3 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset

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performanceStanford University psychologist Carol Dweck’s best-selling book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, started a revolution in most of the schools that I work in this year, and for good reason: her findings are inspiring teachers and students and parents alike to rethink what it means to be a successful learner and what dispositions we must cultivate in order to make that vision a reality.

This a complex study, and reflecting as we read brings interesting considerations to the surface. For instance, how can we stop perseverating on performance in order to cultivate a growth mindset?

How Performance Matters

  • Setting and achieving goals is intrinsically motivating.
  • Knowing where we are and where we want to be helps us create clear pathways toward success. Many crave this kind of clarity, because it allows them to break a long, uncertain journey into a series of manageable and predictable steps.
  • Much can be gained from defining people’s strengths. When we study performance, we identify those who have specific kinds of expertise, and then we can tap them to share it.

There’s nothing wrong with knowing how we want to perform and striving for high performance. Yet, the way we treat performance in schools and in life often inspires us to rush through processes in order to churn out perfect products, and toxic levels of competition are typically the byproduct. How do know when this is happening, and how do we stop perseverating on performance in ways that do harm?

3 Ways to Stop Perseverating on Performance

1. Become Mindful

Mind your thoughts. Ask yourself:

  • What are my beliefs about successful and unsuccessful learners?
  • What do I value in my most successful learners and in my least successful learners?
  • How do my thoughts guide my words and my behavior?

Mind your words. Ask yourself:

  • What messages do I send learners about what it takes to please me?
  • What messages do I send learners about what it takes to be successful?
  • How do my words influence my thoughts and my behavior?

Mind your behavior:

  • What do my classroom expectations reveal about my beliefs and values regarding growth and performance?
  • How do I respond to learners in ways that nurture growth rather than perseveration on performance?
  • What do my assessment practices communicate about my beliefs and values regarding growth and performance?

2. Make the Shift Away from Grades

Ditch your grades, your grade book, and your traditional report cards and begin the journey toward standards based or feedback-driven assessment. Contrary to what many believe, a standards based report is not limited to the standards defined by your state. It can and should reflect the standards of your system as well.

Making this shift takes time and careful attention, but assessment without grades inspires some of the best professional learning any team can pursue. This set of frequently asked questions about standards based grading provides deeper perspective, but plan to take these five first steps as you begin:

  1. Define your standards
  2. Establish clear and measurable criteria for quality performance
  3. Establish habits of documentation
  4. Use the evidence you gather to become increasingly confident about the growth of the learners you serve
  5. Rely on mode and recency rather than averages
  6. Engage learners in monitoring their progress and growth

3. Build a Culture of Reflective Goal-Setters

Invite your students to define their own goals, make learning visible, and document growth over time. Coach them to become increasingly reflective, and ask them to assess you as well. Use their learning, their feedback, and their needs to inform your work as a teacher. Use this same information to set your own learning goals as well. This is important. When teachers position themselves as learners, set goals, and remain sensitive to the toxic effects of perseverating on performance, they become better able to coach growth mindset as well.

Eager to help your students establish a healthy attitude toward learning? Be mindful of your own.

You might be surprised by the effect this has on your own ability to be a successful teacher.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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