Whether a high school student is at the top of their class or struggling just to get a passing grade, a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, will be beneficial and instrumental in allowing them to reach their full potential. Students need to realize that no matter where they find themselves right now, they can always get better, elevate their potential, and strive for those greater goals.

What is a growth mindset? 

A growth mindset is a pretty simple concept. It is just what it sounds like: a mindset that a student can grow, expand their realm of knowledge, elevate their talents and intelligence, and live up to tremendous potential beyond wherever they’re at now. A growth mindset is all about believing that attributes like talent, intelligence, and capabilities are expandable and can be learned rather than think they’re simply fixed or determined at birth. In contrast, a fixed mindset is when a person believes they can never break out of the category they’re in, whether smart, dumb, fast, slow, etc. A fixed mindset can often be a hugely detrimental limiting factor that hinders a person’s success and achievements. In contrast, a growth mindset unlocks the potential for more success and higher achievements.

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How it helps students

A growth mindset is significantly and measurably beneficial in allowing students to access a higher level of potential and improve, overcome challenges and obstacles, and outperform their peers. The primary way a growth mindset helps students is by leading them to tackle new challenges with the positive, learning-centric belief that they can achieve what they put their minds to. Students with a growth mindset typically seek out, take on, and eagerly overcome even difficult challenges. In contrast, those with a fixed mindset may shy away from those complex tasks and challenges for fear of being incapable or not living up to the intellect required to excel. Additionally, students with a growth mindset are more malleable and open to valuable feedback, which can be hugely advantageous both in an academic and a professional setting.

Tips for parents

As parents, you, of course, want your children to live up to their full potential, and you want to be as supportive and impactful as you can in every step along the way. One useful and straightforward way to make that difference is to instill that growth mindset in your child, especially if you find they don’t really have one or, worse, are limiting themselves with a fixed mindset.

1 Be explicit with your teen

The concept of a growth mindset isn’t some secret, and you don’t need to beat around the bush with your teen. You should openly and directly discuss what a growth mindset is and the type of impact it can have on their future successes and achievements. You should also explain to them the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset and perhaps show them the studies and the research so they fully comprehend just how important the right mindset may be on their future outcomes.

2 Model a growth mindset for your teen

Since parents are often some of their children’s most significant role models (like it or not), you should also do your best to model a growth mindset. Children will pick up on your lack of confidence or fixed mindset (if you have one) and may start to take on those feelings and attribute them to themselves as well, even subconsciously. You would never want to model bad behavior that limits your child’s growth unintentionally. Plus, modeling a growth mindset will also likely have positive effects for you in your own life, as you’ll benefit from the newfound ability to access your full potential, and it just may change your life as much as it does theirs.

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3 Challenge the input they receive

Suppose your student is currently holding themselves back with any limiting beliefs, stereotypes, or other unhelpful narratives that may cap their potential. In that case, you want to challenge those as soon as possible with real, direct proof. Proof means showing your child specific examples of when those norms were proven wrong, when stereotypes were broken, and people who seemingly “shouldn’t have succeeded” did. This can spark inspiring conversations, lead your child to discover new role models and lofty goals they didn’t have before. And finally embrace the fact that their potential truly is unlimited, no matter who they are or where they are starting. 

 Chalk drawing of student with books and stairs to success

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Tips for teachers and schools

Since so much of a student’s learning and development takes place in the classroom, teachers and schools are actually the ones with a tremendous amount of power to foster a growth mindset in their students. Whether we’re talking elementary, middle, or high school, a growth mindset should be taught and encouraged to every student at every level.

Help students practice growth mindset phrases in class

Believe it or not, you can work growth mindsets into your lesson plans and daily classroom routine. Depending on the structure of the class and the age of the students, it might make sense to cover a lecture about growth versus fixed mindsets and having students identify the difference. You could have a student pick a strip of paper with a statement on it out of a hat, read it, and determine which kind of mindset it represents. They could go a step further and change those that represent a fixed mindset into a growth mindset.

Try growth mindset ‘exit’ tickets

You could even require the use of the growth mindset by implementing necessary “exit tickets” to leave the classroom. Each student must come up with a growth mindset statement regarding a challenge they faced that day and how they’ll overcome it, and that will be their ticket out of the classroom, onto their next period.

Read books with characters who are great examples

Another easy and powerful way to work a growth mindset into the curriculum and daily classroom discussions are by reading books with characters that embody that mindset and discussing it. These can be books focused on the growth mindset and how the brain works to learn and grow, or they can simply be books whose characters overcome challenges and obstacles in pursuit of achieving a challenging goal or objective. One good book is Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It” by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D., since this covers more of the science behind the students’ potential and can convey the truly transformative nature of a growth mindset on their future accomplishments.

Post visual reminders of growth mindset vocabulary

To create an even more immersive, inspirational environment, you may want to display examples and reminders of the growth mindset throughout the classroom. This could be posters with growth mindset statements, words that echo unlimited potential, or even pictures of successful athletes, celebrities, and business people who overcame failures to arrive at great successes. All of this will add to the inspiring, growth-oriented classroom environment.

Use growth mindset prompts during feedback

One way to get students to unknowingly start speaking with and embodying a growth mindset is to prompt them with feedback-related questions. Rather than merely telling them they did a great job; you could first ask them why they made certain decisions, how they overcame certain obstacles, and what the most challenging piece of the project had been. This way, they’re forced to think about how they have already implemented a growth mindset to overcome the challenges that have resulted in their ultimate assignment deliverable.

Model growth mindset 

Since students learn through the behavior they observe, it’s always helpful if a role model, like an educator, can practice and showcase a growth mindset themselves, thus proving just how accessible it really is, as well as the positive outcome it can create. Teachers can go a step further and allow students into the challenges or obstacles they face, offering students an opportunity to pitch their suggested solutions and alternatives to overcome the problem at hand. This is a great way to keep students engaged, get them thinking analytically and solving problems, and have them realize that with a growth mindset, many things can be overcome.

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Final thoughts

Since students are still developing many skills, along with their confidence and paradigm about life, it’s crucial that we teach and instill a growth mindset early. Students who realize the ‘sky’s the limit’ will shoot for the stars, even if they have to dodge a few meteors and comets on the way up. 

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