21 Mar 2017

Cultivating a Growth Mindset in Your Classroom

For the first time in 16 years, I bought a new car. I traded in my 2001 Honda Accord with 200,000+ miles and hopped into a 2017 Toyota Prius (don’t judge.) As much as I love my new car, I must admit to a significant overwhelm factor moving from my fixed dashboard, manual transmission to the 1200 display options and hybrid technology. In buying this new car, I had to make a conscious choice that I can not only learn the new technology that has consumed the rest of the world in the last decade and a half, but actually learn to love it. To reference Carol Dweck’s work, I had to reject my initial fixed mindset and adopt a growth mindset.

Embracing a growth mindset is critical for students as they enter a world that is changing at a more rapid pace than ever before, with no signs of stopping. Review the different categories below and see which areas your students might need help in moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Then use the tips at the end to help cultivate a growth mindset in your classroom.

Skills and Intelligence

Students with a fixed mindset believe intellect and ability are things we are born with. They might say things like, “I’m not good at Math,” or “No one in my family is a good writer.”

Students with a growth mindset believe we are born with different talents, but skills and intelligence can be learned, developed, and improved. Students with a growth mindset believe they can learn anything.


Students with a fixed mindset see challenges as something to avoid. They present a chance to fail or to reveal a lack of skill. These students tend to be fearful of difficult assignments. They may opt out entirely or put in little effort.

Students with a growth mindset embrace challenges. They see them as an opportunity to succeed at something or at the very least to grow. They may even look forward to challenging projects and assignments.


Students with a fixed mindset believe talented people don’t need to put in extra effort. They see effort as unnecessary if you have natural skill. These students rely heavily on talent and natural ability and thus will rarely put in extra effort.

Students with a growth mindset believe that regardless of talent, effort is essential to improving. They see it as the only path to mastering a particular topic or skill and understand that extra effort will be required to excel at anything.


Students with a fixed mindset often get defensive when given constructive criticism. As such, they will ignore feedback or discount the criticism by making excuses.

Students with a growth mindset understand that feedback is useful. They want to learn from criticism and will seek it out from teachers, parents, friends, and others.


Students with a fixed mindset get discouraged easily. They tend to give up on a project or assignment as it gets difficult. They may also blame others when setbacks occur.

Students with a growth mindset persist through setbacks. They are determined to work through obstacles and look forward to trying something a different way to find a solution.

Success of Others

Students with a fixed mindset feel threatened by the success of their peers. They may look to find fault with others who are successful and tend to attribute that success to outside factors.

Students with a growth mindset feel inspired by the success of others. They study successful people and seek ways to emulate them. They want to partner with peers who can bring out the best in themselves and their collective work.


Cultivating a Growth Mindset

Here are a few tips to begin cultivating a growth mindset in your classroom:

  • Let them fail.
  • Encourage them to add the word “yet.” (I haven’t gotten the experiment to work yet.)
  • Praise the process over the person.
  • Explain that skills such as creative thinking must be exercised to grow, just like muscles.
  • Teach them to seek learning over approval. (I see you got an A, but what did you learn?)
  • Eliminate negative connotation with the word “criticism”
  • Encourage a new goal for every goal accomplished. Stay hungry.