Putting Learners First: Encouraging a Growth Mindset

A group of school children can be seen working on digital tablets, two teachers can be seen behind them helping and supervising

When I made the decision to pursue a career in education, the idea of making a difference in the lives of students was at the heart of it.  I think most people in the education sector can relate to this sentiment. At the heart of everything is the student. We want to inspire them, expand their knowledge, and help them to discover things for themselves.

Unfortunately, this drive to foster inquiry and foster a growth mindset can be muddied by policy once teachers step into the classroom. Mixed messages get sent out and teachers try to accommodate the multiple philosophies being thrown at them.  For example, we want students to learn from their mistakes and to grow from failures, however, we get told to praise for effort and we give trophies regardless of performance. This is not to say that effort shouldn’t be recognized and certainly winning isn’t everything. We often learn and grow the most from our mistakes, so why do we often act like failure is the end instead of part of the destination.

In order to learn from mistakes and move closer to a growth mindset, we must recognize that all of us will carry a fixed mindset to some degree.  A fixed mind set basically refers to the idea that we either are or we aren’t good at something. These qualities exist in all of us but we can work to overcome any preconceived ideas about learning or talents once we recognize what these qualities are in ourselves.  We can also accommodate the idea of praise without disregarding the importance of the final result.

If we want learning to be at the core of what we do for students then we must be willing to allow frustration to occur and help students understand that it is ok to be stuck.  That is part of the learning process.  It could be said that it is the most important part.  Students should feel challenged so they are able use the strategies you are teaching them to overcome it.  Instead of giving praise for effort perhaps the dialogue should be more reflective and encouraging in that nature.  For example, when students are working through a problem, ask how they are feeling, prompt them to identify where they are struggling, and encourage them to use their strategies.  When they have solved it, ask them to reflect with probing questions like, “How do you feel about solving the problem?” and “How did you feel when you were stuck?” Ask them to describe the process they used to overcome the challenge and praise the process instead of just the effort.

If we want to put learners first then we must put the learning process first.  When they become frustrated and say things, such as, “I can’t solve it,” why don’t we reply with, “yet.” As Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset says, there is an amazing amount of power in the word yet.

Interested in learning more about Growth Mindset?  Check out the following resources:

Mindset http://mindsetonline.com/

Mind/Shift: Growth Mindset Clearing Up Some Common Confusions http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/11/16/growth-mindset-clearing-up-some-common-confusions/


Barbra Thoeming Director of Education Strategy at Thrivist, LLC