What's a growth mindset and why do you want one?

Episode 5 of Part 1 of our Introduction series: Setting the stage for success.

Habits:  Growth mindset  |  Know thyself 

Skills:  Self-confidence |  Belief

Description:  This episode introduces the concept of Mindset as outlined by Dr. Carol Dweck. It explains the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, how they impact learning, and why it's beneficial to develop a growth mindset.

How this lesson might be applied in the classroom

This episode is pivotal to supporting positive learning outcomes for students in the classroom. Understanding whether students have a tendency toward a fixed or a growth mindset, can help to explain existing differences in learning engagement and retention of concepts between students.

From a teaching perspective, there is an opportunity to encourage and develop growth mindsets in students through the following practices:

  • Be mindful of your language. The mindsets indicate how children think of themselves, so your comments or feedback could be perceived from a fixed-mindset child as "You have permanent traits and I am judging them" or from a growth-mindset child as "You are a developing person and I am interested in your development". If you have students you think have a tendency toward a fixed-mindset, ensure that they know you're interested in their development (and confident that they are capable of succeeding).

  • Recognise and reward (praise) effort rather than results.

  • Listen for fixed-mindset statements like "I'm no good at math" or "I'm just not a languages person" and ensure that students are clear that there is no such things as a 'math' or 'language' person. If you hear these types of statements one opportunity is to simply add the word 'yet' to them. Clarifying that you're not a math person yet but that everyone takes time to learn something.

  • Correct fixed-mindset statements when you hear them and turn them into growth-mindset statements. Eg. If you hear "Wow, you did really well in the test Sally... you're so smart" you might respond with "You're both very smart, I suspect Sally just put more effort into preparing for the test, and that shows in her results."

  • Adjust student views about failure. Encourage students who have fallen short that failing is part of the learning process, but they must learn from where they went wrong, and work to improve in that area in the future.

  • Identify that all students are capable of learning and achieving anything, though some may have to work at certain concepts a little harder than others. That's the normal process of learning.

  • Never judge a student's intelligence with comments like "That's stupid" or "That kid's never going to amount to anything" (if talking to a colleague). Fixed-mindset students, if they hear this, are likely to interpret this as "I'm not smart, therefore I shouldn't try" or "See, I'm no good, there's no point in making an effort."

The practices listed above are only a few of the possibilities open to you to support students to develop growth-mindsets. If you're interested to learn more about mindsets, watch the video below (and the one on the next Passion Arena episode teacher page), and if you can, we highly recommend reading Dr Carol Dweck's excellent book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

In terms of opportunities for classroom discussions, there are a number of questions you could raise on the topic of fixed and growth mindsets:

  • Do you think you have more of a fixed or a growth mindset? How do you know?

  • Does that change depending on what you are doing / learning?

  • Can we ever have a 100% fixed or 100% growth mindset in everything we do? Why/Why not?

  • Why do you think it's good to have a growth mindset? How does it help you?

  • Do you think you can increase the amount of time you operate in a growth-mindset?

  • What could you do to help you think in a growth-mindset way?

  • How does failing in anything impact you?

  • Do you see failure as a problem, or as an opportunity to learn and improve?

Some specific discussion points

Discussion of any literary works, historical figures, or current events featuring prominent individuals offers an opportunity to discuss where people may have applied either a fixed or a growth-mindset. 

Questions may include:

  • Which well known people in history or from today do you think have a growth-mindset? Why?

  • How would this person be different if they had more of a fixed-mindset?

  • Which well known people in history or from today do you think have a fixed-mindset? Why?

  • How would this person be different if they had more of a growth-mindset?

  • What were the outcomes for these people of having either a fixed or a growth-mindset?

  • Do you think talented people are just born that way?

  • Who can you think of who is just naturally talented? How well do you know their story?

Discussing the quote from this episode:

"The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability, we will be brittle in the face of adversity." — Josh Waitzkin

Possible areas of discussion may include:

  • Do you think success is determined by an ingrained (natural) level of ability? Why/Why not?

  • Why do think people who think they are naturally talented will be 'brittle in the face of adversity'?

  • Can you think of a time where you've faced adversity, and it's stopped you from continuing on? How did you feel afterward?

  • Can you think of a time where you've faced adversity, and you've pushed past it and achieved? How did you feel after that?

Further information on this topic

If you'd like to dive a bit deeper on this topic, you might be interested in watching:


Carol Dweck – The Power of Believing That You Can Improve.


Or you might like to read:

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
by Carol S. Dweck, PhD, 2007.

Please let us know how we could improve this episode?

We're always keen to hear how our work can be improved. If you can think of anything we can do to improve either the delivery of our content, the content itself, the exercises, or our guides to how the lesson can be applied in the classroom, please let us know.