime mindsets in older students?

Absolutely – mindsets aren’t fixed personality traits. Compelling new experiences teaching neuroplasticity and self-improving models shift students’ mental frameworks at any age.

Next Steps

The impacts of cultivating growth mindsets in your school will be profound. Students will embrace productive struggle, expand learning, achieve mastery faster and reach new heights. Internalising the truth that dedication breeds skill – not inherent giftedness alone – will shape their lifelong learning trajectory.

How to Give Your Students the Best Chance to Adopt a Growth Mindset

Penstripe has designed a state-of-the-art growth mindset diary to introduce the concept to teachers and pupils, complemented by custom notepads and personalised notebooks that can be customised to suit any school – find out more about our customised student planners!


https://profiles.stanford.edu/carol-dweck | Retrieved 19/09/19

https://profiles.stanford.edu/carol-dweck?tab=publications | Retrieved 19/09/19

https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-companies-can-profit-from-a-growth-mindset | Retrieved 19/09/19

https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means | Retrieved 19/09/19