The Mindset Journey

Yesterday, at the Wellington Festival of Education, I had the pleasure of listening to Carol Dweck speak on her research with regards to Mindsets – Fixed and Growth.

Carol Dweck explained we hold both these mindsets, simultaneously, which creates a psychological battle on 3 main fronts:

1. The two mindsets have two different goals

  • FM – doesn’t like looking dumb and therefore is risk averse
  • GM – likes getting smarter so focus on learning

2. The two mindsets have different views of effort

  • FM – being smart is easy and therefore should come naturally
  • GM – effort is part of the process therefore staying with problems or confusion longer

3. The two mindsets have different views of failure

  • FM – runs away from making mistakes
  • GM sees mistakes as part of the learning process

Whilst I have always loved her simple but beautiful idea of two Mindsets, I have had issues with how it is implemented. This has been compounded further with what I have seen on the internet via blogs and twitter and also in schools that have embraced Growth Mindset. This is where she introduced a third mindset. One we need to be greatly aware of promoting. The False Growth Mindset. That firstly because having a Growth Mindset is seen as a positive, we all say ‘yes I do have a Growth Mindset’ and we encourage our students to say it without considering what it really means. Secondly It seems we have interpreted Growth Mindset = more effort = success. That putting in more effort will result in better grades, better performances, deeper learning. That Growth Mindset is through sheer effort alone.

This, Dweck informs us, misses the key point of the Growth Mindset. That a Growth Mindset is from a teachers point of view supplying support, guidance, and advice so that our pupils can develop strategies to overcome the problems they face. That actually Growth Mindset isn’t an outcome at all, which is how it is promoted in many places, but a journey. The ultimate outcome is improvement and learning. We need to be aware of creating a False Growth Mindset, of announcing a position, that builds self esteem and is used to make our pupils to feel good but isn’t any use in helping them develop.

So how do we begin this journey? Dweck’s answer to this surprised me. The first step of having Growth Mindset was first to become self aware and legitimise our Fixed Mindset. We must see it before us before we attempt to put in strategies that help our GM in the psychological battle. Her suggestion is that we find our triggers. Our reaction and behaviours in relationship to our FM. Here are a few examples of potential triggers:

  • Facing Challenges: Anxious
  • Struggling: Frustrated, worried
  • Setbacks: Discouraged, defensive
  • Being criticised: angry, defensive, ashamed

Dweck suggested we name our triggers, so we become intimate and aware of them. Mine would be Jerry Jealously. This would happen in a work environment when I see someone more skilled than me. Knowing and understanding my trigger then is the first step on the journey. The next step is overcoming those triggers. We can then try to implement strategies, for example pushing myself to seek advice from this person who is more skilled than me. It is this process of being aware of our Fixed Mindset and implementing strategies to overcome it, which is truly a Growth Mindset. Therefore if we really want to help promote a GM in our pupils, we need to help them become self aware of their own triggers, and guide them through advice and support in building strategies to over come them. We cannot just become proponents of the False Growth Mindset as this will achieve very little in the journey.

Dweck finished her talk by suggesting some more ways we can help our students on their journey with a growth mindset (if we are going to promote it within our schools):

1. Introduce them them to current thinking and research about neuroscience and brain plasticity. She seems to think if they are able to read about how the brain can change this might help them to become more aware of their triggers and be open to find strategies to over come them.

2. Do not preach to them about GM, especially adolescents. Allow them autonomy on this journey and author their own learning.

3. Do not link it to academic results. Try to link it to a child’s larger goals. Ask them ‘what do you want to do in life and how will you get there?’

However my main take away from her excellent talk was with regards to praise and rewards systems in schools. Many I have seen, including I believe my own schools, have generated into a ‘rewards for all system’. Pupils are rewarded for doing things they are supposed to do. Perhaps however I am letting my own personal bias get in the way of my practice (and others it seems). My department is in the bottom three of the school when it comes to handing out reward points within school. The recent feedback I took from the whole of Year 9, Year 11 and Year 13 was overwhelmingly positive, but all three year groups felt that a key area the PE Department could improve was in the area of praise and reward. Dweck suggested 4 areas we could reward that are linked with the journey of Growth Mindset:

  • taking on challenges
  • sticking to the challenges
  • trying new strategies
  • recovering from setbacks

Whilst not explicitly mentioned in our schools reward system, I do think these areas compliment PE and its overall aims very well. If you believe in Growth Mindset, and want it to shape what you do within school and promote it to your students, then the key message is GM is a journey that is linked to building strategies for growth and practice not just the promotion of sheer effort.

Further Reading from #EducationFest and #NRocks

David Didau’s post Why the ‘false growth mindset’ explains so much

Interview with Carol Dweck in Schools Week  Carol Dweck says mindset is not ‘a tool to make children feel good’

Wellington College Podcast Students Interview Carol Dweck about Growth Mindset

Marc Smith’s post  Mindsets: The Good, the Bad and the Unknown

Alex Quigley’s post Growth Mindset: More Evidence





11 thoughts on “The Mindset Journey

  1. Really interesting post! I’m also a Dweck’s follower and I had a very interesting experience in delivering this concept with my Gr4 students in a Striking and Filding unit. I’ve shown the video, which was cognitively well accepted and understood. I feel that my own mindset has been changing positively as I’m researching more and more about it and learning with the students about this. I laso do not agree with preaching as they disconnect at the first word they don’t understand. They have to feel it. I’ve used a throwing and catching drill in which I group students in pairs and challenge them to count how many throws can they do it in 1 min. After that they try to beat their record in the next minute. Most of them can. Next, I ask them to count how many catches can they do in 1 min. After which they will try to beat their record. They all can. In a discussion lead by questioning, they understood that practice is the key and in those 4 min they have improve 4x more than trying once and think “Oh, I suck at this!). On the other hand, they get extremely excited and motivated when I share with them that they only need 19h and 56m to master these 2 skills in a baseball game, according to Kaufman ( I bet that at the end of the next academic year, I’ve positively influenced at least 80% of my Ny-Gr6 students in what regards resilience and intrinsic motivation. The plan is to start the academic year off with a growth mindset unit, devise incredibly attractive posters and reinforce GM throughout the year, always going back to the posters. With these amazing tips that you share in this post adding up to praising effort (not talent), use storytelling with fantastic real-life examples and sharing scientific research that justify this concept, I’ll do it. What to bet? Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge.


  2. Me and ‘Jerry Jealousy’ go way back, glad to hear he is finding his way out of your mindset, he is a tinker. His girlfriend ‘Olga Overwhelmed’ is currently sitting on my shoulders but thanks to a shift in mindset she is losing a lot of weight.

    Great piece, inspired me in numerous ways. Thank you.


    1. Cheers for taking the time to respond Tom. I found it interesting to hear that we must validate our fixed mindset first and find our triggers. GM, Meta-cognition, self-control all seem to be linked to self awareness. That if we are aware to our triggers, how we respond in different situation and environments then this is the first step to overcoming negative responses. Let me know how you get on with Jerry, would be good to know how to handle him. I think Olga requires you to have a break and recharge the batteries. Have a good summer.


    1. Thanks. It was handy to listen to Dweck speak directly and she was able to clarify many things, especially the more effort = success mantra that seems to be pushed at the moment.


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