It’s hard to think of a topic that has produced more recent buzz in education than growth mindset. And although it is generating some debate as to the effectiveness on student performance, the fact is it’s still going strong. In fact, the popularity of it is such that some schools are even referring to themselves now as “growth mindset schools.”
Let’s make one thing clear:
growth mindset for students, like any other beneficial activity, is a way of thinking and acting habitually.
It isn’t a magic pill for grade boosting, nor is it a fix for lack of focus in classrooms. Sure, we want our students to feel good about themselves and to do well in their studies. Nevertheless, in many cases, the growth mindset “interventions” in education today often stray from the original purpose of what is essentially a philosophy for learning and for life.
Ultimately, the purpose of pursuing the growth mindset is simple: to improve our thinking so that we can improve ourselves and our lives.
The Five-Day Growth Mindset Guide
This is a primer for helping you and your students understand, experience, and adopt the growth mindset together for a lifetime of achievement and success.
The best way to approach growth mindset is to consider it a path for both learning and living habitually.
It should be something you choose to carry with you wherever you go.
What follows are five days of growth mindset exploration that you can fit easily into the course of the week. Go through the suggestions and activities carefully and think of creative ways you can incorporate them into your daily instruction.
You can download this growth mindset guide here on the Wabisabi Learning store.
Day 1—Introduce Growth Mindset and Talk About It
What Is the Growth Mindset?
Growth mindset is a self-established set of values that suggests everything about us as individuals—especially our minds—has the ability to change and grow through perseverance and focused work. It is characterized by seeing ourselves as fully capable of learning, progressing, and achieving at our own rate in ways that are most suitable to us, regardless of outside opinion or influence.
Everything about us as individuals—especially our minds—has the ability to change and grow through perseverance and focused work.
However, this doesn’t mean vanity; in fact, quite the opposite. A person with a true growth mindset also believes such qualities to be present in others. It’s through this that a person with a growth mindset also realizes the connection we all share through the potential everyone has to better strengthen the mind, body, and spirit.
Positive mindsets in the classroom are important, but they also extend beyond school into every aspect of life. All around you, you’ll see examples of the growth mindset in action that you otherwise may not even notice. Below are some examples of how we unconsciously apply its principles:
- We hear criticism from a teacher or a boss and translate it into suggestions for improvement and personal growth.
- At any age, we decide we want to learn something new no matter what it is, and we proactively take steps to start learning it.
- Someone is faced with a tough problem that seems impossible, yet somehow they find a way to overcome the challenge.
- We favour hard work and perseverance over talent or “quick fixes.”
- Someone remains confident in themselves and their abilities, regardless of what others are saying about them.
- No matter how tough something gets or how many times you fail, you don’t give up until you’ve accomplished your goal.
- We don’t want to be late for school or work, so we prepare everything we need and get a good night’s sleep the night before.
- Instead of praising a child’s efforts by saying “good job” or the like, we respond instead by observing exceptional action, such as, “Wow, you worked really hard and did that all by yourself!”
What other growth mindset examples do you think would fit here? Come up with at least three of your own.
Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset Comparison
Adopting a shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is our choice, and it's the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and certainly to our young children. This Growth Mindset Poster from Wabisabi Learning compares the fixed and growth mindsets side by side. It’s a daily reminder of how adopting the growth mindset can change everything, both in the classroom and in life.
Print this poster and put it up in your classroom, and use the following discussion questions with your learners for a deeper exploration:
- What does the poster say about each one?
- How would you explain each of the points in your own words?
- What mindset do you practice more often?
- Where have you seen examples of each?
- Who do you know who has a growth mindset?
- When have you yourself experienced growth mindset moments?
- What characters from your favourite books and films model the growth mindset?
Take the Growth Mindset Quiz
Day 2—Understanding Through Observation
This day is all about paying attention to yourself and what’s going on around you. The object is to spend the day simply observing and listening without judgement.
We are focusing on our feelings, and on the inner dialogue we usually don’t consider.
Whenever you experience a negative feeling or speak in a way that isn’t focused on growth and possibility, just be aware of it. For example, suppose you make a mistake and you think or say “That was stupid of me” or “Why did I do that?” Really listen to the words you use and how they make you feel. Notice these things in your friends, peers, and family as well. How do you hear them speaking?
This is a deeply personal exercise for you and you alone, wherein you do away with all judgement of yourself.
You are specifically trying to discover the areas in which you can grow and improve. Your job over the course of this day is to pinpoint where in your daily thinking habits you can start choosing more proactive thoughts and use more constructive self-talk.
Questions and Considerations
- Notice your language and reactions to stress. How do you think, speak, and feel under pressure?
- How do you talk about yourself when you struggle with something?
- How do others around you communicate their mindsets? What language do you hear them using? Is it negative or positive? Constructive or destructive?
- How do you feel when you make mistakes?
- What do you think keeps you from your true potential as a learner?
- How do you feel when you are positive about yourself?
- What kinds of language or internal dialogue could enhance this for you?
Day 3—Model Growth Mindset for Learners
One of the most powerful reinforcement tools we have for instilling any kind of behaviour in our young learners is the act of modelling. Children are observant and highly impressionable, and
when it comes to growth mindset we are in the perfect position to set an example for those we teach every day.
Here are some ways that you can model the growth mindset for your learners that compel them to adopt healthy and constructive habits of mind.
Awakening the Inner Teacher With Affirmations
Affirmations are positive statements that can reprogram the subconscious mind with new self-beliefs. When used consistently and with great feeling, affirmations have the potential to change one’s life completely, since it is all about reconstructing your foundational belief system.
Students can benefit from making creative use of affirmations like these:
- “I can tackle any challenge that comes my way; no problem is too difficult for me.”
- “I am a born problem-solver.”
- “My days at school are filled with friendship and support; I am a well-liked person.”
- “I am highly creative and contribute so much of value to group projects.”
- “I love learning, and I accomplish it easily every day.”
These are just a few examples, and you should encourage students to come up with their own. Share these guidelines for maximizing the effects of growth mindset affirmations:
- Always word affirmations in the present tense. The subconscious mind takes our words and thoughts very literally, so saying “I will …” or “I’m going to …” takes away the power they have in the present moment. Instead, say “I am …” or “I have …”
- Word affirmations from the first-person perspective. Affirmations are for us as individuals, and concern what we want to change for ourselves, not for others.
- Don’t create affirmations involving individuals. Again, affirmations are personal, and using them to decide things for others is going against another person’s free will. For example, saying “I am in a wonderful relationship with ___” when you aren’t with that person but want to be, directly violates that person’s free will, which doesn’t work. Also, what if it isn’t ultimately the right person for you? It’s better to say something like “I am in a wonderful relationship with the person that’s right for me.”
- Develop affirmations that feel right. Every time we create or use an affirmation, we should consider if it feels comfortable and natural. The best question to ask is "Does saying this feel right to me?"
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Affirmations don’t really work if we say them once or twice and then forget them the rest of the time. To reinforce the belief in the subconscious mind, repeat them to yourself several times throughout the day. It will become a habit that you don’t even notice after awhile.
Reframing Negative Language
This is one of the best ways to produce a visual representation of the growth mindset for learners. It involves turning a negative statement into a positive one by simply changing the wording. Below are some examples:
- I can’t figure this out. —> This may be difficult, but I can do it if I stick with it.
- I can’t make this better. —> I can always improve so I will keep trying.
- I will never be as smart as them. —> I’m going to figure out how they do that and do it for myself.
- This is good enough. —> How can I make this the best it can be?
- I can’t understand this subject. —> With hard work and persistence, I can understand this subject.
See what other examples of negative language you can notice throughout the day, and encourage students to rethink and reword such statements into something more encouraging for themselves.
Turning Failure Into Something Useful
The term “useful failure” refers to the idea that our personal failures and defeats are the greatest opportunities we have to learn.
Our goal when we fail should be to reflect meaningfully on the experience and try to pinpoint where we went wrong.
Once we determine this, the next steps involve reframing our approach to incorporate new learning into future attempts.
The truth is it doesn’t matter how much we fail—what matters is that we learn every time we do.
Failure is an absolutely essential part of learning, and very few have achieved success before failing at least once or twice. As your students struggle, fail, and learn from their mistakes, here are some things you can do to help them along:
- Provide actionable and constructive feedback
- Shift responsibility for learning to the learner
- Encourage students to think in terms of possibilities instead of limitations
- Praise perseverance and effort rather than being smart or talented
Share Personal Stories of Growth Mindset
Who do you know that has demonstrated the power of the growth mindset in their own lives? How do you yourself practice the growth mindset? Share stories from your own experience with your learners about the growth mindset, and reinforce for them how and why it works.
Day 4—Practice the Growth Mindset
On this day, students can choose from the following list of activities to do that promote growth mindset principles.
Write down negative statements and turn them into positive ones. They should do at least 3–5, and really focus on how and where they can use these statements in a practical setting.
Create visual reminders. In addition to our Growth Mindset poster, have students come up with their own visual tools for practicing the growth mindset.
Practice goal-setting. Encourage learners to choose one learning goal or personal goal to achieve each day. Have them write it down and map out the steps they will take to reach it.
Use the power of “Yet”. This is another rewording exercise, but it only involves this word. If they find themselves struggling to figure something out, they can say to themselves, “I can’t do this yet, but I’m figuring it out.”
Practice problem-solving with Solution Fluency. Explore the 6 Ds of Solution Fluency with your students and discover how this problem-solving framework can help them meet any challenge big or small.
Take “frustration breaks.” Sometimes it’s okay to just walk away. So when students find themselves getting overly frustrated with something, let them just take a break to clear their heads. This can give them a chance to calm down and approach the problem afterward with renewed focus.
Use growth mindset worksheets. Try using growth mindset worksheets and printables from these great sources:
Day 5—Group Debrief
This is the last day of your five-day growth mindset guide. You and your students have done some amazing work exploring the growth mindset. You understand it better now, and more importantly, you see how it can benefit you both in school and in life. Now it’s time for you all to reflect on the week’s learning and debrief your experiences.
Question Period: Do you or your learners have any specific questions for each other? Is there anything you are still wondering or confused about?
Open Sharing: This is a time for anyone to share personal insights or unique experiences they had while learning about the growth mindset over the past week.
Self-Reflective Questions: Self-reflection is a powerful instructional opportunity we can use in our classrooms and workplaces. Discuss these questions below in open conversation, or answer them individually as a reflective writing exercise.
- Now that it's over, what are my overall thoughts about this week?
- What were some discoveries I made about myself while working with growth mindset?
- What were some of my most challenging moments and why?
- What is the most important thing I learned personally?
- What most got in the way of my progress, if anything?
- Were my milestones and goals mostly met, and how much did I deviate from them if any?
- What did I learn were my greatest strengths?
- What do I feel are the areas in which I need the most improvement?
- What moments was I most proud of my efforts?
- How will I use what I've learned in the future?
Pro-tip: We also recommend you consult this list of powerful growth mindset reflective questions for encouraging deeper learning and reflection.