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Building a Growth Mindset in Schools

Welcome to Chapter 2 of Mindsets in the Classroom: "What are Some Ways to Begin Building a Growth Mindset School Culture?" This post is part of a book blog hop I'm doing with my wonderful team, and the first chapter can be found on Brigid's blog, Math Giraffe.

While chapter 1 focused more on the background of fixed and growth mindsets, chapter 2's focus is on how to create a growth mindset culture within the school. Ideally, to help students develop a growth mindset, all individuals in a school would have a growth mindset, from teachers to aids to secretaries to administrators. Ricci recommends that all members of the school go through professional development in order to work toward adopting a growth mindset. With this goal in mind, she outlines a training plan that includes seven different steps.
Several of these steps include educating the various members of the school community (teachers, students, and parents) about our amazing brains, including ideas like:
  • the brain can be trained to have a happy, optimistic perspective (because of neuroplasticity)       
  • optimism helps students become ready to master new learning and be optimistic about their ability to learn 
  • effort should be praised, rather than outcome (Dweck's 2006 book, Mindset, is referenced here)
  • new learning = new brain connections, which become stronger with practice and effort
  • more connections = denser brain = "smarter" person!
  • students need to learn that intelligence is based on effort, persistence, and motivation
Part of Ricci's plan recommends that school policies/protocols be reviewed and revised to reflect a growth mindset. Ricci shares an example of a school that maintained protocols not fitting with growth mindset. In the example, parents wrote to the school, requesting that their child be permitted to take an honors class, based on the student's grades, interest in the topic, motivation, and growth mindset. The student was not permitted to take the class, because the district's policy required the student to have a certain score on standardized tests. The parents were informed that the student would be appropriately challenged in the non-honors class, gaps would be filled, and the student could take the honors class the following year if the student earned As. Ricci contends that this is a fixed mindset situation - the school never met with the student to learn more about the student; the school based their decision on a test; the school believed the student couldn't be successful.

Reading this situation reminded me of one of my own high school experiences. In the summer before my senior year, my mother received a call from my guidance counselor. I had signed up for Advanced Placement Calculus, and apparently the district felt that the AP class was going to be too large. The counselors were calling parents of students who had earned As and Bs in Alg3/Trig (honors) the year before (rather than all As), to request that they not take AP Calculus, but take a "lower" class...because they might not be successful in the AP class (I don't remember if the "lower" class was an honors class or not...too long ago for me to remember the different levels available!). I do remember that my mom asked me what I wanted to do - thank goodness! I was angry and upset about that call - who were they to tell me that I couldn't be successful in that class? I took the class and earned all As for the year....I was determined to succeed. Although I was upset by that call, I am glad that the district gave me the choice to stay in the class or drop down a level, rather than simply telling me I couldn't take the class, like the student in Ricci's example.

Examples like these should help us to think about how we might consider students individually when it comes to school policies. The decisions could foster a growth mindset.

Check out Chapter 3 at What's New with Leah
Chapter 4 at Musings of a History Gal 
Chapter 5 at The Colorado Classroom


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