Many schools are working hard to help promote a growth mindset in their students. I recently facilitated a learning session with a group of teachers that I’d like to pass along. It is a simple activity that yielded some powerful thinking and concrete strategies. I encourage you to think about how you might use (and adjust) this session in your own school.

First, we reviewed the term “growth mindset” as defined by Carol Dweck: “[A] growth mindset is the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience (Dweck 2006, p. 7).”

We then watched a short video which highlights one of the many studies Carol Dweck and her research team conducted. This helped warm everyone up a bit more to the topic.

Next, teachers had about 10-15 minutes to explore some articles I had collected for them. Each article explores the idea of promoting a growth mindset through a slightly different lens. Teachers could choose which articles they were most interested in exploring. Everyone took notes so they could keep track of both interesting ideas and concrete strategies that they wanted to share. Here are the articles I used (though you could certainly find others–there are plenty out there!):

Too Many Kids Quit Science Because They Don’t Think They’re Smart

Recognizing and Overcoming False Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset: Clearing up Some Common Confusions

A Growth Mindset in Mathematics

Teachers had a few minutes to share and discuss ideas they gathered in small groups, and then we shared out with the whole group. We collected both ideas to try and practices to avoid. I recorded ideas in a T-chart of dos and don’ts and then created a simple document that could be shared with everyone. Teachers’ challenge was then to keep thinking about these ideas in their daily work with children and be ready to reflect on ideas they tried when we next meet.

Here are some (but certainly not all) of the ideas generated:

Dos (Ideas to Try) Don’ts (Practices to Avoid)
  • Help students improve skills and strategies (through coaching, modeling, assessment, and support toward high standards)
  • Offer sincere and authentic positive feedback about the process of learning and hard work
  • Shift our (adults’) own mindsets about our growth and learning
  • Make our own learning visible to students
  • Teach skills and strategies of perseverance
  • Ask students questions about their learning/work (“How did you do that?” “Tell me more about your thinking.”)
  • Offer opportunities for revision and improvement
  • Celebrate mistakes as a tool for learning
  • Help students see math as a “learning” subject
  • Encourage trial and error
  • Use heterogeneous grouping
  • Offer hollow praise
  • Label kids
  • Focus on weaknesses
  • Use traditional grades
  • Just praise effort (“Great effort!”)
  • Use timed tests/tasks
  • Emphasize speed as a measure of success
  • Reinforce cultural/gender stereotypes
  • Use fixed ability grouping or tracking
  • Demonstrate (as adults) a fixed mindset (“I’m just not an artist.” “I’ve never been good at math.”)

It was amazing to see how many practical and powerful ideas were generated in such a short professional development session!

I hope you’ve found this summary helpful. Though this session was part of a broader year-long exploration of effective teacher language that I’ve been facilitating in this district, I also think it would have merit as a stand-alone activity. Consider trying this out at your own school as a way of helping teachers generate ideas for supporting and promoting a growth mindset with your students!

If you’re interested in a whole book about the way we should (and shouldn’t) talk with students, check out my new best-selling book: What We Say and How We Say It Matter.

  1. Love this activity Mike – thanks for sharing! I will surely use it with my teachers!

    • Sounds great, Susan! Let me know how it goes!