Mindset Matters: Implementing Growth Mindset in Your Classroom

By Rachel McMinn
Ms. McMinn is an English teacher and Site Supervisor for Meriden Public Schools, Connecticut. Her research and resource-development subject focus is Growth Mindset and she has presented her work at both the state and national level.

In 2006, world-renowned psychologist Carol Dweck published Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. The book explores the idea that the way students perceive their strengths, abilities, and potential affects their learning outcomes and overall student success. Eleven years later, Dweck's work is still a hot topic, and for good reason. But how do you as an educator put growth mindset to work in your classroom?

Teach the Science
Giving your students an overview of how the brain works, what brain plasticity is, and how having a growth mindset can physically affect the brain and the way it processes information gives students the foundational understanding they need to explain all of the "why?" questions they may have regarding embracing a growth mindset.

“Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn,” Dweck explains in her book as she discusses the brain studies that showed increased activity when responding to mistakes and challenges. Teaching students the science behind the method helps them to understand the purpose as well as accept the idea that intelligence is not predetermined or fixed. The YouTube channel Kizoom (youtu.be/g7FdMi03CzI) has a great animated video featuring a character named Ned the Neuron, who provides a student-friendly explanation.

Capture Mindset Moments
Encouraging students to reflect upon and then share their moments of grit, determination, and perseverance inspires others and validates their own efforts at embracing a growth mindset. Create a “Mindset Moments” bulletin board with note cards or shaped pieces of paper that allow students to record their triumphs and display them for others to see.

Here’s an example: "This week I was nervous about my spelling test because I did bad on the last one. I knew I had to do something different this time. By creating note cards for my vocabulary words and practicing them with my family over the weekend, I was a lot more confident when it was time for the test!"

Inspire with Stories of Perseverance
To help promote a growth mindset, give your students opportunities to read about or research athletes, scientists, engineers, singers, artists, or political figures who had to overcome challenges in order to encounter success. Dweck (2006) encourages students, “Think about your hero. Do you think of this person as someone who had extraordinary abilities and achieved without much effort? Now go find out the truth. Find out the tremendous effort that went into their accomplishment—and admire them more” (p. 81).

The knowledge that struggles, challenges, and failures are a part of life for everyone, and that we get to make a choice about what attitude to take when encountering those obstacles, are important lessons for everyone to learn.

Celebrate Failure
Reframing a perceived failure as an opportunity for reflection, improvement, and new direction can help to change the experience of not getting the grade you hoped for or not making it onto the baseball team. Teachers often witness defensive or avoidant behavior from students in the face of critical feedback, a result of a fixed mindset that discourages students from trying again. To avoid the shut-down effect, develop a growth mindset by providing detailed feedback that gives students practical information about what to do differently, and then give them the opportunity to resubmit assignments.

Include Yourself in the Process
Sharing with students about your own experience with challenges can help to show them that it is a very normal part of life. Talk about a time when you worked hard on a paper and then were not happy with the grade, the rejection letter you received from a publisher, or a grant proposal that didn't get funded. Practicing what you preach will be appreciated by your students and will lend itself to your ultimate goal of promoting a growth mindset.

The Growth Mindset Playbook: A Teacher's Guide to Promoting Student Success, Annie Brock and Heather Hundley. A great, user-friendly book offering growth mindset mini-lessons, tips, techniques, and strategies that you can use instantly.

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Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.

Oettingen, G. (2015). Rethinking positive thinking: Inside the new science of motivation. New York, NY: Penguin Group.