A Growth Mindset for Students and Teachers

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Fact: students who have a growth mindset outperform students who don’t. Another fact: you can help develop a growth mindset for students (and develop one yourself while you’re at it). Growth mindset and fixed mindset are terms for how we perceive and deal with failure. If you have a growth mindset, you believe that you’re able to learn and improve your skills and knowledge; if you have a fixed mindset, you believe the opposite.

This picture sums it up quite nicely:

Although there are two terms, they should be thought of as being on a continuum, with some people being fixed mindset about some aspects of life and study, and have a growth mindset about others, and in varying degrees.

The idea of these two mindsets first came about 30 years ago with Carol Dweck, a researcher who wrote the book Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. She found that students with a growth mindset had higher levels of motivation, and continued to work hard when they failed at a task.

Obviously a growth mindset is a powerful tool to give to our students, trainees and staff, as well as develop in ourselves. Imagine the difference you could make, not just in your students’ academic performance, but in their lives if you can get them to adopt a growth mindset way of thinking!

How to Develop and Foster a Growth Mindset

Note: this applies equally to teachers, trainers and managers. When I say ‘learner’ below, you can think of your students, your trainees or your staff, as appropriate.

Identify which of your learners have a growth mindset and which have fixed mindset for the skill you’re helping them to learn.

There are a number of ways you can help your learners move away from a fixed mindset and towards a growth mindset, in order of difficulty

  1. Praise the Process, Not the Outcome

Studies by Dweck found that by praising the process (i.e. “You’ve worked very hard on this”) developed a growth mindset, compared to praising the outcome (i.e. “You’re very smart”). Basically, if you praise an aspect that the learner is clearly able to control, they feel they have more autonomy, and hence resilience.

Hey, you could even use catchphrases to remind them (‘It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part... it’s the effort not the victory…it’s the process, not the outcome’). Use with discretion though – these are more likely to work with younger learners than cynical older TEFL teachers

  1. Teach Learners about Mindsets

Actively make learners aware of the growth and fixed mindset paradigm – show them studies of what a mindset shift can accomplish, of how it will impact them and their future. Go all ‘motivational-speaker-Tony-Robbins’ on them and get them fired up to improve their study, and their lives. Being transparent about what you're doing will get you respect.

Final Word

This has the potential to change your students’ lives. Not just their language learning journey, or even their wider academic study, but how they view and interact with the whole world. You’ve got a powerful tool, use it wisely.

To read more about mindsets, you can get a copy of Carol Dweck’s book here (full disclosure – if you buy after clicking this link, I’ll receive a tiny commission. It’ll be the same price for you, but it’ll help keep the lights on here at Barefoot TEFL Teacher HQ).