Updated: Nov 28, 2020
Encouraging children to have a growth mindset has been an area of research, debate and discussion throughout educational settings for some years. But unlike improving maths skills or spelling ability, the answer isn't in the purchase and delivery of a particular scheme or work. To create a strong, sustainable foundation for learning, where Growth Mindset underpins that foundation, there needs to be consistency across the setting, a collaborative approach and excellent role modeling of language, behaviours and actions that encourage each individual (adult and child) to invite themselves to become more growth orientated. The same applies in the home. Parents create the home environment, (the foundation) the adults within the home then need to be consistent in their messages, influences and YES, be the role model, therefore embracing the journey for themselves to then become mindset movers for their children.
What is a growth mindset?
At Grow Your Mindset, we get asked all the time "What is a Growth Mindset and how does it work?" Every human-being on the planet has a mindset (a way of thinking that determines your behaviours, outlook and mental attitude). Your mindset is moulded from birth by your influencers and life experiences. Mindset's have always been there, but through her research spanning over 30+ years, Stanford University Professor, Carol Dweck has coined the term, fixed and growth mindset. For many, (including ourselves as learners and teachers) this has provided clarity and direction in terms of becoming more mindset aware for ourselves, as we understand when we invite ourselves to become more growth orientated, we recognise our abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others. Over time, this results in our perception and our thinking changing, which ultimately results in our behaviour, language and actions changing too.
But no-one can be growth mindset 100% of the time. In fact whilst writing this blog, I've experienced a major fixed trigger, as I realised I'd accidentally deleted a whole section of writing and I couldn't retrieve it. I instinctively defaulted to my fixed mindset. The laptop nearly got wings and flew across the room and my husband quickly got up to put the kettle on (a cup of tea is always his solution).
We all have our own fixed mindset triggers. When we face challenges, receive criticism or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity, self doubt and defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth. And that it what fascinated Carol Dweck as to why with equally talented people, some make progress and others do not. The understanding of choice between our fixed and growth mindset is where the journey we talk about begins, because rather than accepting your fixed mindset when it comes knocking and allowing it to create a self defeating identity, where you become trapped by the limited beliefs you form of yourself, you stop that thought, action or behaviour in its tracks, as I did earlier in gaining control of my emotions and rethinking my approach. Over time, as you continually nudge yourself to become growth orientated, this then becomes your new default setting.
Why is growth mindset important?
If you look at the previous character traits of a growth mindset, I think you will agree the reason why we believe it's important in terms of mental health and wellbeing for adults or children. Why wouldn't we want individuals at school and home to be willing to embrace a challenge, learn from their mistakes, bounce back from failure and setback, develop an intrinsic motivation to succeed and embrace/seek feedback as a learning opportunity? Whatever we feed will grow, whether that be faith or fear, worry or confidence, doubt or belief and so using knowledge of mindset, self reflection and trigger awareness research shows, in the long term, this can prevent the onset of mental illness later in life. Embracing a growth mindset helps provide adults and children with the mental tools to develop a more growth orientated approach towards learning, as well as a more positive approach to any given situation. Knowing that your ability can be developed, opens opportunities to all learners, plus the power of knowing you can improve, impacts enormously on our mental attitude, self-belief and focus.
Can a growth mindset be taught?
'Teaching a growth mindset' is one of the common enquiries we have encountered over social media and when talking with schools. No matter what you tell children, the best way to teach a growth mindset is to spend time reflecting on your own. I mentioned earlier about growth mindset being the foundation for learning, so whatever you build on that foundation will be more powerful. That foundation is not solely formed by the children alone, it needs to begin with the adults they come into contact with, whether that be parents, office staff, teaching assistants, teachers, SLT. As influencers of children, openly discussing (using growth language) our own challenges and how we overcame them, fixed triggers and how we changed our mindset, the times we've learnt from mistakes as well as role modelling trying new things, stretching our comfort zone and being inspired by those around us will have a far greater impact than a 30 minute PSHE lesson once a week, Mindset Monday or a whole school assembly around Growth Mindset.
How do I promote a growth mindset in my classroom in 5 steps?
Promoting a growth mindset in the classroom takes time, effort and focus from all the adults in the room. When developing an ethos of growth in our own classrooms as teachers, the following areas became our main initial focuses:
1) Reflect on your own mindset as adults, sharing your mindset moments, reinforcing we are ALL a mix of fixed and growth. Getting friendly with our fixed is when the magic happens!
2) Create a safe learning environment where children feel comfortable making mistakes.
3) Remove the ranking of intelligence and shift the daily focus away from outcomes to the processes of learning and the progress being made.
4) Explain about how the brain is malleable and how the brain learns. How connections are made between neurons and how practice strengthens neural pathways. The science behind the brain is a game changer for many children who often believe they're struggling because they don't have the skills, rather than the struggle we feel is good because that's our brain making new connections so messages can be passed between neurons.
5) Become aware of your language as a facilitator of learning. Often your words, even if you think you are being supportive can magnify a fixed in the children you teach. e.g. "You got them all right, well done!" to "I like the strategy you used to work these out, can you explain how you did it?" so the focus shifts away from the outcome in that the sole aim was to get them all right (which then gives the notion mistakes are a negative) to the process that was used, plus by asking the child to explain reinforces the learning that has taken place.
How do I promote growth mindset at home in 5 steps?
Promoting a growth mindset approach at home is very similar to school in many aspects. As a teacher and parent however, I realise now that my unconscious bias, those reactions you have without thinking are more prevalent when at home.
1) Share moments when you experience a fixed trigger, how you recognised it and how you shifted your thoughts or actions.
2) Don't hide your mistakes, blame others or internalise them as a bad experience. Talk about your mistakes and what you've learned from them. A characteristic of a growth mindset is viewing setbacks and mistakes as a springboard for growth. Influencing your child to do the same will develop a lifelong skill.
3) Praise your child for their efforts, strategies, progress, learning from mistakes, being curious. Create an intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic through offering rewards, bribery, focusing on results, praising talent or being smart.
4) Don't compare your child to siblings or their peers. Remember abilities can be developed, with belief and action you will get progress. Once we as parents begin to make comparisons, judgements or create labels for our children, they will undoubtedly begin to live up to them as they internalise what they hear as beliefs.
5) Encourage a discussion which is focused on growth using phrases such as:
"What was your best mistake today?"
"What made you think hard today?"
"What is something you did today that you're proud of?"
"What made your brain grow today?"
"How did you help someone recently?
"Who are you inspired by?"
"What will you do to challenge yourself tomorrow?"
"What are you grateful for today?"
How can Grow Your Mindset support you?
If you like what you've read and feel you need some more guidance, we are here to help! In any educational setting, Grow Your Mindset can support staff with building their understanding of Growth Mindset and how to create a real culture across the setting. With children, we provide fun and engaging workshops developing a love of learning and inviting all pupils on a journey of growth. These are popular in schools, but we can also offer them to children at home, on a 1:1 basis, with the power of zoom, or by one of the team visiting your house.
Parents, you may find this blog helpful, with more to learn.
If you love a good read, why don't you check out our other blogs about mindsets.
If you would like to know more about Grow Your Mindset click here.