Carol Dweck Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset: 4 Ways Teachers Mess It Up and How We Can Fix It

As contemporary educators, we understand that a student’s growth and growth mindset are more important than their scores. We’ve been taught to praise effort over talent. However, fostering a growth mindset in students isn’t as simple as just telling them to keep up the hard work.

In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Carol Dweck dispelled some of the myths behind her groundbreaking work. For those unfamiliar with her, Dweck is a leading educational researcher whose theory of growth mindset has revolutionized the way leaders empower their classrooms, companies, and institutions of all sorts.

Here are 4 ways that Dweck has seen growth mindset misunderstood or misused over her 40 years of education research.


1) Claiming a growth mindset without doing the necessary work

sleeping fishermanBecause of the massive impact Dweck’s research has had on the education world, not having a growth mindset in your classroom could be perceived as terribly old fashioned. Many educators claim to have a growth mindset even though in practice they merely praise their students for their hard work.

A true growth mindset, Dweck says, involves “understanding your triggers, working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more.” It’s working with children metacognitively to help them understand their intellectual and emotional fears, and giving them the tools they need to overcome them, that builds true growth mindset in the classroom.


2) Blaming students for their fixed mindset

As educators, it’s our responsibility to give students the tools they need to succeed. Of course, in the end, we cannot make students do anything, so whether or not they try is their choice. However, the most effective teachers create a culture of success and growth that is irresistible.

In her interview, Dweck says, “Often when we see kids who aren’t learning well, we might feel frustrated or defensive, thinking it reflects on us as educators. It’s often tempting to not feel it is our fault. So we might say the child has a fixed mindset, without understanding instead that, as educators, it is our responsibility to create a context in which a growth mindset can flourish.”


3) Blindly praising all effort regardless of learning

growth mindsetGrowth mindset isn’t just about praising students for trying. Simply putting in effort will not lead to growth if we don’t give students new tools that allow them to overcome unfamiliar challenges. Students are adept at recognizing empty praise, so when you say, “wow you tried so hard!” but they know they didn’t make progress, they see that praise a consolation prize for failure.

Instead, praise the effort that led to a visible, if not measureable, result. We want to support the learning process. Dweck says, “Effective teachers who actually have classrooms full of children with a growth mindset are always supporting children’s learning strategies and showing how strategies created that success… You want them to know when to ask for help and when to use resources that are available.”


4) Believing it’s too late to develop a growth mindset in adolescents

Anyone at any age can be taught to foster a true growth mindset if they’re given the correct tools and the proper guidance. To prove this point, Dweck cited a recent study in which high school freshmen wrote letters to a hypothetical struggling peer, counseling that person in terms of the growth mindset principle. Research showed that students who took on a growth mindset after attending workshops seek more challenges.


Want help implementing growth mindset into your classroom or school? Set up a free consultation with Executive Director Mary Sanders.