April 21, 2020

The Growth V the Fixed Mindset in Education


30 years ago psychological innovation uncovered that there are two dominating mindsets we can navigate life with; Growth or Fixed. A growth mindset underpins future success. This article explores how we can cultivate a growth mindset and improve, confidence, resilience and intelligence.


2,500 years ago the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “the only constant is change”. Today in age of the digital revolution, the rate of technological development is exploding and creating exponential change across all areas of human existence. This has been intensified by the arrival of the corona virus, which is pushing large swathes of STEM education online, with schools such as Eton launching their EtonX platform. But the ability of students to survive and thrive in tomorrow’s world will correlate to their ability to adopt new skills and adapt to change. These skills lie in how you frame your mindset.

It was over 30 years ago that the Stanford psychotherapist; Carol Dweck, well-known for her book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’, coined the term ‘growth mindset’ and ‘fixed mindset’ after studying thousands of attitudes and reactions to failure. These mindsets describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. The hallmark of the growth mindset is the fearless passion for stretching oneself and persisting even in the face of failure. This resilience is what enables students to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.


“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment… Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.


A growth mindset stands in opposition to the fixed mindset. A child or individual suffering from a fixed mindset may show qualities such as fear of failure, the belief that their talents are as a result of nature rather than nurture. They might believe that unless they succeed their efforts have been wasted. One of the most damaging core beliefs for a student is the understanding that qualities and intelligence are carved in stone.

Dweck’s work is rooted in rigorous academic research on how the mind, especially the developing mind, works. She highlights the power framing has on your mindset and that underlying beliefs based in the fixed mindset can be reprogrammed. This coincides with developments in neuroscience such as neuroplasticity that highlight the brain is like a muscle. It is through consistent and daily actions that you become the person you want to be, not by large sweeping gestures. For example, when training for a marathon, it is the daily training that allows you to reach the goal, not your innate talent in running.

“In one study, we taught them (students) that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time they can get smarter. … students who were not taught this growth mindset continued to show declining grades over this difficult school transition, but those who were taught this lesson showed a sharp rebound in their grades. We have now shown this kind of improvement, with thousands and thousands of kids, especially struggling students.” – Dweck

According to a 2016 national study of over 600 teachers conducted by the Education Week Research Centre, 98% of the teachers believe that integrating a growth mindset will lead to improved student learning.


Governance over your life 

The growth mindset helps to foster autonomy. In a recent study of over 2000 students, researchers found that enabling students with a growth mindset to choose how they be rewarded for effort and attendance led to improved persistence and school grades.



Those with growth mindsets do not view themselves as failures, rather they view each setback as an opportunity to learn from.



They are able to think independently and creatively, by seeing every problem as solvable.



The resilience and the way these students frame their failures enables them to build strong foundational self-esteem.


Thirst for Knowledge

Students gain a passion for learning instead of a hunger for approval.


Happiness and Higher Achievement

These strands all combine to enable the student the chance to achieve their greater potential in those areas they apply themselves to, determining whether they become the person they want to be and accomplish the things they value.


  • Process Focus – Focus on the process rather than the results. For example, getting the student to teach you a skill they have learnt, so they gain an understanding of the process of learning. It can be anything from how to make their favourite meal to how to understand a concept such as existentialism in philosophy. Be sure to praise this process over the results
  • Nurture a culture that tolerates risk – Encourage students to take on new challenges. Now is the perfect time to start something new with all this free-time. The exciting bit is in taking the risk and trying it. Remember to celebrate trying and effort; Use the term ‘not yet’ when talking of mastering a task
  • Discussions of mistakes made and how they have been resolved can help to foster a problem-solving mentality and lose the fear of failing. Also, use term ‘learning’ instead of failing. A great podcast that provides this is Elizabeth Day’s ‘How to Fail’.

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.” Chinese proverb.