By Jennifer Peterson, Upper School Dean of Teaching & Learning, Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child
If you’re an educator or have been near an educational institution over the last few years, you’ve most likely heard the phrase ‘Growth Mindset.’ It seems to be the new buzz word as of late. But what exactly does it mean? And why is it so important? And if you don’t have one, how do you get one?
Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
Dr. Carol Dweck coined the term years ago in her studies of psychology and theories of intelligence. She laid out characteristics for two distinct mindsets by which people approach learning and the idea of intelligence: Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. A fixed mindset is one where there is a belief that abilities and intelligence are a fixed trait and people have a certain amount available to them. A growth mindset is one where there is a belief that abilities and intelligence can improve and develop through teaching, persistence and effort.
According to Dr. Dweck, “people’s theories about their own intelligence had a significant impact on their motivation, effort and approach to challenges. Those who believe their abilities are malleable are more likely to embrace challenges and persist despite failure.”
In an age where resilience and ability to bounce back from failure is key, developing a growth mindset seems crucial.
Working harder, alone, will not yield results though. Dr. Dweck makes it clear that just putting in more effort and more time will not unlock learning. Students need to try new strategies and ask for help when they hit a wall. While it’s important to praise students for effort, it’s not enough. Teachers who embrace a growth mindset and put it into practice need to do everything in their power to provide multiple strategies and approaches to a problem. They also need to encourage students to keep trying, as it’s the act of trying and working out the solution that enhances the brain.
This brings back in the forefront an older buzz word: Grit. Grit is the ability to harness your passion and persevere in the face of challenges. While grit is still an essential element in achievement and success, it needs to be coupled with a growth mindset in order to access the full array of learning available to you. You need to accept and embrace your ability to continue to learn and have the grit to stay the course and continue through challenges.
Sounds great, but how do I get one of these “growth mindsets?” Does Amazon sell it? I have Prime! Hold on there — it’s not that easy. You’ll need to do and continue to do some self-reflection.
Here are some questions to contemplate as you aim to develop a growth mindset:
- When you face challenges, do you feel overly anxious or do you look for ways to solve the problem?
- When you feel incompetent or defeated, do you look for an excuse? Does criticism bring out this fixed mindset?
- When given feedback or even criticism, do you become defensive instead of interested in learning from it?
- When you see someone who is better than you at something, do you feel envious or threatened or do you feel eager to learn?
At Oak Knoll
In an effort to educate our own students on a Growth Mindset, we will be implementing a program for all ninth graders, organized by PERTS, which is a research organization based out of Stanford University. The ninth-grade students will receive two 30-minute online sessions with reading passages, survey questions and self-reflection in order to learn about evidence that shows that the brain is malleable and can increase in intellectual ability. They will also learn about the importance of effective study strategies and getting help from others. As a school, we plan on continuing to promote this growth mindset in our classrooms and in our community.
Here are some further readings on the idea of a Growth Mindset and its implications: