Mindsets, Motivation, Growth

by Dr. Punita Rice Teaching

Trees take time to bear fruit - Growth Mindset teaches students success takes time

Growth Mindset as a skill and approach for teaching and “retraining” student (and teacher) thinking is not magic. But when used correctly, it can be empowering.

Last week, we were asked in our Turnaround School Leadership course to consider how the leadership competencies that tend to best support motivation and learning align with Carol Dweck’s ideas about student mindsets and motivation. I’ve written previously about the importance of Growth Mindset (an idea Dweck speaks extensively about) in education contexts, so I found this question particularly intriguing. After all, the same things that make for a good leader in education may tend to improve student mindsets and student motivation, especially if those things include promoting students’ personal beliefs, value for effective effort, and their self-efficacy.

Here’s the really interesting part: when students are able to believe their ability and competence grows with effort, they begin to feel they belong in their academic community (Farrington, 2014).

This suggests that growth mindset, while inherently beneficial for academic achievement and potential (Dweck, 2012) also has the potential to improve students’ personal and social outcomes (Farrington, 2014)!

Plus, as Farrington (2014) points out, this is even true for historically marginalized students: student performance increases significantly when negative messages and stereotypes are interrupted. In spite of the fact that a student’s strength of identification with a failing group or succeeding group “shape his interpretations of academic failure” (Farrington, 2014, p. 54), when negative (stereotypical, harmful, prejudiced, discriminatory, etc) ideas are challenged or interrupted, this effect can be minimized, and the students can persevere. 

The bottom line is, student mindset plays a huge role in their academic ability and success.

That said, students may not always be to blame for their lack of effort. Promoting growth mindset should not be seen as a cure-all that addresses every issue. Because of students’ diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and abilities, blaming them for something that isn’t just “not trying enough” is not the right approach. That said, teaching and promoting growth mindset ideas and helping to reshape student viewpoints certainly has value in helping students in overcoming deep-rooted beliefs about their own limits or their helplessness. To borrow an idea from Charles Payne (also cited here), students can overcome challenges in their backgrounds.

The ideas presented by Carol Dweck (2012) align with Farrington’s (2014) ideas for how classroom teachers and other education leaders can best support students’ motivation and learning, in that they all emphasize the importance of students’ personal beliefs about their own ability and performance, and the importance of growth mindset (Dweck, 2012; Farrington, 2014).

Further, Dweck’s ideas about feedback serve as a reminder not to praise or celebrate ‘intelligence,’ but to instead continue to praise effort and other things students have control over. As you suggest, there is definitely value in positively reinforcing students’ hard work. (Read on for references)

RSA . (2013). Carol Dweck – How to help every child fulfill their potential.

Farrington, C.A. (2014).  Failing at school lessons for redesigning urban high schools.  New York, NY:  Teachers College Press.

About the Author

Dr. Punita Rice

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Dr. Punita Rice is a wife and mama, an education researcher, a writer, the founder and director of ISAASE, and an advisor with Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Doctor of Education program. Her work centers around multicultural education and equity, and South Asian American experiences in school. You can read more about Punita and her work here. Punita also writes about life, culture, education, and motherhood here on her blog. She works from home in Maryland, and drinks a great deal of coffee.