Growth Mindset is More than a Colorful Bulletin Board

Key Points

  • As any educator knows, growth mindset work does not happen in isolation or by just putting up a picture. 

  • It is part of a larger approach to a learning culture.

Growth Mindset

“I finished my book today at school!” my son exclaimed, as he got off the bus and headed toward us. This is a phrase most parents would enjoy hearing. And I was happy to hear his love for his new chapter book. It was his second day of school and I had asked him my typical questions like, ‘what was the best part about today’ and ‘what challenges did you enjoy?’ Sometimes I might ask about mistakes or things he might improve. I haven’t always been a growth mindset groupie but I am now and I try to practice this work at home. 

I have two children and they both love school and they both enjoy the social aspect of school. For our son, school can come easy, so we have to search for ways to keep him challenged and to truly love the act of learning over succeeding at school

When our son shared his accomplishments, although excited for him, I found myself wondering how he read a whole book during reading time. So, I asked. He said every time he finished his work early in class, he was told he could read. I like reading to be encouraged, but I don’t want there to be ‘rewards’ for finishing early; I want my son to receive challenging work that keeps him engaged. I want him to see himself as a learner in search of knowledge who always has more to learn. In essence, the foundational belief behind growth mindset culture, and what I believe is the ultimate goal of education, is to develop a love for learning, seek out ways to grow, and achieve a level of agency in a student’s learning pathway. 

Growth Mindset Awareness

Understanding the concept of fixed mindsets and growth mindsets has helped so many educators (and parents) begin to reshape what is productive struggle and how we embrace new learning. The revolution of language around this concept has swept through schools, classrooms, and hallways. And like with any great education trend, this led to beautifully designed resources available through Pinterest, Instagram, and Teachers Pay Teachers. Posters and bulletin boards were adorned with visuals of what is fixed and what is growth. As an educator, I share the love of a great visual for learning environments but as any educator knows, this work does not happen in isolation or by just putting up a picture. It is part of a larger approach to a learning culture.

Similar to many of the mission statements posted on walls and websites, the growth mindset work can lose impact if it is not embedded into everyday life that includes aligned systemic approaches.

Rebecca Midles

Similar to many of the mission statements posted on walls and websites, the growth mindset work can lose impact if it is not embedded into everyday life that includes aligned systemic approaches. A growth mindset can be a cultural approach, one that invites us to think about how we learn, how we define learning, and how we celebrate growth. We have written about Building a Growth Mindset Culture and the phases that support this, including brain research, inner voice work, and how we give feedback

Building a Growth Mindset Invites Change

Embedding a growth mindset approach within a learning model sets up a system to embrace and encourage learning growth. Choosing challenging work is considered ‘smart’ and this becomes a norm for learning. A growth mindset culture also sets the stage for larger efforts of systemic change and can be a great foundation for laying the groundwork.

When part of a larger approach, learners grab these concepts quickly. They show initiative with transfer and often share with their families and sports teams, you can hear it influencing the way they speak to one another. 

Thanks to Carol Dweck’s work, Growth Mindset is no longer an unfamiliar term. Building awareness of this concept is a great step in building a learning culture in the classroom. With that work, teaching learners about their brains and how they learn is equally important. When learners can connect this understanding to thoughts about learning, they can become aware of not only how they learn but how they could impact their learning. This awareness includes starting to identify how they face challenges, and what their inner voice tells them as they hit obstacles or struggle with a new concept.

Building A Growth Mindset Culture Does Not Stop At Awareness 

Moving into strategies and tools for learners provides them access to feel empowered in their learning and to be able to impact their growth. These tools can provide reframing strategies to move them through learning obstacles, seek other learning strategies, or ask for help. 

As educators, we must also be aware of how we facilitate learners’ perception of their learning by how we intentionally give feedback and how we coach them through learning struggles. Successful examples are when learners design personal coaching language for themselves and their peers, perhaps posting this in the room and referring to it. When peer-to-peer language changes and the buzz in the learning environment is about achieving new learning and embracing personal growth through ambiguity and productive struggle. 

In A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth, the authors, Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz, promote the importance of research-based strategies to build independence and that this falls squarely in the world of a growth mindset. They advocate for the value of optimism, persistence, flexibility, resilience, and empathy and provide ways to incorporate this into learning environments. 

Parent as Educator, Educator as a Parent

This is where my mind went as I walked back to our house with my son. I wanted to hear him want more challenging work or share ways he was seeking this in his learning. I recognized that this does not just ‘happen’ at school and would continue to take initiative on my part as well. 

My husband and I committed to being more thoughtful about the family activities we choose, the way we frame feedback, and how we embrace tough issues. What made this equally tough and also vitally important, is that my daughter has significant learning challenges within traditional settings and how, when, and why we praise was incredibly important in terms of messaging between the two siblings. The type of parent work that is often not easy but endlessly worthy. How we provide feedback sends a message to not only how we see learning, but how we see the learner. And in that vein, praise should be considered just as much as constructive feedback and is often most useful when aimed at the process of learning. 

As we are embracing mindset practices across the country, we need to also be more conscious of how we interact with learners; how we support their learning, and how we build their self-awareness of their learning to ensure we are aligned to a growth mindset and not sending a mixed message of what is learning.

Rebecca Midles

Rebecca Midles is the Vice President of Learning Design at Getting Smart and is an innovator in competency education and personalized learning with over twenty years of experience as teacher, administrator, board member, consultant and parent.

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Rebecca's article on growth mindset hit on a lot of great points - with the main idea being that it has to be integrated into the learning process and the education culture. Well done.

Nina Smith

Great article! I was about to share it, but wished the word "praise" was substituted with compliment or cheer or even feedback, just because "praise" immediately establishes clear power structures that relate more to surface learning than deep learning. Yes, as teachers and parents we do have (some) power over students and children, alas this power erodes the learning relationships we work so hard to establish. And with Growth Mindset we adults and teachers really want to be examples of deep/ lifelong learning - which is an internal reward itself, and won't be sustainable if external praise is needed.

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