My Concerns With The Growth Mindset

Yesterday morning, I read Doug Peterson‘s post on the growth mindset that linked with the ideas shared in this wonderful Sketchnote image created by Sylvia Duckworth.

17855652233_540388931d_kNot long after reading and sharing Doug’s post, I received a notification from Brian Aspinall about his blog post on growth and fixed mindsets. I soon realized that this was an older post of his written on the same topic as Doug’s post. There are many interesting ideas in both Brian’s post and the comments. So why was it that after reading these two great posts on mindsets, I was still feeling uncomfortable about the topic?

I’ve been reflecting on this question a lot since yesterday morning, and I think that I now know the answer. I think in fact it’s a combination of many answers.

  • The use of edu-lingo bothers me. Now I say this and feel incredibly hypocritical, as I know and use this lingo a lot. The popular terms, the newest words, and/or the in phrases have all permeated our school culture. Maybe the thinking is that if we use the terms, we will embrace the concepts. Maybe we do. But sometimes I wonder if the terms are used without really understanding what they mean, or if the very use of the term is replacing the doing of the action. I think that I’d rather focus more on the “doing” and less on the “terminology.” I wonder if the emphasis on the lingo is making some people question why we’re embracing this concept and making others talk the talk without walking the walk.
  • I think that we can demonstrate the “growth mindset” in many ways. I love Sylvia’s visual, and I love that there are options for alternatives to phrases that we currently use. Do we need more options though? I think back to my school experiences as a student with a non-verbal learning disability. I will forever remember my high school Physical Geography class. We had to create and label maps … lots and lots of maps. I watched my sister talk about the different locations and how they connected to each other, and use this information to help with labelling and understanding each of the labels. I listened to her thinking, I worked tirelessly with my mom, step-dad, and teachers, and still I struggled. Eventually I learned how to memorize the locations so that I could label the maps. It wasn’t the best strategy, but it worked. I think of the words on Sylvia’s image that say, “I’m going to figure out how she does it.” This is what I tried to do, but for me, it didn’t work. If I saw this option as my only chance at success, then not being able to label a map after using this strategy, would have made me feel as though I failed. Sometimes I wonder if an open-ended understanding of perseverance is really the ultimate “growth mindset.” Or maybe we need a list of multiple “Try Thinking” phrases to ensure that students understand there isn’t just one way to think positively and try again.
  • I wonder if sometimes we’re being hypocritical. We want our students to demonstrate the “growth mindset,” but how many times have we uttered the phrases mentioned in David Fife‘s recent blog post? As I mentioned in my comment on David’s post yesterday, maybe if we want to tackle the “innovator’s mindset,” we need to start with the “growth mindset.” I wonder if this chart needs to be redone to reflect a growth mindset for adults. What would it say then? How can we model this growth mindset for our students?

I wonder how others react to the “growth mindset” phrase. I certainly love the concept and see its importance, but I wonder if this topic is bigger than a list of phrases to use. Maybe I have more of a “fixed mindset” when it comes to the “growth mindset.” I’m really not sure. What do you think? How do you make the “growth mindset” an important part of your classroom, school, and home environment? 


20 thoughts on “My Concerns With The Growth Mindset

  1. Hi Aviva,

    I agree with you about using the term growth mindset just for the sake of saying it, so it appears that we are engaging students with the actions that represent those values. If we define what it means to have a growth mindset with our students and provide relative, real-life examples then we should begin to hear and see examples of growth mindset in action from them. At our school our intermediate teachers have been working on this with their problems of practice and when I visit their classrooms I can see and hear examples without hearing the words growth mindset.

    • Thanks for the comment, David! I totally LOVE hearing about your experiences, and think that having the students involved in generating some of the examples is a great idea. Why are so many of the Growth Mindset examples and information just targeted at students though? How can we also link this to our adult learning? Is this already happening, and if not, what would we need to do to have this happen? I’d love to hear about various people’s experiences.


  2. Aviva, you raise some interesting points. I am not a big fan of buzzwords either. I think we throw around “engagement” like it is going out of style. However, I do think they act as reminders. We still use “Genius Hour” at school to represent that time when students can explore without fear of grades, etc.

    As for “growth mindset”, I think it is a reminder for those who say “I can’t” to start thinking “maybe I can”. Perhaps Fixed and Growth are not separate identities but can overlap in a Venn diagram. Lately I have been wondering how much grades correlate to a “fixed mindset”. I wonder how much “Growth Mindset” we can promote (competencies) with quantitative grades. I am not sure..

    It’s a double edged sword. As much as I dislike buzzwords, using them helps to describe situations and scenarios. When we talk “makerspaces” at school – we have a common idea of what that is.

    I’m more than done with “21st Century” though. 🙂

    Thanks for the post. I appreciate that we can have these conversations.

    • Thanks for the comment, Brian! I can totally see what you’re saying, and while I’m not a fan of buzz words, I do use them a lot. While I think that these words might help describe different experiences, I wonder if the use of them also turns some people off. I also wonder if sometimes these terms are used to label behaviour that actually doesn’t fit under them. I even think of the word, “inquiry.” How often is it used, but in very different situations? Is everything inquiry? I really appreciate the good discussion about this important topic. I’ve been thinking a lot about Growth Mindsets lately.


  3. Hi Aviva! My school/Board has made “Growth Mindset” one of our goals for this year. Some activities that teachers did was to have students articulate something they can’t do yet, with a way they WILL be able to do it. For example: “I can’t do a 360 turn on my skateboard yet, but if I practice a few more hours, I’ll get it” The students wrote them on square pieces of construction paper and they got posted on the classroom door. As a staff, we did a similar exercise that stated something in our lives, either personal or professional, that could be applied to the Growth Mindset. We posted them to chart paper that got posted in the staff room.

    The dialogue on the topic has been happening throughout the school all year – in classrooms, small groups, on committees and in the staffroom at lunch. One of the conclusions we’ve come to is that ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’ seem to be key components of truly embracing the Growth Mindset so that it leads to success. I don’t think these things can be exclusive (though this is just my humble opinion).

    I’m currently creating lessons on grit and resilience, using Lesson Paths and Zaption. I’m also planning on incorporating (somehow), Brian Aspinall ‘s Edmettle Site. The lessons will be shared with teachers, who can then use them in class. I really think it’s important to develop and nurture resilience and grit – I’m just not sure how effective we can be, or if we can be effective enough. If they don’t get the message of resilience and grit at home, or if the opposite is modeled at home, can we, the school, be successful? And how much of grit and resilience is nature and how much is nurture?

    • Thanks for the comment, Janet! I totally LOVE how the teachers set goals along with the students. How did you as a staff decide to do this? Are you noticing a difference in staff and students? I would really like to hear more.

      I wonder if there’s a way to connect the home and school so that these skills can be nurtured at home as well as at school. I definitely think that this common goal would support students more.

      While I may not be a fan of buzz words, learning to persevere, set reasonable goals, and keep working to achieve success, are all great skills for students and adults. It makes me very happy to hear how this is being done in your school situation!


  4. Aviva, you make so many important points. Your experience as a student reflects the reality of every student at some point in their studies. I think differentiation comes into play – what growth mindset looks like for one may be different from how it looks for another.
    During our grit, tenacity, perseverance and resilience inquiry which led to an essential question: How do we create opportunity for ourselves and others?” an important idea emerged about equity. A student pointed out that she has a “growth mindset” and yet, her family’s economic circumstances mean that there are barriers in place. Not matter how hard she tries, there are limitations and opportunities she cannot take advantage of. We cannot speak about “growth mindset” without acknowledging the larger context of our students.

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Heidi! What a great point! How did others respond to this? How does a growth mindset merge with this current reality? You and your students have given me even more to think about!


  5. Aviva, a very good exchange here. I see the concepts of Fixed and Growth Mindsets as guidelines, and the diagrams that have been posted as cues for what might indicate either. As educators I believe we need these buzz words and catch phrases as guard-rails, sign-posts, as we navigate a learning experience with a student.
    My concern with the Fixed and Growth mindset issue is the same I’ve had with the infamous Common Core “I can!” statements. It’s all about, HOW? For example, how will I get to the point of seeing mistakes as a learning opportunity, rather than, “I just messed up and it sure feels bad”. That just doesn’t happen overnight for anyone. For the past years I have been focused on how we can get students to believe for themselves they can achieve – the foundation for a “growth mindset”. A quote that comes to mind, “If you think you can catch the bus you will run for it.” – Lee Peng Yee.
    We need to provide the means and the opportunities for our students to become, “skillful” self-regulated learning. I learned this from the work of Barry Zimmerman who defined this as different from unskilled self-regulation- what students do when they lack strategies for HOW to achieve. This has become a passion of mine, as I stay active in education during retirement, presenting PD. What strategies are we modeling and showing children, starting in Pre-K, and what type of coaching are we providing that will nurture a mindset of, “I can’t do this, yet. So I will keep trying.”
    Reading your posts and exchanging ideas with educators who are self-reflective is always motivating and informative. Thank you for sparking me to reply.
    Angelo Truglio

    • Thanks for the comment, Angelo, and for sharing your experiences! You make a great point about the “how.” In my experience, it’s very beneficial for us, as educators, to also model how to make these mistakes, learn from them, and keep trying. We need these mistakes to be genuine, and we need to show students that there’s value in persevering. While I’m not a fan of the buzz words, I am a fan of the “growth mindset.” Maybe my biggest concern is that this mindset is always discussed when it comes to kids, but rarely when it comes to adults. Do we, as adults, utter “I can’t” too frequently, and if so, what impact does this have our our children? This whole topic has given me lots to think about. Thank you for giving me even more!


  6. Thanks for your reply – and for the follow on Twitter. I am pleased with the positive connections I am making and how it keeps my synapses firing!

    Yes Aviva, any movement toward creating a “growth mindset” learning environment for students, whether in a classroom, school or district, will need to begin with the teachers buying in. The education world I grew up in was mostly were, “Do as I say, not as I do”… showing my age right! We all know that doesn’t work,. So let’s be real… we as adults can adopt a “growth mindset” by doing what we expect from our students. Be willing to try and if/when we fall back on old ways, or find it uncomfortable or just different, remember it’s called learning. If we stay mindful of what we are saying and doing, we can use the delete button and start again. Notice I say we, because I include myself in this as well. Btw: there wills always be more to think about!

    • Thanks for the follow-up comment, Angelo! We definitely agree here, and for the record, I grew up with much the same mindset in education. I think that being willing to get uncomfortable is so important when it comes to the growth mindset. I also include myself in this. Many a time, even just this year, I’ve had to hit that figurative “delete” button myself and go back and start again. It’s great to have an opportunity to discuss these times with each other and know that we’re not in this alone.


      P.S. And yes, there is always more to think about! 🙂

  7. I always reading your reflections Aviva and really appreciate that you push back against some of the latest and greatest that comes down the pipe. With respect to the idea of the growth mindset, I’ve been wondering whether we, as teachers, aren’t just banging our heads against a brick wall if we fail to educate the parents on the GM. Given that we have the kids for 6 hours a day and parents have them for the balance, wouldn’t it stand to reason that we need to get parents on board if we really want to have an impact? (That would also result in “increasing parent engagement”, the other expression-du-jour.)

    • Thanks for the comment, Ellen! I totally agree with you regarding reaching out to parents about the growth mindset. I’ve had a lot of conversations (both orally and in writing) with parents this year about how we can help students “persevere,” and the differences in my kids are huge. Regardless of how we feel about the words, the ideas behind them are great! Adding parents into the mix to both support this growth mindset as well as model it is so important!


  8. I struggle sometimes with the idea of Growth Mindset and Resilience for exactly the reasons you state about your own experiences.

    I think that when we talk about these things we often ignore the struggle of people with learning disabilities or from less privileged backgrounds as Heidi’s students articulated. It’s not so simple.

    I also struggle with the idea of resilience and overcoming adversity…although I know it is important for us, as human beings, to bounce back from negative experiences I also think we need to look at the cause of these experiences and work to change them as a society or a culture. This means more focus on empathy, kindness, mindfulness, compassion and all those “soft” skills that schools give lip-service too but are too focussed on testing and achievement to truly dedicate time and commitment too.

    I’m thinking a lot about this and I guess I should write a blog post that deals with the issues.

    • Thanks Erin for sharing your thoughts! I’d love for you to write a blog post on this topic. Please let me know if you do.

      I actually think that the Growth Mindset and Resilience are even more important for students that struggle (for whatever the reason). These circumstances though are important ones to show that the way that students (or adults) meet with success may be different depending on backgrounds, needs, etc. I tend to think that this is not a reason to say, “I can’t,” but it is a reason to think about what “I can” might need to look like. I’d be curious to hear what others think.


      • It’s not that I don’t think they are important it’s that I think the message might come across as if you can’t, if you keep trying and you can’t ever learn to read, you are not enough. If only your growth mindset were better, stronger or you were more resilient then you would be able to.

        I liken it to telling someone who is depressed to pull up their socks and think positively. If only you think positively and are resilient to life’s negative experiences, you can be happy. This applies to people who don’t have depression or other mental illnesses but it’s not so straight forward for people who have a chemical imbalance.

        Obviously, my thoughts aren’t fully formed on this but there is something that bothers me about mindset and resilience. I think we need to address them and work on them but I also don’t want us to ignore the bullies, ignore the fact that we have the collective power to change some of those negative life experiences by working on empathy and kindness.

        • Thanks for expanding on your ideas, Erin! I totally agree with you, and I think that these are topics that are not talked about as much, but still so very important. The truth is that for some students and adults, no matter how hard they work or how many approaches they try, they may not meet with the same success as others. Maybe this comes down to how we define success, and does this definition need to be the same for everyone? This very topic is actually one that I plan on blogging about now.

          Thanks Erin for giving me a little more inspiration!

          P.S. I also agree with the need to focus on “empathy and kindness.” I think that the concept of equality aligns with this too. Even our youngest learners need to understand that what everyone might need is different, and that’s okay.

  9. I have promoted Growth Mindset throughout my PLN and school. I incorporate it in my classes as a Physical Education and Leadership teacher. One thing I have found is the education system can sometimes send a false message that creates a fixed mindset in our students. As students progress through school and do really well, no fault of their own, we call them smart put them in TD classes. If they don’t do so well, we label and sometimes separate them. At some level students see the splits and they begin to label each other and themselves. Next are grading system deepens these feelings. Get an A you are smart, get a D and you are not.
    Many good teachers see and understand this, but are not sure what to do. I am working to create a Standards Based Grading system that encourages ongoing learning and promotes a strong work ethic to get the grade they have earned, no matter their academic level. This probably isn’t anything new, but our school needs a way to reach our students (high school) who have been turned off by the ‘traditional” school.

    • Thanks for the comment, William, and sharing your own experiences. I can definitely see how report card marks can promote that “fixed mindset.” It’s hard to look beyond them and see how we can grow … not feeling that we’re destined to only reach a certain level. I know that Brian Aspinall (@mraspinall on Twitter) talks about this a lot. Maybe as adults and/or as teachers, doing a think aloud of how we respond to these marks and move forward are important. I would love to hear more about your Standards Based Grading System once it’s up and running. It sounds very intriguing.


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