Why you should promote Growth Mindsets in your classroom

Mike Gershon

14th March 2016 at 14:45

How can we help the students we teach to develop growth mindsets? And why would we want to?

The answer to the second question is simple. The answer to the first is more straightforward than you might think.

We want our students develop growth mindsets in the classroom because these start from a belief which we as teachers know to be true: that intelligence, talent and ability are not fixed quantities. They can change over time, going up or down, usually in direct relation to the effort and endeavour exercised by the student in question.

For example, we know from our own experience that we are more skilled as teachers, more able in front of a class, and better equipped to plan excellent lessons now than when we started out in our training year. We’ve changed. And the extent of this change is proportional to the effort and thought we’ve put into getting better at the job.

In addition, we now know, thanks to the insights of modern neuroscience, that the brain is plastic. By that we mean that it is open to change – not just during the developmental phase of childhood and adolescence, but beyond as well. The brain retains a degree of neuroplasticity – malleability – into adult life.

If students operate under a growth mindset, then they accept the central premise that talent, ability and intelligence are not fixed. This starting point makes them more likely to pursue behaviours which are beneficial for learning, such as:

  • Persisting in the face of obstacles
  • Seeing effort as a path to mastery
  • Learning from feedback
  • Embracing challenge
  • Seeing mistakes as learning opportunities

It’s here that we find the seeds of an answer to our first question: How can we help the students we teach to develop growth mindsets?

Take the fifth point from above as an example: seeing mistakes as learning opportunities. Students operating under a fixed mindset are likely to see mistakes as threatening. They think a mistake is an indication of absence – absence of intelligence, talent or ability. And, because they believe these things are fixed, there is no hope of changing matters. Therefore, they avoid mistakes and tend to fear of failure.

A teacher wishing to promote growth mindsets can thus make great strides by seeking to change how mistakes are seen, experienced and talked about in their classroom. For example:

  • They can talk about ‘good mistakes’ and ‘trial and improvement’
  • They can consistently demonstrate and then praise the learning which stems from making mistakes
  • They can reward students for using mistakes to develop higher-quality pieces of work

In short, to develop growth mindsets in your classroom, start with the actions you want to see from your students. Working backwards from here will help you to create a culture in which everybody sees their intelligence, talent and ability as open to change.

To find out more, sign up now to our Growth Mindsets training with Mike Gershon, an online CPD course for teachers including growth mindsets activities and resources.