There is increasing awareness among K-12 educators on the importance of fostering a growth mindset. A recent survey by the Education Week Research Center (2016) indicated that 45 percent of K-12 educators were well acquainted with the concept of growth mindset, and almost all believed that nurturing a growth mindset in their students would improve learning outcomes. Although mindset is receiving a great deal of consideration in the K-12 classroom from teachers across disciplines, there has been less attention devoted to this concept on college campuses outside of departments such as psychology and education.
Mindset refers to an individual’s beliefs about abilities and intelligence (Dweck, 2015). Those with a fixed mindset view abilities and intelligence as fixed constructs; in other words, abilities and intelligence are seen as static and immutable. Conversely, those with a growth mindset believe that abilities and intelligence can develop as the result of effort and training. In line with these self-theories, students with a growth mindset tend to put in more effort, be more persistent, and in turn, have better grades and achievement test scores. In contrast, those with a fixed mindset may believe they lack the fundamental ability to succeed and quickly give up when faced with failure (Dweck, 2008).
Growth mindset for students
If a growth mindset is so advantageous for students, how can you promote a growth mindset in your undergraduate students?
- Teach your students about growth mindset. Research has shown that we can successfully teach students to develop a growth mindset, which can increase student engagement and performance (Dweck, 2008). Share the empirical articles on mindset with your students and incorporate this concept into your class discussions as much as possible and at key times, such as after a challenging exam.
- Pay attention to the types of feedback you provide students. Some feedback encourages a fixed mindset (Hadley, 2017). For example: “You aced that exam! You are really a natural at math.” However, feedback can be framed to promote a growth mindset, such as: “You did an excellent job on that paper. I can tell how much time you put into researching a wide variety of sources.”
- Encourage reflection and the adoption of alternate strategies, when needed. Some students will face difficulty even when they have put in the effort. In these instances, encourage your students to reflect on their preparation and performance and consider new strategies. Exam wrappers may be one way to promote this type of reflection.
Growth mindset for teachers
We are just beginning to examine the positive effects of a growth mindset for educators. Some educators believe teaching is a natural ability that you either have or don’t have (i.e., a fixed teaching mindset) whereas others believe teaching ability is something that can be developed (i.e., a growth teaching mindset). Just as with students, there are benefits of a growth mindset for faculty.
Here’s why you should have a growth mindset:
- Greater focus on learning and professional development. Faculty who believe they can improve are more likely to seek out opportunities to learn, including taking on directed readings, observing experienced instructors, and attending workshops and other trainings (Gero, 2003).
- Improve from feedback. As faculty, we are continuously assessed through student evaluations and/or observations. Those with a growth mindset are more likely to apply appropriate constructive criticism to improve their teaching while those with a fixed mindset take critiques as a sign of limited teaching ability.
- Take more risks and persevere. Faculty with a growth mindset are not afraid to try new things in their classrooms. As we all know, sometimes our new strategies do not work! Those with a growth mindset continue to search out new pedagogical techniques and don’t give up.
- Encouraging success in our own students. Faculty with a growth mindset model this type of thinking for their students. In addition, if we believe our ability is fixed, we likely think the same of our students, which is limiting (Auten, 2013).
Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” This quote exemplifies the growth mindset, and it is something important for us to remember and share with our students.
Auten, M. A. (2013). Helping educators foster a growth mindset in community college classrooms. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database. (UMI No. 3591125)
Dweck, C.S. (2008). Can personality be changed? The role of beliefs in personality and change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 391-394.
Dweck, C.S. (2015). Teachers’ mindsets: “Every student has something to teach me”, Educational Horizons, 93, 10-14.
Education Week Research Center (2016). Mindset in the classroom: A national study of K-12 educators. Retrieved from https://secure.edweek.org/media/ewrc_mindsetintheclassroom_sept2016.pdf.
Gero, G. P. (2013). What drives teachers to improve? The role of teacher mindset in professional learning (Doctoral Dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database. (UMI No. 3605669)
Hadley, J. (2017). Learning mindsets in the secondary classroom: Implications for instruction and professional development (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database. (Proquest No. 10666708)
Dr. Rosen is an assistant professor of psychology and an experiential faculty fellow at Texas Woman’s University.
Dr. Ahmed is an associate clinical professor of biology and an experiential faculty fellow at Texas Woman’s University.