Lessons From ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck (2006)

I recently read a fantastic book entitled – ‘Mindset. The New Psychology of Success. How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential’ by Carol Dweck (2006)  – “one of the most influential books ever on motivation” (Po Bronson). I really enjoyed the read, the case studies and examples presented were particularly interesting. I found it incredibly useful for learning more about teaching students and for improving myself generally. It details the two mindsets (fixed vs growth) and explains how these affect how you take criticism and failure, and how you deal with other people and situations.

The basic concept is that the fixed mindset means one bases their worth on their intelligence, which they view as a fixed trait. They must prove their superiority over and over to feel ‘successful’ and a failure is deeply damaging, as it challenges their entire concept of self. Confidence is tied to their level of intelligence, which again they believe cannot be changed. Therefore, challenging situations are seen as to be avoided, less they cannot overcome them. Opportunities are missed and potential is not realised because of the fear of failure. In contrast growth mindset views failure as learning, and intelligence as something which can change and grow. Challenges are therefore motivating and fun. This, in turn, means individuals are not held back and happily work hard to achieve their goals, take up opportunities and realise their full potential.

I definitely recommend this as a must-read. Here are the key points I took away from the book regarding how to be more ‘growth minded’:

  • Failure is not ‘failing’ it is learning – getting smarter, growing, developing your qualities and improving yourself. You are NOT ‘a failure’ if you fail.
  • Smart is not a definitive/permanent quality – it is NOT ‘you are smart or you’re not smart’. It’s NOT – ‘you’re somebody or you’re nobody’ (this is really black and white thinking).
  • “Why waste your time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better?!” Seek to be stretched!
  • “It takes time for potential to flower” – one point in time cannot measure you forever – you can take time to grow. A failure does not define you.
  • Love to Learn. Enjoy the journey. “You can’t do it yet”
  • Take on challenges happily, don’t be discouraged by effort, learn from failures.
  • Enjoy what you do regardless of outcome! Effort itself is valid, praise yourself for the effort – this is not a ‘waste of time’.
  • You/anyone can learn anything if they try hard enough! Everyone is capable of self-transformation. All people are capable of growth.
  • Do not limit yourself. You belong where you want to and no other person’s opinions can define you.
  • Embody ‘strength of character’. Success = doing your best, learning and improving. Failure is informative and motivating. Take charge and work hard – always seek to improve and make mistakes! That’s how you learn.
  • Don’t constantly seek to validate your brilliance, or to be better than others. Try to learn from people – utilise teamwork.
  • Take criticism on board and grow. Criticism is not judgement on who you are, it is helping you develop. Profit from feedback and don’t be defensive.

The teaching section (ch7) was really interesting, especially as I am working with students. (It also makes note of how parents can help children to develop a growth mindset). The book details how setting high standards (challenging students) and providing a nurturing atmosphere is important to help them develop. Even students who are struggling in school. They work hard, and you are there to support them and in this way they will improve. It is important to focus on the process of learning. You should encourage mistakes, and provide constructive criticism so they can fix these and learn. We need to grow children’s intellect/talent and help them develop their potential. It is particularly important not to judge or label particular students as ‘hopeless’, ‘trouble makers’ or ‘dumb’. You need to expect a lot from students but also help guide them there. For this to happen you need to work really hard yourself. We must be growth minded teachers, and be open to learning from students as well. In addition, teachers (and parents) need to praise processes (strategies used, effort, or choices i.e. ‘you must have worked hard’) not talent or intelligence traits (i.e. ‘you are so smart’). Praising intelligence was shown in their research to lead to fear of failure, lack of trying, attempt to maintain the image of ‘being smart’, including lying about their results, cheating etc and thus not reaching their full potential.

“lowering standards doesn’t raise students’ self esteem. But neither does raising standards without giving students ways of reaching them. The growth mindset gives you a way to set high standards and have students reach them. Try presenting topics in a growth framework and giving students process feedback.” … “Do you think of slower students as kids who will never be able to learn well? Do they think of themselves as permanently dumb? Instead, try to figure out why they don’t understand and what learning strategies they don’t have. remember that great teachers believe in growth of talent and intellect, and are fascinated by the process of learning” (p212)

This type of fixed mindset behaviour was something I saw and experienced myself as a student. Some teachers would label which kids were ‘smart’ and which were not worth their time. The ‘smart’ kids got more help and attention, more praise and were generally treated differently. The ‘dumb’ students were seen as hopeless or troublemakers. They lost interest in school and thought badly of themselves so stopped trying – this is the ‘self fulfilling prophesy’ – they weren’t doing well, acted out, were told they were useless, and believed it themselves so became what they were labelled. When we as librarians and teachers, see a student who doesn’t like to read, or who struggles to read, we need to ask why. We need to tell them that they are capable, give them goals and challenges and help them grow.

Here’s the diagram which makes the two mindsets very clear:


I can’t possibly convey all the fantastic knowledge within this book, so please if this sounded interesting or struck a chord with you, go give it a read!

Tune in next time and thanks for reading 🙂

Michelle De Aizpurua


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