Growth-Minded in the New Year

growth mindsetAs articles, tweets, and status updates fly around the internet with all of the secrets, tips, and tricks to making and keeping resolutions and finding success and happiness…I ran across this article:

Growth Mindset and the Common Core Math Standards

It references a study in which two groups of students with comparable levels of math achievement were instructed in the same new math skills. One group was additionally coached to understand their mind as a muscle that becomes stronger with usage, practice, and even struggle. This is called the growth mindset or the expandable theory of intelligence. The control group was only instructed in the new skills (fixed mindset).  The results of the study revealed that the students who internalized the belief that intellectual skill can be developed through acquisition and practiced application of knew information and skills had notable improvement in grades and study habits compared to the fixed mindset group. Not only that, but their improvement continued on an upward trajectory over the next two years, diverging from the control group’s even further.

While the research in this article is focused on math instruction and performance, some of the take-aways regarding encouraging a growth mindset are applicable to adults and children alike. As we enter 2014 as educators, parents, and individuals hoping to develop new habits and skills in ourselves and others let’s remember:

  • What you believe about your own intelligence and skills (expandable or fixed) will inform what you believe about that of others, and thus how you interact with them. When confronted with struggle/failure, do you approach instruction/parenting with the belief that your students/children are just not sufficiently bright, talented or smart? How might children be better equipped for their future if they are consistently treated as though they are just faced with a challenge they don’t yet have the skills to solve, as teachable learners who need guidance and feedback on how to improve?
  • How you talk to (encourage, praise, redirect, etc.) your students/children about successes and failures can impact achievement and growth. Do you emphasize intelligence/skill/talent as a fixed trait? Or effort, perseverance, and resilience? Research shows that praising/encouraging the process (not the person) fosters growth mindset and greater long term resilience and success.
  • Fixed mindset individuals see struggle and failure as indicators of intelligence and aptitude. Growth mindset individuals see the same challenges as opportunities for learning, in which effort and mistakes are highly valued.

Whether it is in relation to your profession or your personal resolutions for 2014, consider how your inward thinking and outward language (both towards yourself and to others) can reflect the belief that skills, talents, and intelligence can be cultivated, honed, and learned with perseverance, grit, and determination.


“The clear fact of everyday experience is that human intelligence is diverse and multi-faceted. For evidence, we need only look at the extraordinary richness and complexity of human culture and achievement. But the foundation of all these achievements is a unique, personal aptitude combined with a deep passion and commitment.” – Ken Robinson

IF we are truly interested in creating a school culture that is inclusive of many intelligences…
IF we believe that one size does not fit all children (a belief we can hold even when we are limited in what sizes we can fully accommodate)…
IF we hold that  a child in our school deserves to believe they have distinctive value and worth…
IF we trust that taking safe risks is necessary for children’s growth and development…
IF we know that children need modeling and transparency to set them up for their best chance at success in these risks…

THEN we need to start by naming and including our intelligences in that school culture
THEN we must recognize that our strengths, passions, intelligences come in different sizes, shapes, colors, and complexities.
THEN we will believe in our own distinctive value and worth to this community, and be willing to see and acknowledge it in our colleagues.
THEN we can take our own safe risks for our own growth and development.
THEN we have, as the decision-makers and weather-creators of their daily school environment, a confident, flexible, and unapologetic answer to the question “How are you intelligent?” about ourselves.

It is easy to spend our days feeling weighed down by our struggles and challenges, by the things that go “wrong”. We forget that some of the core things children need for happiness and health are not their needs because they are CHILDREN, but because they are PEOPLE….and we as adults need them too. We need to allow ourselves to accept the reality that our weaknesses and challenges do not define us or our worth. We need to know and be willing to articulate for others our strengths and passions so that they can serve as springboards for new growth. We need to be seen and recognized. We need to contribute and to have a voice. There are many things we each bring to the table – for the sake of our students and our community – and some of those things we know about each other, and some of them we don’t. How are you intelligent? Who you are is valuable to children and to your school. What do you bring to the table?