growth mindset vs fixed mindset

May 23, 2024 •

9 min reading

Growth mindset vs fixed mindset - What does it mean in the classroom?

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What do some of the world’s most successful people have in common? It’s not necessarily talent, ambition and connections (although they may also have those) but perseverance in the face of failure, a determination to succeed, and a belief that with good old-fashioned hard work, you can achieve anything. Virgin boss Richard Branson left school with no qualifications; globally renowned authors including Stephen King, William Golding and JK Rowling faced countless rejections before finally being published; the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs got fired from his own company before being rehired years later to bring it back from the brink of bankruptcy.

What they all undoubtedly possessed was a growth mindset: a belief in the potential for personal development through dedication and hard work; a belief that as humans we are able to change, grow and improve. It’s a mindset that, according to renowned Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck's decades of research, opens the door to learning, and adaptation and resilience, challenging the notion that our abilities are set in stone from birth. Science backs Dweck’s theory, with advances in neuroscience demonstrating the brain's capacity for change.

In contrast, the fixed mindset, which views abilities as innate and unchangeable, limits individuals'’resilience, and and therefore their potential for growth, psychological well-being and achievement. Yet many people, through fear, lack of confidence or simply habit, cling to a fixed mindset. It’s crucial, then, that educational institutions cultivate a growth mindset in their educators, and that these teachers then nurture the same in their students. But how? Here, we explore strategies for cultivating this transformative and powerful approach in educational environments.

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The fixed vs growth mindset

Understanding mindset dynamics in education

Fixed mindset characteristics

  1. Believing in inherent abilities: Individuals with a fixed mindset perceive their abilities as static and unchangeable.
  2. Avoiding challenges: They often avoid challenges, fearing failure and its implications on their self-worth.
  3. Resisting criticism: Fixed mindset individuals typically ignore useful feedback as it conflicts with their perceived skill limits.


We’ve all had moments when we feel we can’t do something because we lack the ability or intelligence. But it’s the reaction to that initial feeling that determines our mindset. Those with a fixed mindset will give up or avoid the challenge: it’s the fifth grader who abandons his math homework because “it’s too hard”; the university student who won’t sign up for that extra module because they think they’ll fail it; the teacher who is defensive when receiving feedback.

However, those with a growth mindset will have a different reaction: the fifth grader will seek support to understand how to tackle his homework; the university student will embrace the challenge of a new module outside their comfort zone; and the teacher will take the feedback on board and look for ways to adapt and improve.

Growth mindset characteristics

  1. Believing in personal developmental: Those with a growth mindset believe that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
  2. Embracing challenges: They view challenges as opportunities to grow and learn, enhancing their skills and knowledge.
  3. Learning from feedback: Growth mindset individuals value and utilize criticism as a tool for learning and improvement.


Recent studies underscore the impact of mindset on educational outcomes. Seventh graders taught that intelligence is malleable showed significant improvements in math grades, illustrating the transformative power of adopting a growth mindset in educational settings. Neuroscience supports this by demonstrating our brain's adaptability; neural connections evolve as we gain new experiences and face varied challenges.

The distinction between fixed and growth mindsets not only affects academic performance but also influences personal growth and resilience. Growth mindset individuals often exhibit higher levels of school engagement and psychological well-being, thanks to their resilience, which generates these positive effects. Conversely, a fixed mindset can severely restrict learning and personal development, as it confines individuals to their initial capabilities without recognizing the potential for growth and improvement.

In practice, fostering a growth mindset in educational environments can lead to better academic performance, enhanced career prospects, and more robust personal and professional relationships. This is achieved by encouraging students to persevere, embrace challenges, and view failures as springboards for future success.


Strategies for fostering a growth mindset in educators

Emphasizing continuous learning for educators

If students are to adopt a growth mindset, then teachers must lead by example. Educators play a pivotal role in shaping the mindset of their students, and adopting a growth mindset themselves can significantly enhance their effectiveness. The following strategies can help educators move towards a growth mindset:

  1. Self-perception as learners: Teachers should view themselves as continuous learners who are always capable of acquiring new skills and knowledge. This perspective encourages them to embrace learning opportunities and adapt their teaching methods based on feedback and new insights.
  2. Experimentation: Schools need to create an environment where educators can experiment with new teaching methods without fear of repercussion. This involves allowing teachers to try new approaches and learn from the outcomes, fostering a culture where mistakes are seen as part of the learning process.
  3. Review and reflection: Regular reflection on teaching practices can significantly enhance an educator’s growth mindset. Using tools like video recordings to review one’s teaching and identify areas for improvement can be particularly effective. This reflective practice helps educators see clear paths to enhancing their teaching strategies.
  4. Constructive feedback: Implementing a performance management system that focuses on formative feedback rather than punitive measures can encourage teachers to take risks and innovate in their teaching methods. Such systems should aim to provide constructive, applicable feedback that educators can use to improve their daily teaching practices.
  5. Growth-focused professional development: Professional development programs should emphasize the importance of a growth mindset, highlighting how embracing challenges and persevering through setbacks can lead to significant personal and professional growth. These programs should also teach educators to use growth mindset language, which reinforces the concept not only to themselves but also to their students.

By integrating these strategies, educators can not only improve their own teaching practices but also significantly impact their students’ approach to learning, fostering an educational environment rich in enthusiasm, challenge, and continual growth.

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How to develop a growth mindset in students

Embracing challenges and learning from setbacks

Educators with a growth mindset hold high expectations for their students and provide the necessary support to help them reach these expectations. By implementing the strategies outlined below, educators encourage a growth mindset in their students, too.

Implementing effective strategies

  1. Normalize struggle and embrace challenges: Teaching students that struggle is a normal part of the learning process encourages them to engage with challenges instead of avoiding them. This can be reinforced by introducing classroom activities that are designed to be challenging yet achievable.
  2. Promote resilience and psychological well-being: Helping students to see failures as opportunities for growth, enhances their psychological resilience and engagement in school activities.
  3. Use of growth mindset language: Encouraging the use of phrases like "not yet" or "I'll try" instead of "I can't" helps students to perceive challenges as temporary obstacles rather than permanent setbacks.

Celebrating effort over outcome

  • Praise effort and attitude: Focusing on praising students for their effort, strategy, and progress rather than their innate ability helps students value hard work and persistence over fixed traits.
  • Set goals focused on learning, not just results: Setting learning-oriented goals rather than performance-oriented ones encourages students to focus on the process of learning rather than the end achievement, which is central to developing a growth mindset.

Embracing reflective practices and feedback

  • Encourage self-evaluation and reflection: Providing opportunities for students to reflect on their own learning processes helps them recognize their improvements and understand areas that need more effort.
  • Constructive feedback: Offering feedback that focuses on how tasks are performed and how they can be improved motivates students to keep trying and learning.

Creating a supportive learning environment

  • Develop cooperative exercises: Activities that require collaboration among students can foster a sense of community and shared learning objectives, making the learning environment more supportive and less competitive.
  • Low-stakes assignments: Introducing assignments that emphasize learning over grading encourages students to experiment and learn without the fear of poor grades.

By integrating these strategies into educational practices, educators can significantly enhance the adoption of a growth mindset among students, leading to a more dynamic and supportive learning environment.


Embracing growth mindset: A path to lifelong learning and development

"I don't think about ‘making it’. I really look at life as a journey, not a straight line. So for me, it’s [about] constant learning.” This attitude, expressed by David Grasso, CEO of Maserati, is common among successful people. For them, there is no sense that they have “made it”; instead they view themselves as a work in progress, and seize opportunities to continue learning, creating and experimenting for the rest of their lives.

This belief in our ability to develop our skills and intelligence is the key to learning. By fostering an educational environment with this growth mindset – an environment that celebrates resilience, encourages feedback, and emphasizes the value of effort over innate talent – we cultivate a community that thrives on improvement and continuous learning. The strategic integration of growth mindset principles into educational practices not only enhances academic performance but also instils a lifelong love for learning and personal development.

Understanding the dynamic between fixed and growth mindsets offers the potential for significant positive change in educational outcomes and personal growth. The shift towards a growth-oriented educational approach promises to unlock untapped potential in both students and educators, driving innovation, engagement and resilience in learning environments. For educational institutions to move forward, emphasis should be placed on reinforcing the compelling evidence that abilities and intelligence can indeed develop with dedication and hard work. The journey toward a growth mindset is not a quick fix but a transformative process that enriches our approach to education, equipping learners and educators with the tools to face challenges with confidence and a willingness to grow.

Written by

Director & Head of Education Advisory at EHL

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