Growth Mindset – A Guide for Parents

The purpose of this blog

This is not meant to be an academic piece of work and I hope the title has not put you off.  Lots of York ISSP teachers are enthusiastic about ideas such as growth mindset, and I have been asked to do a short blog to introduce some of these ideas to parents.  Carol Dweck, a developmental psychologist at Stanford University USA, is closely associated with the idea, but I am not about to write a blog with lots of references.  If you would like to know more about the research underpinning growth mindset, please do get in touch with us.  I am going to summarise here what York ISSP teachers learnt at two training events in York given by leaders in the field.  I hope to explain what really good teachers are trying to do and to help you to understand how you can support your child to develop a growth mindset.

What is growth mindset?

For those of us who went to school a while ago this can be quite challenging.  Recent research about how the mind works suggests that popular ideas that some people are just born smart and others are not are wrong.  Instead, with the right opportunities and support, all of us can get better at learning.  The brain, like a sportsperson’s muscles, gets better at something with practice.  That doesn’t mean all of us can be Einstein, just as not all of us can be Usain Bolt, but we can all get better at things, and we’ll never know how much better until we try.

The people who stand out at school at age 6, are very often not the same ones who stand out at age 16 and very often not the ones who become the successful adults.  We are currently very bad at testing and predicting a person’s adult abilities.  So, why not put our energies to where we can make a difference?  Yes, brains and talent contribute to ability, but it’s dedication and hard work that develop them.  That means that as teachers and parents, we should not be focusing on predicted grades and latest test scores, but on providing the support and opportunities that will motivate young people.

What does this mean for really good teachers?

It means that they should expect excellence from every student.  Their students all need to be faced with tasks with high challenge and which demand high skills.

It means they need to give students feedback which is as immediate and as precise as possible to help students improve.

It means that they always encourage students to be collaborative, to learn in groups and to help each other, but they also support them to take responsibility for as much as possible.

It means that they need to give tough messages that improvement is not easy and dreams may not come true.  However, that hard work will get one closer to ones dreams and just turning up and expecting to be taught will not.  Education is not something that is done to you.  Children have fires to be lit, not buckets to be filled.

It means modelling an endless curiosity for life and a love of learning, so that students know lessons are just the beginning of what you learn.

It means helping students to see the purpose in what they are doing and how it fits into the rest of their life.

It means making sure that all students have the chance to fail a lot and to learn from their failures.

How can you help your child?

As the most important adult in your child’s life it really will help if you:

  • Encourage your child to be curious, to experiment, to use their imagination and to be messy.
  • Praise their hard work rather than the marks they get.
  • Make it clear that being hard-working and intellectually curious is cool.
  • Praise them when they think for themselves, work well in teams and change their minds after thinking something through.
  • Accept that failure is a really important part of learning.
  • Encourage them to do activities such as writing, reading, watching fiction, solving puzzles, exchanging cultural views and debating.
  • Talk with teachers about support and opportunities rather than predictions.

Helen Snelson