Building a Growth Mindset Culture at School and Home

  • Rogers Park HG Program is committed to developing a growth mindset school environment - a place where all students believe that with effort and perseverance, they can develop their intelligence and succeed.  Dr. Carol Dweck, an educational researcher at Stanford University, has theorized two belief systems about intelligence (fixed and growth), which have incredible implications for the success of individuals in all aspects of their lives. The breakthroughs in neuroscience over the past decade have helped us understand the dynamic cognitive processes of the brain and the concept of neuroplasticity, which support the idea that intelligence can be developed. 


    Mindsets are the assumptions, expectations, and beliefs that guide our behavior and our interactions with others.

    fixed mindset is one where we believe that our innate abilities, talents, and intelligence are fixed. That we are either “good” or talented at something or we are not. Our mindset influences our motivation to attempt new learning ultimately affecting our potential, choices, and accomplishments in life.


    As a parent, you may have fixed mindset thinking about some of your own abilities. Most of us do. You may think, “I can’t cook”, “I can’t dance; I have two left feet”, “I leave that to my spouse, I can’t figure it out.” This mindset, of course, can spill over into parenting our children. We might catch ourself thinking or even saying out loud, “My daughter probably isn’t very good in math because I was not very good in math.” Or, “I was not good in high school English, so I guess my son takes after me.” These are examples of fixed mindset thinking. Even a perceived positive statement like, “He has a natural talent in math” or “She is a born leader” demonstrates fixed mindset thinking.


    growth mindset is the belief that intelligence, skills, and talent are malleable, and they can change with effort, perseverance, and practice. Neuroscience explains this as neuroplasticity. We can all get “smarter.” As parents and teachers understanding mindsets and their impact on children's learning is critical. For research references and deeper understanding, read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, How We Can Learn to Fulfill our Potential, by Dr. Carol Dweck, available for check out from the HG Liaison. 

    This 4-minute video, Fostering Growth Mindsets is part of a discussion series created by the Greater Good Science center between Christine Carter (sociologist, mom, and “happiness expert”) and Kelly Corrigan (author and mom) about how moving toward a growth-oriented mindset can give your children the drive to succeed.

    So, we never want to say things like this to our children:

    • Some people are just not science (or fill in the subject of choice) people.
    • Writing (or art, math, etc.) comes naturally for you.
    • Look at that, you did that without even trying.
    • You have a natural talent.

    These are all fixed mindset statements. We need to focus feedback on what a child does, not who he or she is. We never, ever want to say things like, “You are so smart!” Click on the links below to find out why:

    One of the most frequently used words in your vocabulary should be the word yet, such as, “ You are not quite getting it yet, but with practice, you will.” 

    Test Your Mindset 


    So, what can we do to move to Growth Mindset thinking for our own benefit as well as our children's benefit? Explore the article linked below for specific details and examples for moving from a Fixed Mindset worldview toward a Growth Mindset worldview with Carol Dweck at her website MindSet Online.

    How Can You Change from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset?


    Mathematical Mindsets

    Jo Boaler, Stanford researcher, professor of math education, and expert on math learning—has studied why students don’t like math and often fail in math classes. She’s followed thousands of students through middle and high schools to study how they learn and to find the most effective ways to unleash the math potential in all students. 

    How to Learn Math, a video from youcubed at Stanford University, includes four key inspiring messages about learning math from Professor Jo Boaler and four of her Standford students. Be sure to out Dr. Boalers' new book, Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages, and Innovative Teaching.


    Learning From Failure

    From the moment our children are born, we want to protect them. Our instincts are to catch them before they fall. It is not easy seeing our children not have success in whatever goal they are working toward—from learning to walk to getting into their first choice of college. But in order to raise resilient, confident, optimistic children, we must learn to be comfortable when they make mistakes and/or fail. When children are given opportunities to struggle, it builds resiliency. Without struggle it is difficult to develop coping skills, grit, and resiliency. As parents, we must model this as well; let your kids see you being persistent and overcoming challenges—not quitting because something is “too hard.”

    When you see a less-than-desirable score or grade on an assignment, assessment, or report card, do not freak out. Look at the grade as data, look at failure as data, and talk with your kids about some things that can be done to improve and grow. If your child puts a lot of effort into the assignment or prepping for a test, praise them for their effort, then talk about some new ways that may help him or her understand the content. Reinforce that it is not about the grade—it is about the learning that takes place. Remind your children that the word fail stands for:

    First Attempt ILearning.

    Share with your children how we all encounter "failures" but it is how we respond to these setbacks that makes the difference. Many very successful people have encountered failure. Watch this short video, Famous Failures, and discuss how these people persisted and modeled resilience to succeed and become stronger through their struggle.  Watch this 31-second Michael Jordan commercial about failure. In this commercial, Jordan highlights many of the mistakes he has made and what the outcome is: success.


    To read more about learning from failure, click on any of these resources:

    It is essential that we all work together
    toward building a growth mindset for our children.