Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Growth Mindset


When we talked about benchmarks a couple of weeks ago, we ended with the thought that learners should be encouraged to go beyond them because “Learning is a daily experience and a lifetime mission.”

Do you think it is more important to focus on accomplishing benchmarks or making progress toward them?

In other words, is the product more important or the process? An exam-based system can lead us to focus more on product than process. Students have to reach benchmarks so that they can pass exams. But which of the two leads to lifelong learning? And which is more important for our students: passing exams or becoming lifelong learners?

What stands in the way of progress?

Recently in Teachers English Corner, my Chinese colleagues told me that no matter whether learners are on the inside track or out, negative attitudes can prevent them from reaching benchmarks. Sometimes we focus so much on students’ brains that we forget that they are human and that affective issues, the ones of the heart, may pose more of a roadblock to learning than anything else. Sometimes their mindset gets in the way, and we need to help them develop growth vs. fixed ways of thinking.

When you hear these two terms—growth mindset vs. fixed mindset, what comes to mind?

A fixed mindset is tied into a belief that your intelligence and abilities are static and that these traits lead to success (or a lack of it). People with a fixed mindset forget about the importance of effort, and so they build a wall around themselves that they have little hope of scaling. A growth mindset, on the other hand, comes from the belief that your intelligence and abilities are dynamic and can be developed through hard work and determination. People with a growth mindset see learning as a process, a lifelong one, and they recognize the importance of trying hard, again and again if necessary. They plant a seed of learning that grows long and steady like a tree.

How does a growth mindset help our students?

Carol Dweck who coined the terms has this to say about her research:

We found that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement…that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.[1]

How can we cultivate a growth mindset in our students?

Most students have a mixture of both fixed and growth ways of thinking. Some steps we can take to cultivate the growth side are listed below.

Help your students figure out what triggers their fixed mindsets. For some, it might be a challenging task, a failure, or negative feedback. If they can identify these triggers, then they can “talk back” to their fixed mindset (positive self-talk), “persuading it to collaborate with them” rather than holding them back.[2]

Encourage a change in thinking that leads to effort and growth. This means encouraging students not to give up when facing difficulties. It also means challenging them to keep pushing farther and higher rather than “resting on their laurels.”

Instead of: Say this to students:
Focusing on right or wrong answers How did you figure it out?
What problems did you have? How did you solve them?
What’s something new you’ve learned?
What’s something you still need to learn?
Praising them for intelligence or talent You worked really hard on that.
What was easy? What was difficult? Why?
What are you going to do differently next time?
Giving them the right answer You’re working really hard.
What’s your next step?
What do you need to do in order to figure it out?

Cultivate your own growth mindset. Our attitudes toward learning and, specifically for us, learning teaching can influence our students. What mixture of fixed and growth ways of thinking do you have? What triggers your fixed mindset, and how can you challenge yourself toward effort and growth? Cultivating a growth mindset in your students may begin with you.

[1]  Carol Dweck, “Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset,’” Education Week, September 22, 2015,

[2]  Carol Dweck, “What Having a ‘Growth Mindset’ Actually Means,” Harvard Business Review, January 13, 2016,

Further exploration

What’s your perspective?

  • How can you cultivate your students’ growth mindset?
  • How can you cultivate your own growth mindset?
  • What kind of mindset do you think the Master Teacher is trying to cultivate in His students, and how?

Try it out

Over the next few days, note how your students talk and think. Then, try to figure out how to respond to their fixed mindsets in a way that encourages growth. It might help to make a chart like the one below.


Post Author

Melissa K. Smith

Photo Credit: sylviaduckworth Flickr

4 comments on “Growth Mindset

  1. Marilyn Lewis
    December 8, 2016

    Wow! So pertinent. Those headings and questions… are they yours or hers?

    If yours, they deserve a wider readership. Just a thought. Couldn’t that form (Instead of… etc) be modified to refer to the post-lesson conference in our mentoring book?



    • Melissa
      December 8, 2016

      I need to go back and look through my sources, but I think that particular wording and set up was mine. I agree that growth mindset fits in with feedback. I’ve also been thinking about where and how benchmarks, essential questions, and equity fit in, but that’s a conversation for an email…:)


  2. Tina
    January 8, 2017

    Just reviewed this post as I am prepping feedback sessions with some teachers I’m leading this semester…Might borrow some of the questions for those debriefs…Good reminder!


    • Melissa
      January 11, 2017

      As you may have seen in my interaction with Marilyn, we too have been thinking about how these ideas fit in with giving feedback to teachers. Let us know what happens…maybe you can write a vignette for our book. 🙂


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This entry was posted on December 7, 2016 by in growth mindset, LEAPAsia on WeChat, Melissa K. Smith, trends in education.



Photo Credit: Eric Fischer via Compfight cc
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