Educators are always looking for ways to increase their students’ success. They take professional development courses on how to accelerate progress. They join collaborative groups to help facilitate growth. They attend conferences to learn how to elevate achievement and boost motivation. And they are willing to take a “deep dive” into the complexities that drive student success. But as it turns out, one of the most effective keys to unlocking student potential may actually be tied to a relatively simple concept — tapping into the student’s mindset, or the established set of attitudes that he or she believes about themself.

The importance of student mindset was first given strong consideration roughly three decades ago, when psychologist Carol Dweck began investigating why students responded differently when they failed at a task. She noticed that some students bounced right back from their failure, while others were deeply troubled by it. Dweck began studying this phenomenon and came to the conclusion that the observed response was heavily influenced by the student’s mindset — that is, the student’s self-evaluation.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Dweck postulated that student success and motivation, or lack thereof, were often tied to whether a child possessed what she called a “growth mindset” or a “fixed mindset,” which she described as follows:

  • “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success — without effort.”
  • “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

A student who holds a fixed mindset might say, “I’m not very smart, so I’ll never understand this,” while a student with a growth mindset might respond, “If I keep working and look at this from several different angles, I’ll eventually figure it out.”

Informed by research conducted by Dweck and Dr. Ellen LeggettTransforming Education concluded that students who subscribe to a fixed mindset have a tendency to “avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as fruitless, ignore constructive criticism, and feel threatened by the success of others.” Conversely, a growth mindset for kids leans toward “embracing challenges, persisting in the face of setbacks, seeing effort as a path to mastery, learning from feedback, and finding lessons and inspiration in the success of others.”

Flipping the Switch from Fixed to Growth Mindset

Research demonstrates that students who operate within a growth mindset effectively exercise their brain like it’s a muscle, which becomes stronger the more it’s used. A 2019 nationwide study published in the journal Nature  demonstrated that “growth mindset intervention—which teaches that intellectual ability can be developed—improved grades among lower-achieving students.” In essence, if a student embraces the possibility that intelligence is not static but instead can be grown, he or she will be willing to put in the extra time, effort, and ingenuity necessary to achieve a better result.

 A 2018 study conducted among students representing 78 different countries found that a growth mindset also had a positive effect on standardized test results. “ … after controlling for students’ and schools’ socioeconomic differences, students with a strong growth mindset scored significantly higher on all subjects — 31.5 points in reading, 27 points in science, and 23 points in math — compared with students who believed their intelligence was fixed.”

But in order to coach a growth mindset for kids, teachers must first possess it themselves. Studies have shown that a teacher’s mindset can influence the way he or she responds to students, thereby impacting student outcomes — whether for better or worse.

Dr. Dweck also points to the importance of nurturing a growth mindset culture within a school. “The growth mindset intervention effects on grade point average were larger in schools with peer norms that were supportive of the treatment message, she said.” To maximize student outcomes, a growth mindset needs to permeate the entire organization. “It’s not that you give kids a growth mindset and then turn them loose. We have to create cultures that support them in using the growth mindset for growth of competence.”

Teachers Make a Difference 

According to Dave Paunesku, co-founder and executive director of the Project for Education Research that Scales, in order for growth mindset training to work, “teachers need to think more in terms of persuading students than relaying a set of facts. Sometimes teachers approach it like quadratic equations. You can’t just think of it as a regular thing to teach, because the internalization of it is so important.”

So just how do educators get students to internalize this way of thinking? How can they develop a growth mindset for kids? Dweck offers a few examples of how teachers can encourage students along their journey:

  • Instead of saying “Not everybody is good at math. Just do your best,” say “When you learn how to do a new kind of problem, it grows your math brain.”
  • Instead of saying “That’s OK, maybe math is not one of your strengths,” say “If you catch yourself saying, ‘I’m not a math person,’ just add the word ‘yet’ to the end of the sentence.”
  • Instead of saying “Great effort! You tried your best,” say “The point isn’t to get it all right away. The point is to grow your understanding step by step.”
  • Instead of saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll get it if you keep trying,” say “That feeling of math being hard is the feeling of your brain growing.”

The prospect of being able to help students increase their intellectual abilities and test scores and, by extension, equip them for more success, is exciting. Educators who embrace and foster a growth mindset for kids can literally be part of a life-changing experience for their students. So parents will serve their children well if they consider how effective their schools are performing in this capacity.

Growth Mindset at Fairmont Schools

Fairmont Schools has been innovating in education for almost 70 years. So while many schools are just now getting on board with the concept of growth mindset, Fairmont has been engaging in it for years.

Leveraging resources such as CASEL’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) framework, Fairmont helps students develop a growth mindset by tapping into a variety of competencies, with a particular emphasis on:

  • Self-awareness – “The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values, and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.”
  • Self-management – “The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations, and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.”

If you are looking for a school that has a demonstrated history of proven student outcomes, powered by a growth mindset, it’s not too late to enroll at Fairmont Schools for the 2022-2023 school year. Contact admissions to schedule your tour today.

More About Fairmont Schools

Fairmont is the oldest and largest secular, co-educational preschool – 12th grade private school in Orange County, California. Voted Best Private School in the county for eight consecutive years, Fairmont is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and Cognia, and is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools. 

With five campuses serving preschool through high school students, parents can rely on a continuous education where students explore the full range of their potential as scholars, athletes, artists, and leaders. Students can expect to be challenged, inspired, and supported by teachers and peers. Parents can count on educators and administrators who will partner with them in their child’s educational journey.

Learn more about Fairmont Schools.