Growth Mindset in the Classroom

I learned about growth mindset a couple of years ago, and it completely changed the tone of my classroom. It's shaped how I view my work and how my students view theirs, and helped to build a solid classroom community. If you don't know much about growth mindset, I'd definitely start with this Youtube video, and then read below for how to incorporate growth mindset into your classroom. If you're looking for a printable resource to help you teach growth mindset, you can follow this link for a packet I created to get you started.

Here are 5 Ways to Encourage Growth Mindset in Your Students:

1. Change your praise.

Carefully choosing how you praise your students is a critical part of promoting a growth mindset in the classroom. Instead of praising students for being "smart," praise them for their effort. Use language that acts as a mirror to reflect back to students how their effort and good choices are helping them to grow. Instead of saying, "You're such a smart student!" try saying, "You spent so much time on this writing! There are so many details that I feel like I'm there in your story."

How we praise communicates to students what we believe is the source of their success. If we praise a student for being "smart," we're attributing their success to a trait that is beyond their control. If we praise a student for their creativity and effort, we are praising them for a choice they consciously made. This communicates to students that their effort matters!

2. Create a classroom culture that celebrates every "beautiful oops!"

Have you ever read the book Beautiful Oops!? If you haven't, stop reading this and go buy a copy! It's a darling book, and is one of the biggest influences on our current classroom culture. In short, the book talks about how "mistakes" aren't actually mistakes; they're really just the beginning of something new and beautiful. 

On the first day of school, I give my students blank pieces of paper, paint brushes, and paint, and tell them to make the worst painting ever. "Fill this with mistakes," I say. "Make the messiest, craziest, worst painting you've ever made in your whole life." At first, the kids think I'm CRAZY, but they laugh their heads off and don't skip a beat, getting right to work.

The next day, I proudly display their "mistake" paintings in front of the classroom while I read Beautiful Oops!. We talk about how the "mistakes" in the book were actually just the beginning of something new and beautiful. Together, we make a rule as a class that we won't ever say we made a mistake in our schoolwork--instead, we will always say we made a "beautiful oops!" I give each student a Sharpie and let them go back through their "oops!" painting, looking for beautiful things that are hidden in them. As the year goes on, we all clap and cheer together as a class whenever someone makes a "beautiful oops!" and doesn't give up!

3. Encourage students to set and track their own goals.

At the root of growth mindset is the belief that everyone is capable of growing and learning. A student with a growth mindset will be confronted with a challenge and tell herself, "This is hard for me, but I'll get better if I practice." One great way to instill this belief and mindset in students is to have them set their own goals and track their own progress. Instead of only storing grades on your computer or in your grade book, give your students a copy and let them keep track of their own hard work in a Student Leadership Notebook. Giving your students ownership over their learning by helping them set their own behavioral or academic goals communicates that you believe them to be capable of meeting those goals. This is the first step to building a growth mindset!

4. Tattling is ALWAYS allowed in the classroom.

This is a fun rule to establish right at the start of the school year, because it always startles the students. "Tattling is always allowed in this classroom," I'll tell the students with a completely serious face. "I want you to tattle on each other all the time, and you can interrupt me anytime you'd like if you need to tattle on someone!" Then comes the catch: I tell the kids I only want to hear about someone else in our classroom if that person is hurt, stuck in a high place, or being AWESOME. I tell the students that if they ever catch someone in our classroom being kind, setting a good example, or saying an encouraging word, they can always, ALWAYS, tattle on that person. In fact, if they want to interrupt a lesson to let me know that someone was nice to them on the playground, they can do it!

Of course, this is hilarious to the kids, but it's amazing how quickly this becomes established as a cultural norm in the classroom. In the first few minutes back in the classroom after recess, one of the kids will invariably raise their hand to let me know about someone who helped a kindergarten student tie their shoe on the playground, or a student who walked a hurt friend to the office. It's nice to take something like tattling and turn it around to be something positive. This practice helps students cultivate a growth mindset because it trains them to look for the positive in others, which (hopefully!) trains them to find the positive in themselves, too.

5. Model failing forward.

As teachers, we constantly do "think-alouds" in front of the students during the day. We model strategies for decoding unknown words or checking our work on a math problem. We let kids peek inside our minds through our teaching, but this strategy shouldn't be limited to academic content. 

On the first day of school this year, I was leading my brand-new class back to our room when I glanced over my shoulder to make sure we hadn't lost any stragglers. Two seconds later, I ran right into a trash can. We weren't five minutes into the school year and I'd already made a mistake! Once we got settled into the classroom and got all of our giggles out about Mrs. Viducich running into an inanimate object, I said, "Wow! I didn't expect to start a new school year by running into a trash can. That made my butterflies about the first day of school even worse! Even though I'm still feeling kind of nervous, I'm not going to give up, because if I keep trying my best then I know today will turn out to be really great!" 

Fortunately, I'm a person who regularly trips, drops things, or makes mistakes when I'm writing on a chart during a lesson. I have no shortage of content when it comes to making mistakes. :) These silly moments during the school day are PRICELESS opportunities to model for students the kinds of conversations we should be having with ourselves to build a growth mindset.

I hope that teaching your students about growth mindset has the same positive impact on your class that it has had on mine! If you decide to make "beautiful oops!" paintings in your classroom, please tell me all about it!

If you're looking for resources to help you teach Growth Mindset, you can follow this link for a packet to get you started. I've also compiled a list of some of my favorite books for teaching Growth Mindset in this blog post.

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1 comment

  1. Love this article! Thanks so much! I teach 5th graders, and will use this with my class.