‘Growth mindset matters more than ever’

Growth mindset approaches are critical to building resilience among students, says teacher and researcher Jennifer Milne

Jennifer Milne

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In the debate around mindset in education, there are two distinct camps: either “Been there, done that, isn’t it old hat?” (dare I say it, a majority) or “Yes, it is so important, I try to apply the concepts in my classroom”.

I know of a recent Primary 1 parents’ meeting, where the teacher said of one girl: “She is really up for getting involved, having a go even if she gets it wrong…unlike most of the others in the class…”

My first thought was, "Yay, growth mindset." But my second thought was that most of that girl's peers are starting out formal learning in a fixed-mindset psychological world.

We now know that mindset isn’t a discrete cognition but part of a subconscious psychological world that we inhabit, and that our growth or fixed responses are complex, multidimensional, dynamic and context-driven. The first and possibly the most important teachers, in developing the subconscious mindset system in their children – parents – want nothing more than to see their children engage and enjoy learning and, most of all, be motivated to learn.

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Research and practice unequivocally show that a growth mindset increases mastery orientation and autonomy-supportive goals, as well as value in learning, goal striving and intrinsic motivation. The advances in neuroscience in the 21-st century propose mindset as part of a neural response system that creates the conditions for intrinsic motivation.

The value of a growth mindset

In February this year, addressing the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership conference, the UK government education secretary, Damian Hinds, spoke about the “vision to help children build character and resilience”. Hinds focused on the key ideas of confidence and growth mindset-building in order to develop “bouncebackability” and the ability to stick with goals through tough times.

In my recent research in Chryston High School, North Lanarkshire, evaluating the impact of an intervention from a Scotland-based organisation – seeking to encourage students to take personal responsibility, foster a growth mindset and develop their resilience – parents were unreservedly passionate about growth mindset learning as a way to counter the lack of persistence and responsibility of what some have described as an “entitled generation”. The quantitative and qualitative data showed a powerful link between growth mindset and emotional intelligence and increased resiliency through both decreased emotional reactivity and increased mastery.

Recent research has indicated that students at university often don’t adopt a growth mindset approach to learning. Yes, incremental theories of intelligence have been about for a long time, but have we mastered it yet? We are nowhere near.

I struggle with my mindset everyday, and I am a trained professional whose core values align to learning. The same applies to many others, whether my daughter’s five-year-old friends who are still bombarded by fixed-mindset language, practices and culture; the kids we see in class everyday who use technology and media as a distraction from hard learning; or the university students who aren’t getting the most out of their chosen area of study.

Mindset, in short, matters more than ever.

Dr Jennifer Milne is a teacher of English at Perth High School and a researcher in the psychology of sport at the University of Stirling

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