GuidesWebinarsCase studiesWhite PapersBlogOther Resources

How teachers can foster a growth mindset in the classroom

Morgan HugoboomAugust 8, 2022

How teachers can foster a growth mindset in the classroom

Educators strive to help each student reach their full potential. According to the growth mindset, that potential can grow simply based on how we perceive it.

A student isn’t naturally bad at biology, they just haven’t learned it yet. Mistakes aren’t markers of inability, they are opportunities to learn something new or develop critical thinking skills. 

So, if this line of thinking helps expand the potential of students, how can teachers foster a growth mindset in the classroom? Let’s take a look at this important shift in how we view intelligence and what it can mean for students.

What is a growth mindset

A growth mindset is a belief that intelligence and ability can be developed over time. Neither is a predetermined marker for success in life because both can be improved if someone dedicates themselves to the challenge of learning. 

Benefits of a growth mindset in the classroom

Research has shown that a growth mindset in the classroom can help close racial achievement gaps in education. 

Students who are given the chance to cultivate a growth mindset are more likely to pursue challenging opportunities while developing stronger resilience and critical thinking skills. To them, difficulties experienced in a task are expected. Setbacks are opportunities to learn a new way of doing something. 

With a growth mindset, students aren’t afraid to make the occasional stumble. They challenge themselves because they’re interested in pushing their own boundaries. They don’t limit themselves to easier, safer roles that will reinforce their own sense of accomplishment.

How teachers can foster a growth mindset in the classroom

Avoid simply praising intelligence

Try to avoid telling students phrases like:

  • “You’re so smart.” 
  • “You’re really good at math.”

These statements reinforce the idea that a student did well on something because they were smart — rather than because they took the time to learn. It removes the emphasis from growing and places it on inherent talents. In doing so, it strengthens the idea that success is a matter of having skills at the onset of life when it’s really a matter of building them over time.

It also creates a relationship between results and intelligence. A student who believes that their intelligence is tied to their success might be less likely to take on difficult problems that could possibly make them look flawed or unskilled.

Praise the effort, not the outcome

Focus on the work that went into a task, not just the result. Praise the challenges that a student overcame when solving a problem. Recognize that they continued to work through a difficult issue until they figured out a solution. 

Sample growth mindset phrases:

  • “I saw that the problem was giving you trouble at first. Why don’t you tell me about how you figured it out?” 
  • “You did a great job of trying different methods until you found the one that worked!”

Shifting the focus to the process will reinforce the idea that important growth and development can happen when someone encounters challenges. The result is important too, but its significance lies in it being a reflection of hard work. Those results come when students continue to push through an issue or use critical thinking to overcome it.

Treat the brain like it’s a muscle

Another great way to foster a growth mindset in the classroom is to get students involved in the process. 

Don’t simply tell a class that they now have to start thinking in a totally new way. Instead, explain the science behind a growth mindset.

For younger students, a teacher can discuss how the brain is a muscle. Highlight how students can help their brains grow by learning new things. Portray challenges, frustration, and other difficult parts of learning as important steps in developing the brain. Just like other muscles that grow through exercise, a brain grows through mental activities.

For older students, a teacher can even share the research on growth mindset. Take a deeper dive into brain plasticity, neural pathways, and how learning builds the brain. Invite them to become active participants by giving them the research and tools behind the shift.

Embrace struggles, mistakes, and their solutions

Normalize struggles and mistakes by talking about them. Treat them as natural parts of the learning process. Instead of viewing mistakes as examples of weakness, reframe them as moments when a student learned a new way to do something. 

For example — after a project, have each student discuss the harder parts of the experience. Ask them to share a mistake that they made and how they eventually found the solution. 

Teachers can also help foster a growth mindset by normalizing difficult emotions that accompany challenging work. Explain to students that it is normal to feel frustrated over an issue. Connect those emotions back to the earlier point of how the brain works. Discuss how those feelings of frustration come when our brains are working hard to learn new things. 

Make it clear that the process of learning lends a positive sense of purpose to frustration, mistakes, and challenges. Help students understand that these normal experiences don’t reflect poorly on their intelligence. Remind them that learning and growth come at the end of those difficult moments.

Teach the benefits of constructive criticism (and what to do with it)

Constructive criticism is a necessary component of learning, but not all students know how to receive this feedback. Even fewer know how to effectively channel it into growth and positive change.

Teachers can help students develop a growth mindset by helping them understand the benefits of constructive criticism and how to use it. Explain that constructive criticism doesn’t reflect badly on a student. Receiving it doesn’t mean that a student is incapable. 

Instead, constructive criticism is delivered because the student has the potential to do even better. It comes from a place of goodwill when someone else wants to help that student continue to improve. 

By removing the idea that criticism means a student is unintelligent, a teacher can help their students view it in a less personally critical way. This less judgemental approach helps them to channel the feedback into effective and positive change as they continue to learn.

Set goals

While a student’s belief that they can do something does improve their performance, setting goals is another important component of that growth.

Creating incremental goals helps a student understand and break down complex, overwhelming, or seemingly unattainable results.

This is especially important when setting students up for success on bigger challenges. A smaller part of the larger task might be difficult, but breaking that challenge down into goals removes the sense that the entire task itself is impossible. Students are better equipped to focus on the immediate challenge without feeling paralyzed over the entire activity.

Use the word “yet”

Adding a simple “Yet” to phrases can entirely reframe a student’s perspective on themselves. 

Instead of a student saying: “I can’t do geometry”

Encourage them to say: “I can’t do geometry yet.” 

This small qualifier emphasizes the concept of being able to learn something over time. Results won’t be instantaneous, but hard work will eventually contribute to those results. A student’s ability today doesn’t determine their potential for tomorrow. 

Be the example

A teacher can foster a growth mindset with their students by setting the example in their own work. Be open about mistakes made when teaching and invite a discussion from students on different solutions available.

Show the class that teachers are just like their students when it comes to learning. They make mistakes, feel frustrated over difficult problems, and stumble when learning something new. Above all, they value the opportunity to overcome obstacles in order to grow.

Conclusion

Research supports the benefits of fostering a growth mindset in the classroom. Doing so results in more motivated students, smaller racial achievement gaps, and students who understand their own possibilities for growth. 

Hopefully, the tools discussed here can help teachers and educators who want to bring this important mentality to their classrooms. 

Photo Credit: Google Education

School & District Leadership

Free PBIS Self-Assessment Survey

Learn how to plan for the future with your programming

Fill out the survey here