Growth Mindset

Growth Mindsets

What is a mindset?

A mindset is simply the way that people feel about themselves or what they automatically believe about something.  It can be thought of as a self-perception or a closely-held belief about the person’s abilities.

What kind of mindsets are there?

Honestly, there could be an endless number of mindsets because you can have a particular mindset about any particular topic you bring up. You might have a particular mindset about what kinds of food are good or bad. You might also have a particular mindset about which political viewpoints are more accurate than others.

We are talking here about education, and particularly one’s ability to do math. We are talking about a mathematical mindset

There are two kinds of mindsets, “fixed” and “growth.”

What is a “Fixed” mindset?

Maybe the easiest way to explain a fixed mindset in mathematics is to provide several examples of what one might say or think if they have a fixed mindset:

"I’m not good at this”
“This is too hard”
“I don’t get it”
“I give up”

With a fixed mindset, you might believe that people are “born with” certain talents, skills, and abilities. For instance, some people are just better at math than others because they are a "math person."

A fixed mindset can also be seen in a predefined way of thinking. Children in the “gifted” program with good math grades may think to themselves “I’m really good at math.” What could be wrong with this? Maybe they are good at math, but, with this fixed mindset thinking, the student may be more unwilling to take chances when working on something new for fear of being seen as “not so smart” if they make a mistake. When this happens, the student ends up holding herself back. 

Students are not the only ones that can have a fixed mindset. A parent can also have a fixed mindset in regard to the child’s ability.  Maybe the student had an older sibling who got straight A’s in math, while the younger sibling works very hard for his C’s. The parent might tell a friend that the younger sibling is doing well, but just didn’t seem to inherit the “math gene” like their older sibling. 

And of course, lets not forget teachers. Yes, teachers can, and sometimes do, have fixed mindsets. As a teacher, what if I had that older sibling in my class last year, but I’ve been hearing from other teachers about the younger sibling coming up. With a fixed mindset, I might be having a conversation with the younger sibling’s teacher and make some comment about how not everyone can be really great at math. I may not push my new student as hard to understand new concepts because I already "know" that they struggle in math and just don't do as well, no matter what. I might tell myself that this student may not be good at math, but it's great that they have such a talent for art. 

What is a “Growth” mindset?

With a growth mindset, the belief is that knowledge, skills, and abilities can be developed, strengthened, and perfected over time through dedication, determination, and hard work. In a word, GRIT.

The following are examples of what a person with a growth mindset might think or say:

Instead of “I’m not good at this”,   “I’m going to have to practice this”
Instead of “This is too hard”, “This is going to take some time”
Instead of “I don’t get it”,  “I don’t get it, YET” or “What am I missing?”
Instead of “I give up”, “I need to try another way” or “Who can help me?”

With a growth mindset, we believe that knowledge, skills, and abilities are developed. We know, through the proof provided by neuroscience, that the brain grows more when we work and put forth effort to learn. We also know that brain growth is greater when we make mistakes along the way and learn from those mistakes and the mistakes of others.

Fixed mindsets can exist anywhere. To get the students to become used to thinking and speaking with growth mindsets, they need this encouragement from everyone - their friends, teachers, school administrators and staff, and parents. This is the only way to truly free their minds to unlock their potential and experience abundant success.


Mistakes are expected, and they should be celebrated when they are part of a learning process.

Studies in neuroscience have proven that brains that go through the process of making mistakes during the learning process develop stronger neural connections. These connections are the very things that hold the body of knowledge that we think of as our intelligence. The stronger these connections, the deeper the learning and understanding and the more lasting the knowledge will be.

When students make mistakes along the way, they are learning in a deeper way than students who find the right answers the first time. Additionally, when students can share their mistakes and the processes that led to the mistake with other students, a richer learning environment is created for all students.

We will make mistakes. I plan on it. So should your child!

The power of YET

When the going gets tough and students begin to feel that they are not understanding a concept or keeping up with their classmates, the tendency to fall back into fixed mindset thinking is tempting. Students will be reminded to always remember that if they don’t understand, or cannot perform a particular mathematical operation, that they should always remember to the power of YET.  “I don’t know how to do this” should be replaced with “I don’t know how to do this, YET.” You get the idea.

All students are capable of succeeding. All students come to class with different backgrounds and abilities. For this reason, not everyone moves at the same speed. Please remind your child that if they are working hard to attain a goal that is still out of reach, that they simply have not reached it, YET!!  If everything is easy for your child, he/she needs additional challenge! Real learning takes place when the goal is just slightly out of reach, requiring thinking and effort to bridge the gap and reach greater heights.


I know this is all a bit long, but it is important that you understand my philosophy in the classroom.

There is much information to be found online regarding growth mindset. I didn’t invent this, and it has been around a while.  Stanford University professor and author Carol Dweck is a premier authority on this subject and the source of much of my understanding on the subject.

You can also find a lot of information online about neuroplasticity, or the ability to continue to grow your brain through the development and utilization of increasing numbers of neural pathways. This is fascinating stuff and provides opportunity to anyone who feels they want to become “smarter” and more fluent with the knowledge they possess. 

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