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A Growth Mind-Set For Educators

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I’ve written a fair amount about the work of Carol Dweck, especially in the context of lessons I’ve done with students about looking at their brain as a muscle instead of something that’s set-in-stone.

She’s recently written an article for Principal Leadership titled Mind-Sets and Equitable Education. It’s a good review of the research and work she’s done with students though, if you’re familiar with her work, you probably won’t find anything new in that area.

However, it was the first time I’ve read about the research in the context of teachers. I’d strongly encourage you to read the free article, but wanted to reprint a small portion here:

Rheinberg (as cited in Dweck, 2007), a researcher in Germany, measured teachers’ mind-sets at the beginning of the school year. Some teachers believed that students had fixed intelligence and that they, as educators, had no influence on their students’ basic intellectual capabilities. Other teachers believed that they could mold and enhance their students’ intellectual skills. Rheinberg then monitored the students’ achievement over the school year. He found that when teachers had a fixed mind-set, the students who had entered their class as low achievers left as low achievers at the end of the year. When teachers had a growth mind-set, however, many of the students who had started the year as low achievers moved up and became moderate or even high achievers. Teachers with a growth mind-set don’t just mouth the belief that every student can learn; they are committed to finding a way to make that happen.

People with a growth mind-set don’t put people in categories and expect them to stay there, but people with a fixed mind-set do. They not only believe in fixed traits, but they also believe that they can quickly and accurately judge those traits. This means that once they have decided that someone is or is not capable, they are not very open to new information to the contrary. And they may not mentor people who they have decided are not capable.

When teachers decide that certain students are not capable (or when principals decide that certain teachers are not capable), they may not take steps to help them develop their potential. In a recent study, we took people who had a fixed or growth mind-set and we asked them to respond to a seventh-grade student who had received a poor grade on the first mathematics test of the year. Those who had a fixed mind-set comforted the student and told the student that not everyone could be good in mathematics.

In sharp contrast, those who had a growth mind-set said that they knew that the student could do better, encouraged the student to try harder, and gave the student specific suggestions for study and learning strategies. For the educator with a fixed mind-set, learning is the students’ responsibility. If students don’t have what it takes, so be it. But for the educator in a growth mind-set, learning is a collaboration in which the teacher has great responsibility.

Not a bad concept for us teachers to keep in mind…..

Thanks to Claus von Zastrow for the tip.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

3 Comments

  1. It all speaks to what is good leadership administratively and teaching in the classroom. While certain models have great potential the bottom line really is the aqdministrator or teachers. Chances are, if you find an oustanding individual committed to serving people you will find both teacher and student success! Thanks for keeping that awreness alive by citing such research.

  2. Excellent post! Again, you can look at what is going on in schools with some students totally dejected wit the environment. Many would tout that as it is their problem, but obviously it is just the environment and it really breaks your heart.

  3. Thanks for the shout-out Larry. I think you zeroed in on the article’s most compelling passages. Dweck’s findings turn “high expectations” from a slogan into a strategy–and an article of hope.

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