Nurturing a Growth Mindset

Andrew Ford

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School can be a challenging experience not just for the student but for the adults who are responsible for them. It is not only students, but their parents and teachers who experience the emotional rollercoaster that comes with failure or success. Doing well in a maths test, not being chosen for the sports team, excelling in art class or not being accepted by a chosen university. Whatever the outcome, how do you as the adult respond to a young person in a way that will encourage them to continue learning and developing? Research in the field of growth and fixed mindsets provides some insight into this.

Students who hold more of a fixed mindset tend to focus theirattention on proving how smart theyare, whereas those with a growth mindset tend to focus their attention on improving. When the focus is onimproving, then greater motivation and achievement takes place, and the good newsis that this attitude can be passed on and encouraged.

You might think that parents and teachers who hold more of agrowth mindset would be able to transfer this way of thinking on to the youngpeople they are working with. It turns out that knowing about growth mindsetand even being able to recognise it in yourself is not enough.

Dweck and colleague found little correlation between theparent/teacher and child’s mindset, with the adult benefitting from growthmindset thinking but with little carry over to the child. Mindset was far more dependanton the adult’s theory of motivation than any belief about intelligence, coupledwith their actual response to failure and success (Haimovitz & Dweck,2016).

Responseto Success

The way in which adults praise the young people they interact withplays a key role in the mindset produced. Personpraise, such as ‘You must be smart!’, ‘I’m really proud of you!’ or ‘You’rea good boy!’ is more likely to lead to a fixed mindset, as it is aboutvalidating their current ability. On the other hand, process praise such as ‘You worked really hard on these challengingproblems!’ or

‘You found a creative way of solving that!’ is more likely to leadto growth mindset thinking, as this is about the way they are learning anddeveloping. If you are wanting to encourage a growth mindset then praisingeffort is far more effective than praising the person (Mueller & Dweck,1998; Kamins & Dweck, 1999).

Unfortunately some educators and parents have taken the ‘praisethe effort, not the outcome’ advice at face value – this can be problematic.Simply praising effort without linking it with learning or achievement is noteffective praise, and is similar to giving them a consolation prize of effortbecause they haven’t shown learning. If learning is not taking place then thisis useful feedback that new strategies need to be tried (Haimovitz & Dweck,2017).

Response toFailure

Criticism of a student when the outcome is not what was hoped foror expected is equally as important in encouraging either a growth or fixedmindset. Giving person or learning processcriticism has the same effect asgiving person or learning process praise (see above!).  The focus of the criticism comes from theadult’s belief about whether they see failure as motivating or demotivating.Adults who have a failure is enhancingmindset see it as something that motivates learning, growth andperformance. However those adults with a failureis debilitating mindset see it as something that demotivates and inhibitslearning. These beliefs lead to adults responding in different ways to thestudent’s failure:

Failure is enhancing,would focus on the process, asking how the student could learn from theexperience or look at the mistakes to work out how to improve

Failure is debilitating,would focus on the person, asking questions about the student’s performance orability


Research by Sun, 2015 indicates that the practices of teachers hasan impact on the mindsets the students are likely to adopt. A growth mindset islikely to be produced when educators teach for understanding rather than justresults. They ask students to articulate their thinking process regardless ofthe attainment level and give feedback to help deepen understanding. The typeof feedback conducive to a growth mindset evaluates and praises a student’sexplanation of their thinking, their learning process and their gradualprogress toward learning goals. Finally, giving a clear explanation of how importantmistakes and struggle are on the way to learning.

On the other hand, teachers who focus on ability are more likelyto create fixed mindset thinking in their students. Grouping students togetherbased on their initial achievement levels and encouraging social comparison instudent evaluations have a detrimental impact on mindset. For instance, publicpraise of high performing students as ‘smart’ or ‘fast’ could mean others seethemselves as the opposite.

School can be a challenge for us all, but as educators and/or parents, we can use the strategies outlined here to help young people to embrace a growth mindset and continue to learn and develop. We invite you to take some time today to reflect on how you can apply these insights to your personal and working life.

Resources& References

How Mindsets Influence Learning

Mindset by Carol Dweck


Trevor Ragan explains mindset concepts

Haimovitz, K., & Dweck, C. S. (2016). Whatpredicts children’s fixed and growth intelligence mindsets? Not their parents’views of intelligence but their parents’ views of failure. PsychologicalScience, 27, 859–869.

Haimovitz, K., & Dweck, C. S. (2017). Theorigins of children's growth and fixed mindsets: New research and a newproposal. Child Development, 88(6), 1849-1859.

Kamins, M., & Dweck, C. (1999). Personversus process praise and criticism: Implications for contingent self-worth andcoping. Developmental Psychology, 35, 835–847.

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998).Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1),


Sun, K. L. (2015). There’s no limit:Mathematics teaching for a growth mindset. Doctoral dissertation, StanfordUniversity, Stanford, CA. 

Andrew Ford

Andrew Ford is a Trainer and Content Developer with the Institute of Positive Education. Passionate about growth and development, he draws on more than twenty years of experience in youth and community organisations. He is currently studying a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology through the University of East London.