Why It’s Important to Have a Growth Mindset

by Julie Reynolds

Over the summer, I read an eye-opening book, Born to Be Wild: Why Teens Take Risks, and How We Can Help Keep Them Safe by Dr. Jay Shatkin. Students don’t often learn resilience, Shatkin writes, and schools and teachers should develop a “Growth Mindset.” This intrigued me, so I began reading about the concept, which Dr. Carol Dweck introduced in 2006 in her book titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. 

CMDS 5th & 6th Grade Language Arts Teacher Julie Reynolds

Dweck’s research concluded that people with a Growth Mindset, as opposed to a Fixed Mindset, believe that intelligence is a flexible quality that can be developed with effort over time. Students who believe this ultimately have more success. Neuroscience research about the brain reinforces this concept. As skills are practiced, neural connections become stronger, and new paths are created as new concepts are introduced. Students who experience failures and learn from their mistakes or who accept challenges as part of their learning actually “grow” their brain.

As a teacher, I decided to teach my students about this research and how their brains work. It’s a concrete concept that they have loved learning. Below I have listed some characteristics we have learned about people with a “Growth Mindset”:

  • Criticism is an opportunity to learn.
  • Success of others can be a learning tool.
  • Failure is a motivation to learn.
  • Attempt new strategies to solve a problem.
  • Questions are important.
  • Expectations are high.
  • Celebrate effort.
  • Display authentic student work (even if imperfect).
  • Praise for progress, effort or hard work is offered.
  • Differences of others are celebrated.

I can tell this concept is becoming important to my students. I asked them a few questions surrounding Growth Mindset and recorded their unedited responses.

“What is the difference between a Growth and a Fixed Mindset?”

Ben: Fixed mindsets give up easily and don’t put enough effort. Growth mindsets keep trying and put in the effort they need to succeed.

Meryl: A fixed mindset thinks if you get a bad grade, you aren’t smart. If a growth mindset gets a bad grade, they think you can learn from your mistakes and get better.

Collier: Fixed mindsets think they know all they need to. Growth mindsets want to learn new things.

Mary M.: A growth mindset will look at a bad grade as an opportunity to get better. A fixed mindset will look at the bad grade as a sign to give up.

“How do people grow their intelligence?”

Jake: People become more intelligent by getting things wrong and practicing them.

Chase: They try new things and interact with others. The more they interact, the more their brain grows.

Madeleine: People get intelligent by struggling and learning from their mistakes.

Thomas: They have to go outside their comfort zone and stretch their brain.

I am still learning about ways to encourage my students to have a Growth Mindset. If they believe they can do well due to their own effort and see failure as a way to improve, they can take responsibility for their own learning and intelligence.

Mrs. Reynolds recently reviewed Dr. Shatkins’ Born to Be Wild: Why Teens Take Risks, and How We Can Help Keep Them Safe for the Southern Association of Independent Schools. Read her review here.

Christ Methodist Day School first opened its doors in 1958 to 75 kindergarten students. Since then, CMDS has stayed true to its Christian elementary school roots while continuing to thrive as one of the best private schools in Memphis. We encourage you to come see why we are the primary choice for so many Memphis families.


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