Growth mindset: the key to successful teaching?

Posted by Kate Herbert-Smith - Last updated on January 23, 2024

It’s no wonder that Carol Dweck’s (world-renowned Stanford University psychologist) concept of a ‘Growth Mindset’ has become so popular in teaching over the past few years. The idea that your intelligence isn’t fixed, is a powerful one.

But, what really is growth mindset? Why is it important? Is it of real value in the classroom? And, where can you explore it further?

Young man holding opened book with glass glowing light bulbs flying out-1

What is growth mindset?

Growth mindset is the idea that your intelligence isn’t fixed, and seeing challenge or difficulty as an opportunity to improve and learn. People who have adopted this way of thinking believe, not that they can’t do something, but that they can’t do something YET!

So, it’s basically about getting pupils to believe in themselves, right? Wrong!

If anything, it’s more about a teacher’s own mindset, the expectations they have for their students, and the way in which they help them to develop an awareness and understanding of their thought processes, i.e. instill in their students a love of learning.


Why is growth mindset important for learners?

Dweck’s findings suggest that students will learn more, as well as learn faster and more thoroughly with a growth mindset.

In her TED TALK, Dr Dweck explains a study where children were taught that, as they push to the edge of their comfort zone, their brains can form new stronger neural connections. Her studies showed significantly improved achievements in a wide range of age groups and settings, particularly disadvantaged students.


Can adopting a growth mindset be useful for teachers too?

Adopting a growth mindset isn’t exclusively beneficial to students. Teachers also stand to gain a great deal, especially when it comes to professional development.

Some argue that it is the key to successful CPD, because CPD should be approached with the same attributes of a growth mindset; with hard work, a focus on improving and embracing failing as a chance to learn. If teachers do approach CPD this way, they're far more likely to improve than if they see professional learning as an obstacle, something to fear and avoid it.

Others, however, believe that it is more nuanced and not something you can just adopt. It needs to be embraced culturally in a school, rather than just by individuals.

5 attributes of a teacher with a growth mindset:

  1. They take responsibility for improving their practice.
  2. They see setbacks and feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow their skills.
  3. They actively seek learning opportunities and new challenges.
  4. They have positive and high expectations of their students.
  5. They use growth mindset language when teaching and with themselves.


How to teach growth mindset in the classroom - is it even possible?

Despite its popularity, the concept has recently come under fire. In fact, efforts to replicate Dweck's work in the classroom have all but failed because, according to Dweck, you can't actually 'teach' growth mindset, it's more subtle than that.

Dweck insists that it is less about telling pupils what to think, and more about showing them.

“Growth mindset is about embodying it in all the everyday practices that educators do. Presenting material with students’ understanding that you think they can all learn it to a high level. It’s collaborating with students, and giving feedback to them on their learning processes. It’s about helping children to relish challenges, because the challenges can help them grow their abilities.”

So is there value in teaching the concept of growth mindset at all? Growth mindset may not need to be taught explicitly, but children of all ages can benefit from being taught the language of meta-cognition, which allows them to be aware of their own thoughts and of how they make decisions about their own learning and effort.


Making mindset learning effective

Developing a growth mindset is more effective when it's rooted in subject pedagogy and from a more stealthy approach. With that in mind, the following are worth considering in your classroom:

  • Think carefully about the language you use in every interaction with every student
  • Use the right kind of praise; praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and this ultimately harms their performance
  • Reward effort and what can be accomplished through study, practice, perseverance and good strategies
  • Set high standards; challenge students from the start
  • Allow students to learn from mistakes and develop perseverance and resilience, effectively engaging in deliberate practice
  • Use feedback effectively, signposting students to use the correct subject-specific learning strategies, then allow them time to act on this specific feedback

Coming back to your own growth mindset, a great starting point for this is to regularly and honestly reflect on your teaching and the effect it has on your students. A very effective way is by recording your lesson on video (e.g. with IRIS Connect). You can then watch back your lesson and look at it from a whole new perspective. Once you get over the initial awkward minutes of observing how you look and listening to the sound of your voice, you’ll start to focus on the teaching and learning that’s happening in your classroom. You can then critically analyse your practice and identify areas of improvement. You may even want to take it one step further and share the video with a colleague or coach for feedback and bring your own growth to a whole new level.


Where can you explore growth mindset further? 

For more information and resources exploring growth mindset and what it looks like in the classroom, download our free guide to developing a growth mindset. 


Guide to developing a growth mindset

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