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The journey to a growth mindset

Prof. Carol S. Dweck, the winner of the Yidan Prize for Education Research, discusses growth mindset and how to ensure pupils remain joyful learners

Posted by Julian Owen | March 07, 2018 | People, policy, politics

Prof. Carol S.Dweck has dedicated many years to ‘growth mindset’ research, but then she started to see people adopting what she calls a ‘false’ growth mindset. Prior to receiving her prize at the Inaugural Yidan Prize Award Presentation Ceremony, Carol addressed press and guests at the Chinese International School to discuss her research and how the education system can embrace a growth mindset. 

“A couple of years ago a colleague of mine saw an outbreak of false growth mindset,” said Carol. “You know when you learn a new word and start hearing it everywhere? Well, I started seeing false mindset everywhere. Some said that just telling kids to work hard is growth mindset and others were equating growth mindset to sheer effort. Just because students are working hard, it doesn’t mean they have growth mindset.” 

So, what IS growth mindset? With teachers misunderstanding its real concept, Carol is keen to banish any misconceptions and ensure that growth mindset is being used correctly in the classroom. 

“Growth mindset is not saying that everyone is the same, it’s not about denying that talent exists,” said Carol. “It’s also not saying that anyone could be Albert Einstein. It’s saying that everyone has the potential to develop their abilities. What’s so exciting is that neuroscience is showing the tremendous plasticity of our brain, meaning our brain can grow and change.” 

“In my work, we find that students think about their talents, intelligence and their abilities in different ways, with some of them leaning towards a more fixed mindset where they don’t think they can improve,” continued Carol. “Whereas other people believe their intelligence can be developed over lifetimes through hard work and good strategies.” 

This is the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, something which is within all of us. Normally, a person is a mixture of both, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have more of a growth mindset. Carol highlighted that there are normally triggers of a fixed mindset and if we are aware of them, it is easier to deal with them. Carol described her fixed mindset as ‘Madame Perfect’ and recommended creating a persona for this mindset and engaging with it. A fixed mindset normally prevents a person reaching their potential but addressing it can help to achieve their goals. 

“The battle of fixed and growth mindsets is an opportunity for more fear and anxiety or it is an opportunity for growth,” said Carol. 

'Growth mindset is saying that everyone has the potential to develop their abilities.'

The key to creating a successful growth mindset in the classroom is in the school’s culture. Carol advised educators to realise that they needed to create a classroom where venturing in and out of pupils’ comfort zones was safe and valued. If pupils are empowered to step out of their comfort zone, in the knowledge that they can cope with the struggles ahead, it will help them to create a successful growth mindset. 

After her talk at Chinese International School, Carol received the Yidan Prize for Education Research later that day, a huge moment in her career and a credit to the power of her research. 

“I was in a hotel in New York, when I got the email,” said Carol about the moment she found out she had won the prize. 

“I had won this extraordinary prize and I was in shock. The magnitude of it was so overwhelming and the opportunities it can create is mind-boggling.” 

Indeed, this is only the beginning for Carol as she plans to use to prize money to create growth mindset programmes for teachers across the world. This will ensure that teachers are able to successfully infuse growth mindset into their teaching practices. 

“Some educators understand it and are doing amazing things, but many don’t know how to implement it,” said Carol. “There are many wrong ways to implement it that either lose the effect, or backfire and teach more of a fixed mindset. That’s why this prize is so valuable, as it means we can work with teachers who are skilled at implementing growth mindset and teachers who are not, and then create a curriculum that teaches them step-by-step how to introduce it.” 

Plus, Carol believes that growth mindset will not only help pupils and teachers, but headteachers too. 

“Many headteachers think they have to have all the answers and be an authority all of the time,” said Carol. “So, for them to think that they are works in progress and learning too, it would be a gift to education.” 

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