Improving growth mindsets among students and teachers

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A thought that is beginning to gain a lot of favour in educational circles at the moment is how students mindset is connected to their learning and growth and how much teachers play a role in supporting it.

According to Dweck, the New Psychology of Success (2000), for some people, success (and failure) is based on innate ability (or the lack of it).

In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence.

Needless to say, this idea of mindsets has significant implications for education. One of the most important aspects relates to feedback. According to Dweck, when we give praise to students (which we, as teachers often do, in order to build self-esteem and encourage students) for how clever they are, we might actually be encouraging them to develop a fixed mindset – which might limit their learning potential. On the other hand, if we praise students for the hard work and the process that they’ve engaged in, then that helps to develop a growth potential.

Create space for new ideas

A second principle requires that schools provide opportunities for teachers to try new things and make mistakes. This can seem daunting for teachers, but it is essential for developing a growth mindset – after all, one of the key principles of such a mindset is the willingness to try new approaches.

Build time for self-reflection

While creating space for new ideas is important, it is only part of the process of developing a growth mindset. Linked to it, and equally vital, is providing a chance for teachers to reflect upon their new ideas and consider what they learned from the process.

Formative Feedback

Teacher performance management processes can often be quite awkward and distressing experiences; however, by viewing the process as part of a growth mindset – that is, making it formative, rather than summative, and inviting participation of the teacher in the process, the feedback can be more meaningful for their practice.

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