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Growth Mindset - Refresher and Resources

growth mindset

Somewhere in the tangle of the past two years, so many incredible teachers have managed to stay afloat and find joy in teaching. However, with more pressing needs occupying center stage, professional development has taken a significant backseat. Now that conditions are a little calmer, teachers can rebuild students’ confidence in their own abilities by revisiting the true meaning and importance of growth mindset, as well as how to implement specific strategies in the classroom. Here is a quick refresher on some of the key tenets behind the growth mindset philosophy of teaching, as well as some recommendations for practicing as we preach.

The Role of Effort

Time, focus, commitment, persistence. All these factors tie into the role of effort to influence a student’s success. Note that none of the necessary components of success are listed as “intelligence” or “ability” because being smart is not a fixed point, ever. Instead, teachers must explicitly teach students that they have the power to influence their success. The four factors above play a major role in showing students how a growth mindset works rather than just giving it lip service. We teach students that when they give more time to an assignment, they are more likely to see desired results. We explain that when people have a quiet space that allows them to focus, they can dedicate energy to the task in front of them, once again maximizing their possible success. Finally, we highlight the importance of qualities like commitment and persistence to illustrate that even when things get hard, continuing to strive does yield rewards. It can be challenging for kids to see the long game, so encouraging them to keep trying while reminding them that growth is a process is key to emphasizing the massive role of effort in achieving academic success.

The Language of Mindset

“Don’t worry, it’s easy.” Sometimes we say these words to be encouraging to students, but as this article explains, the word “easy” has the opposite effect. A host of phrases that both teachers and students use without thinking about it unintentionally support a deficit mindset. For example, students often tell us that they are “not good at” something. When that happens, the language we use matters. Try responding with ideas like this:

  • We are all learning.

  • It takes time to get better at something.

  • Mistakes help us grow.

  • Try a different strategy.

When we refuse to accept ability as a fixed point and use language to support that belief, students gradually change their own language as well. If teachers persist in talking about achievement as a journey rather than a destination, we bring the class one step closer to making growth mindset an action rather than an idea.

Being Resourceful

There are so many wonderful resources that help students of all ages understand the ideas behind achieving a growth mindset. Here are just a few:

  • Video: “Your Brain is Plastic”

  • Sesame Street: “The Power of Yet”

  • Article: “15 Habits of Genuinely Intelligent People”

  • Article: “How to Counter Learned Helplessness”

In addition to the resources above, any online search will also uncover a bevy of articles and excellent videos on the topic. Even more important, modeling the use of resources by sharing them with students demonstrates a growth mindset in action. Specifically, teachers must point out to students that nobody knows everything, and that being resourceful by seeking out information is a huge component of becoming more adept at any skill or subject. Demonstrating that we do not know everything (but that we are willing to search for materials or people who can help us) further aligns the talk around growth mindset with actions.

Strategies in Action

Once teachers have a strong foundation in growth mindset, the next step is using knowledge and resources in practice. How do we create a classroom that prioritizes a process over a product? The first step is to make sure students are on board. If teachers share their knowledge about growth mindset and their intentions, students are far more likely to become part of the effort. Then, the work begins. On everything from objectives to assignments, language must undergo a shift. Instead of “Students can” (which implies that the opposite, “cannot,” is a fixed point for achievement) in an objective, try saying, “Students will be able to.” Rather than give students a rubric with their work, include a list of criteria for success (required elements in student-friendly terminology rather than jargon) that also uses language indicating a journey rather than a destination. If a student is not doing well, thinking in terms of “not yet” vs. “never” changes the entire atmosphere of a classroom. Finally, planning lessons to include a learning progression rather than one final objective will help students see that incremental progress is just as valuable as achieving one big goal.

Teaching is an ever-shifting art. No two years are alike, and for that reason, effective teachers welcome opportunities for learning. If we include students in that journey, more people stand to benefit from the experience. As teachers work toward creating classrooms that welcome a growth mindset approach, working new ideas, language and strategies into planning processes will help to ensure that students begin seeing achievement in a whole new light.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS.

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