Teaching Students about Growth vs Fixed Mindsets Starts With Us!

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Our beliefs matter.
Our mindsets matter.

I want my students to understand these truths. For knowing that they can choose to shift their mindsets and achieve their goals fosters agency.

Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets has helped shape our understanding of the power of beliefs in student achievement. She explains the two predominant mindsets: fixed and growth. A fixed mindset is the thinking that we either can or cannot do something while growth is the belief that with effort, we can work towards and achieve goals.

Because students' goal setting and self assessment hold a prominent place in my classroom, I decided that before crafting lessons on this topic, I needed to reflect on my life and identify areas where I hold a fixed mindset and places where I have a growth.

Below are the steps I followed from bringing this work to my students.

Steps for examining and sharing our mindsets with students

Step 1. Reflect on areas of your life where you have a fixed mindset.

I have a fixed mindset when it comes to learning languages. Learning French in high school and college was a struggle for me and it took studying abroad in college to help me gain a comfortable speaking level in the language; a level which I have lost due to years without practice. When I have had the privilege of visiting France or French speaking Canada, I find that some of my French returns but not to the level of fluency. One day while talking to a friend, I shared my belief that languages come easily for some of us and not others (myself included). Just then I had an eureka moment: “I have a fixed mindset around languages!” Here I am a teacher who works to shift students’ mindsets about themselves when I am carrying this limiting belief about learning foreign languages.

2. Shared your mindsets with your students.

Being vulnerable with your students encourages them to be honest about their beliefs. Letting them know that there are areas in your life where you have a fixed mindset dismantles any bad feeling or shame they may have about having a fixed mindset. The reality is that many of us experience those feelings.

3. Share what you are doing to shift your mindset around that belief from fixed to growth.

Model that we don’t have to throw in the towel and accept our mindsets as they are. Rather, we can consciously decide to make a shift from fixed to growth mindset. I was touched by how after sharing my fixed mindset about languages and my frustration with having “lost” so much of my French speaking abilities that my students suggested that I try Duo Lingo and other language learning programs. Here they were serving as my teachers by offering suggestions for accomplishing my goal.

4. Celebrate and share areas of your life where you have a growth mindset.

I offer examples of times in my life where I have wanted to accomplish something, believed I could do it and worked hard to get there. Whether it be a pirouette in ballet class in high school, a headstand in yoga or writing my first blog post, I set a goal, practiced regularly until I was able to do it. I highlight that I would not have made these accomplishments without shifting my mindset.

Now, it's time for students to do the work!

Not only did this experience give students permission to be honest with themselves about their mindsets, it also served as a community builder. They got to know me better and became more willing to share their mindsets with the class.

In my next post, I'll share some of their discoveries and how these conversations have lead to goal setting and plans for achieving goals.

Stay tuned...

1 thought on “Teaching Students about Growth vs Fixed Mindsets Starts With Us!”

  1. definitely will stay tuned. It’s interesting about how we notice something in ourselves or in our students and we think of a work around. I’m wondering about some things today as well.

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