Fostering a growth mindset: Building resilient students

Ilia Lindsay, Registered Psychologist, Komodo Psychology Lead


Fostering a growth mindset: Building resilient students



As educators, you play a powerful role in shaping the socio-emotional development and character of your students. In the ever-changing world we live in, school is not just about knowledge and academic learning, but also about building qualities that will serve students well throughout their lives. One essential quality that can be built within the school environment is a growth mindset. A growth mindset lays the foundation for resilience and success. 

So what do we mean by “growth mindset.” Simply put, a growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed over time through dedication, hard work, and learning from mistakes. A growth mindset encourages students to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see the importance of effort and perseverance rather than “natural ability.”  The converse of this is “fixed mindset.” A fixed mindset is one where students perceive their abilities, intelligence, and talents as static and unchangeable. Students with a fixed mindset tend to believe that they are born with a certain level of intelligence or skill, and there's little they can do to alter it. This mindset can become a barrier to personal growth and resilience because students are less likely to embrace opportunities for learning and improvement.

In between these two extremes, there exists a fluid spectrum. Some students may lean more toward a fixed mindset in certain areas or subjects while embracing a growth mindset in others. The key takeaway here is that mindsets are not set in stone; they can change over time with the right encouragement and support. By understanding the mindset continuum, we can better guide students on a path toward reaching their full potential and embracing a mindset that sets them up for success in school and life.

To foster a growth mindset, it's crucial to emphasize the idea that abilities and intelligence are not fixed traits, but qualities that can be developed and expanded through effort and learning. To do this, we need to encourage students to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, rather than seeing them as threats. When they encounter setbacks, guide them to view these moments as stepping stones toward improvement. 


So how do you build and support a growth mindset?

Language: ‍

Your words hold incredible power. The way you communicate with your students can influence their mindset and behaviour. Instead of praising talents like they are fixed such as "you're so smart," focus on praising effort and strategies, such as "I can see you put a lot of effort into this." By doing so, you help students associate success with hard work rather than fixed abilities. Research shows us that it is not only teacher language but peers within the classroom can contribute to a growth mindset. When students see teachers modelling this style of feedback they are more likely to adopt it as well. Thus, the student is receiving support for a growth mindset from both their peers and teachers. 

‍Supportive and Inclusive Classrooms‍

A growth mindset flourishes in an environment that promotes learning, experimentation, and positive risk-taking. To do this, students need psychological safety and a classroom which promotes and supports inclusivity. Encourage students to ask questions, share their thoughts, and engage in  group discussions. Make it clear that mistakes are part of the learning process and provide opportunities for students to learn from them. It is important to acknowledge that supportive and inclusive classrooms need to also consider learning and cultural needs that may need different types of support.

Goal setting ‍

By incorporating goal setting into the classroom routine, teachers can instill a growth mindset in students. Consider interactive activities that involve setting goals and breaking them into manageable steps. This practice not only demonstrates the value of gradual progress but also provides a tangible roadmap for achievement. Goal setting encourages students to see challenges as stepping stones, and that their effort is the key to improvement and reaching their goals. Equally when we are goal setting we can model how to shift and adapt goals in light of setbacks thus showing students that setbacks are learning opportunities.  

Teaching neuroplasticity ‍

Engage students in discussions about the brain's ability to adapt and grow with practice and effort. Start by introducing the idea that our brains are like muscles that can get stronger with exercise. Explain that just as physical exercise shapes our bodies, mental effort can shape our brains. Then compare the brain to a sponge that soaks up knowledge and grows when we learn new things. We can then use the idea of a sponge to explain that when students practice new skills or “soak up” new knowledge, their brain cells form new connections. These connections strengthen over time, making them smarter and better at what they do. Emphasize that when students put effort into learning and overcoming challenges, they're actively building these new brain connections and that this is something that all of our brains are capable of regardless of age. 

Research highlights that fostering a growth mindset leads to improved academic outcomes. When students believe that their efforts and perseverance can enhance their abilities, they become more motivated to engage in learning, demonstrating increased resilience in the face of challenges.  Alongside this, research consistently shows that fostering a growth mindset has a positive impact on mental health. Growth mindset is associated with reduced anxiety, stress, and perfectionism, as well as enhanced resilience, self-compassion, and self-esteem. Students with a growth mindset are better equipped to cope with challenges, seek help when needed, and embrace mistakes as opportunities for learning. 

In the world of education, fostering a growth mindset is a gift that keeps on giving. By cultivating this mindset in your students, you're equipping them with the tools to navigate the ups and downs of life with resilience, determination, and a love for learning. We can see this play out in their classroom pursuits and socio-emotional development. Remember, it's not just about math problems or literacy exercises—it's about shaping students for a lifetime of learning and growth.



What will you do in your classroom to model a growth mindset?





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