Fostering a “Growth Mindset”

Carol Dweck, a Harvard-educated professor, coined the phrase “growth mindset” in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In essence, she developed the idea that intelligence is not fixed, but rather can be “developed.” Effort matters more than talent, and students who learned to “grow their brains” fared better in the long-run than students who believed the idea that they were either “good at something or not.” 

As this idea of “effort over talent” has grown over the years, one catchphrase that many schools now use to help students understand the idea is “grit.” So what is “grit” and how can we help students develop this way of thinking?

1. A growth mindset is a combination of emphasizing effort, learning to reach out for help, and openness to new strategies and techniques. Instead of feeling like a failure because they can’t “do something like everyone else,” students are taught to seek out strategies that fit their needs and particular skill set.  Talent takes a back-seat to practice and hard work.

2. A growth mindset is also realistic about the challenges and setbacks that students face. Praising good effort alone is not helpful. Rather, teaching students to talk openly about a failed exam, or why that certain subject is hard helps students to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will carry them throughout life, not just academics. Everyone will experience failure at one time or another, but how it is handled will determine whether a person comes out on the other end successful or beaten. For a student who relies mostly on their perceived talents, when they fail, it is because they are a failure. When students focus on effort and strategy, they learn the strategy failed, not them, and they can adjust their approach to try again – the very definition of grit. One way to phrase this concept to a student would be: “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.

3. Again, don’t praise effort alone, praise the journey. If all we say is “great job, you tried your best,” we are inadvertently supporting a fixed mindset – emphasizing talent. Instead, hold students accountable for giving their optimal effort. Remind them that it’s rare to reach perfection right away, if ever. Even if an attempt didn’t create the end result, it was a step forward in understanding what to try next. Ultimately, the goal is to keep taking steps, keep making attempts, and keep trying for increasingly greater challenges.

In the end, the growth mindset is about giving our children, students, and ourselves the grace to be human. Effort matters more than talent; progress is more important than perfection.

To learn more about, you can go here and listen to Carol Dweck speak: