From the Headmaster - Developing a growth mindset


"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark." - Michelangelo

One of the more talked-about topics in educational psychology is Carol Dweck’s idea of the 'growth mindset', a concept she discusses in her book, 'Mindset: The new psychology of success.' 

So, what actually is growth mindset?

While working as a young researcher, Dweck noticed that some children face challenges in a much more 'positive' way than others, instead of having tragic and catastrophic thoughts when faced with difficulties. Dweck coined the term 'fixed mindset' for children who shrink before obstacles, and 'growth mindset' for those who seek challenges and become even more engaged when faced with obstacles. Of course, these two mindsets apply to us all, and it is important to note that whereas we can’t have a growth mindset in every area of our lives, we can certainly try to develop it.

People with a fixed mindset think that their characteristics are carved in stone and can never be changed. They firmly believe that intelligence, creativity, and personality are things we are born with and cannot be developed.  

On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe we can cultivate these characteristics through effort and that the process of cultivating them is more important than the actual outcome. People with a growth mindset see obstacles as opportunities to improve and learn, and by being faced with them and, generally something new, we get smarter.

Dweck mentions how saying “not yet” to young people is a much better way to show them that even if they have difficulties overcoming something now, the time will come when they will succeed if they continue tackling the obstacle from different angles. The use of 'yet' shows that there is a learning curve, and points to the process, not the outcome. 

In summary

Those with a fixed mindset:
  • Avoid challenges due to fear of failure
  • Give up easily
  • See effort as temporary
  • Get frustrated or ignores feedback or criticism
  • Feel threatened by the success of others

Those with a growth mindset:

  • Embrace challenges
  • Push through setbacks
  • Believe that effort is most important
  • Use feedback and criticism as a way to improve
  • Are inspired by others
  • Learn from the success of others

So how is a growth mindset developed?

Changing from a 'fixed' to a 'growth' mindset isn't easy but can help young people learn new skills in every area of their life.

As a rule for change, and this applies to all of us, become aware of your thoughts. When you have a 'fixed thought' realise that's not helping the situation. Instead of saying 'I'm no good at learning a language,' add the word 'yet' to the end of the sentence. This reminds you that you can be good at it – it will just take time and effort to grow.

Another important point that Dweck makes is that a growth mindset is developed through praise. This isn’t about blanketing children in praise for any of their efforts, but about praising the strategies they used and the entire process that leads to outcomes. In other words, we should praise the process, not the abilities. Praising abilities encourages the fixed mindset that these things are set in stone, which definitely doesn’t promote change or development. Rather, it makes children think that what they can do is what they can do and the same applies for what they can’t do.

Insisting on the process until the obstacle is overcome, and praising that effort, teaches young people that they need to change their strategies in order solve the problem. It also shows them they can use all the resources available and ask for help when they need it.

Finally, Dweck points out that even disappointment should be addressed as something that enhances learning. We can ask children “What is this teaching us? What should we do next?” A switch to a growth mindset would help them achieve so much more and help them in their future lives.

Now, for the encouraging news. Dweck says it is never too late for change, so why not try it on yourself, too, and see how it goes.

Scott James, Headmaster

Reference: Carol Dweck, 'MindSet'