The Top Five Things I Learned from a Five-Year-Old About Growth Mindset

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The shiny new bicycle was forcefully shoved to the ground in disgust as Parker shouted,

“I cannot do it; I’ll never be able to ride my bike.”

To the parents out there, I venture to guess this triggers “fond” memories of youthful days gone by, but to me, not having kids, this experience with my five-year-old nephew was a first.

We had braved the unseasonably cold South Carolina weather for a mere five minutes before Parker came to this abrupt conclusion. Bundled in his winter coat and hat, he begrudgingly stormed off and sat on a rock on the side of the road. When I asked him why he was so upset, he fought back tears and explained, “Chase can ride his bike without training wheels, and I will never be able to.”

Now, being Uncle Chris, I wasn’t even sure who Chase was, but in this moment, I wanted to run to my writing notebook and sketch out this blog. However, I felt it best that I stay with the nearly-in-tears five-year-old to support him.

There’s a lot of talk about grit and growth mindset as it applies to education, and at this point, I would submit that most people reading this blog are not only familiar with these concepts, but probably way more well-read about them than I. However, in that moment, as I lovingly sat down next to Parker and put my arm around him, I had new reflections about how I would apply Parker’s learning experience to my own teaching and thinking.

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I Want to get Better at… Growth Mindset Next Year

Summer 2017 - I want to get better at...
As you pack up your classroom, filing away lessons and deciding whether to keep or scrap student work samples, your mind may already be racing with ideas about ways you can make next year even better. You’ve probably heard about how having a growth mindset helps students to persist through challenges and take risks — and you may be thinking about how you can help your students do just that next year.

Want to learn more about growth mindset? We’ve got you covered!

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Growth Mindset in STEM: EDP and the Writing Process

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

As a first generation college graduate, a decision I made early in life was to have a growth mindset. If you’re new to the term growth mindset, or maybe just on the hunt for resources, check out Teaching Channel’s Growth Mindset Deep Dive. While many people assume things in my life have come easily, I’ve spent my entire existence struggling to succeed. Blessed or cursed (depending on your perspective) with an insane amount of drive as well as a natural curiosity toward all things, my life has been a constant cycle of discovery, failure, retooling, and — mostly — eventual success.

This lifestyle has carried over into my classroom, as I believe that regardless of the content I’m teaching, it’s my duty as an educator to prepare all of the young people that walk through my door to face the challenges that lie ahead of them. That’s why I’m such a staunch advocate for the incorporation of the engineering design process into all classrooms. The EDP is the epitome of growth mindset and transcends the classroom into every facet of day-to-day life.


In that spirit, I continue to refine my practice. Every year, I identify one area of my instruction as a point of emphasis. In the past, these areas have ranged from classroom management, to individualized learning plans, to the integration of technology. One area I’ve been putting off is refining the writing process that occurs within my STEM course. Why have I been putting it off? Quite honestly, I struggle with writing. I believe in the value of writing, but freely acknowledge that it’s not a strength I possess. Opening up this area of my practice could be humbling, but it’s my hope that we (myself as well as fellow educators) will all benefit from this experience.

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Growth Mindset: Rephrasing Praise

Getting Better Together

Having a growth mindset is multifaceted. In part, it’s about persistence —  adapting and trying a different approach when the first attempt fails. People with a growth mindset see feedback as critique, rather than criticism. Learning becomes its own reward and ticking off goals along the way motivates the learner to continue.

Creating a classroom climate that is conducive to developing a growth mindset in students requires thinking about several points. Teachers think in terms of students setting worthwhile and attainable goals for themselves, engaging students in learning situations where they can work collaboratively and cooperatively, each contributing and learning from one another. Growth mindset in the classroom also means offering constructive feedback to help guide students’ next steps, and giving praise that highlights effort and resilience rather than the attributes students have no control over.

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Growth Mindset Chat: A #TchLIVE Professional Learning Community

Getting Better Together

This year, as part of my professional growth plan, I’m delighted to facilitate a virtual professional learning community via Twitter chat to delve more deeply into growth mindset. Growth mindset is the theory that intelligence, talent, and ability are fluid and can be developed with effective effort over time. This is in opposition to the theory that intelligence, ability, and talent are fixed — you either have them or you don’t. This work is important to me because I believe that all students can learn, and part of my challenge as an educator is helping my students to believe that as well.

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Revisiting Growth Mindset

Getting Better Together

I’ve always felt proud to say that I am a teacher. Teachers are some of the kindest, most generous people on the planet, and the teachers I work with are no exception.

Teachers in Oak Park, like teachers everywhere, love their students. They work hours on end after the school day is done, planning and preparing for the students they serve. They are more than teachers; they are home away from home, social worker, nurse, and friend. Needless to say, teachers leave an indelible mark on their students.

Earlier this year, I was able to sit down with a handful of my colleagues as part of my Getting Better Together work, which is focused on cultivating a growth mindset among my students. This impromptu “Professional Learning Network” session, which we recorded via a Google Hangout on Air, was amazing and very powerful for me as a teacher. Here’s a recording of the session:

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#TchLIVE: Growth Mindset

In the last couple of years, the topic of growth mindset has been buzzing about in my district and, it seems, everywhere else. Much of the professional development offered in my district as well as the professional development I’ve sought, has at least touched upon the issue of student mindsets. Carol Dweck, the pioneer in the field, has explained the importance of having a growth mindset. But the burning question is: How do we teach that to our students, all of them?

I’ve been giving some thought to the ways in which my mindset is fixed about certain things, yet malleable regarding others. How do I work with my struggling students to increase their perseverance and improve the effectiveness of their effort? How do I let students know that I will never give up on them, even if they themselves give up? How do I teach my high-achieving students that when something is hard, that doesn’t mean you’re not good at it, it just means that you haven’t figured it out yet? These are my questions and my challenges.

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3 Tips to Foster a Community of Growth Mindset Learners

As an educator, my hope is to develop joyful, self-directed, engaged learners. Learners who are curious about the world around them, who are excited to take on challenges, who are willing to take risks, and who are resilient and flexible in the face of failure. In sum, learners who have a growth mindset.

I’ve found that building a classroom culture of growth mindset changes how students approach their learning, and is transformational in helping them build the habits of mind to be successful within and beyond the classroom. As one of my kindergartners explains, “If you don’t know how to do something, you can try it again and again and fix your mistakes, and if you don’t give up, you really showed growth mindset.”

The following are three key tips that can support the development of a community of growth mindset learners in your classroom.

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Growth Mindset Made Visible

Why do some students thrive in the face of challenges, while others fall apart? One reason is because students have different beliefs about the nature of intelligence. These beliefs serve as lenses through which students interpret their experiences in school, particularly experiences of adversity.

People with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is innate. This belief can make school a threatening place. It becomes a place to go to learn how smart you are — or how smart you’re not. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe intelligence can be developed. For these students, school can be an exciting place, as it provides them with an opportunity to learn and develop their intelligence.

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Three Ways to Encourage a Growth Mindset

I’ve always been passionate about helping my students see potential in themselves and seek to reach greater heights. Getting students to truly believe they are capable of growing is a large part of why I became a teacher in the first place.

But it wasn’t until I learned more about growth mindset that I started to uncover how to help students both grow and have the tools to be self-directed learners. Helping students develop a growth mindset — the belief that your abilities can be developed — has become a cornerstone in my practice.

In particular, growth mindset enables challenging tasks to be a welcomed norm. As a teacher, my job is not only to give my students challenging tasks, but also to give them the tools and strategies to tackle the challenge. Read more