By: Anna Hutchinson, Director, CPS Office of Curriculum
Classroom to classroom, across all grade levels in the Cincinnati Public School District and beyond, our teachers are infusing a growth mindset into what students experience every day. Maybe your child has even referenced “growth mindset” in your conversations, or your child’s teacher has brought it up.
In this article, we will discuss a “growth” versus “fixed” mindset, how it is at play in your child’s classroom, and how you can help support a growth mindset at home.
What is a “growth mindset,” and how is it used in the classroom?
“Mindset” is a term that came from decades of research by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. Her work focused on why people were successful or unsuccessful. She uncovered two mindsets that were overwhelmingly common: “fixed” or “growth.”
- Fixed mindset: A mindset where qualities are considered fixed traits, such as intelligence or talent. Many with a fixed mindset may believe that talent alone can create success.
- Growth mindset: A mindset where qualities or abilities are considered things to develop through dedication and hard work. Many with a growth mindset may demonstrate a love of learning and resilience in the face of hardship or adversity. Many with a growth mindset believe that talent paired with hard work and commitment can create success.
Dr. Dweck found in her many studies that those who demonstrated a growth mindset reached higher levels of success than those who had a fixed mindset. This proven insight has led to the development of resources and techniques teachers can use to transform their classrooms and provide experiences that help students understand how their own efforts can help them achieve success, as opposed to inherent “smartness” or a perceived lack of it.
What are some ways to reinforce a growth mindset at home?
There are a variety of ways you can reinforce a growth mindset at home. Here are five strategies to try.
Talk about it
Ask your child if they know the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Share with them the benefits of having a growth mindset, such as being able to accomplish more, feeling good about themselves as they learn new concepts and genuinely enjoying learning.
A couple analogies you can borrow to help demonstrate your point:
- Your brain is a muscle. It gets stronger when you work hard and embrace challenges.
- A plant will grow when you water it and tend to it—both of which takes time and effort. Think of your learning and intelligence like a plant that needs to be watered, developed, and cared for.
- Think of an iceberg as “success.” The iceberg cap is what people see—a collected, poised, successful person. But underneath the icy surface is much more—the failures, the hard work, the time and sacrifice, as well as the disappointments to overcome, persistence and resilience.
Reflect on and share your own experiences
Look at experiences from your own life. There were probably many instances where you had to try something new and felt clumsy and awkward at first. But with practice, the connections between the neurons in your brain became deeper and the activity became easier. Share those specific experiences with your child. Then, as your child learns new concepts or becomes frustrated if he doesn’t “get it” right away, remind him of your experiences. Encourage him to keep practicing—or even practice together—to help him overcome this challenge and master the concept.
Support your child through failure
Supporting failure might sound absurd on the surface, but there is so much to learn from failure and knowing the importance of persistence. Instilling the spirit to keep trying by talking about failures and the lessons learned in those failures will help him overcome challenges and adversity.
Trust and praise the process
Growth mindset applies to many areas of life—academics, music, athletics, social interactions and more—but the principle is the same across disciplines. Trust it. Celebrate small wins by praising your child’s effort and hustle rather than talent. If you have questions, reach out to your child’s teacher or counselor for help.
Help your child improve his “dialogue”
Does your child seem to put himself down or say statements like “I’m not good enough,” or “I’ll never get it; I’m not smart.”?
This self-talk, or inner dialogue, can be improved upon with more positive statements. Instead of “I’m not good enough,” interrupt to help your child to think or say, “I’m just learning this; I’ll get better with practice.” Instead of “I’ll never get it; I’m not smart,” interrupt your child to think and say, “I’m going to train my brain; I know I can do this.”
Additionally, discourage envy of peers. Talk with your child about how he can learn from others or get better at something when he practices with peers. Instead of “My friend can do it, but I can’t,” help him think, “My friend can do it; I want to learn from him.”
A large part of the growth mindset is starting and maintaining healthy habits, which can sometimes seem futile in the face of adversity and challenge. Helping your child establish and practice a growth mindset will help him develop the resilience necessary for those tough challenges ahead, so he can do more and achieve more as he gets older.
- Mindset, Carol Dweck’s website (you can also order her book on Amazon)
- The Mindset Works website, where you can learn more about the science behind fixed and growth mindsets and explore resources available for teachers, parents and families
- Carol Dweck’s TED talk, “The power of believing that you can improve”