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Is “Have a Growth Mindset” the New “Just Say No”

with 14 comments

I’ve been interested in the ideas surrounding the growth mindset prior to it being coined as such by Carol Dweck. As part of my studying Education Psychology as part of my Doctoral studies, I delved into studying attribution theory. Attribution theory provides a foundation to the ideas connected to a growth mindset. As such, I have been thrilled about the press it’s getting and I have facilitated several workshops for educators on the growth mindset – see The Education with a Growth Mindset: A Professional Development Workshop.

With all of that said, I am also concerned about the fad of the growth mindset. Bulletin boards, classroom exercises, and catch phrases about the growth mindset are being promoted in lots of school settings.

It is understandable that some may be skeptical of this years buzz phrase. Despite being debunked as pseudo-science, the scars of brain gym and learning styles are still felt in classrooms around the country. Unfortunately, pseudoscience still wastes the time of many, in the form of right brain v left brain myth. So where does Growth Mindset sit within all this? Is it the latest fad or is it something we should all be embracing? (Growth Mindset: The Latest Fad)

Carol Dweck’s expresses some concerns about integrating the growth mindset into educational settings:

A lot of teachers are saying ‘yes I have a growth mindset’, without doing the work and without making a journey to deeply understand it and to know how to apply it. Even some teachers who genuinely have a growth mindset aren’t understanding how to apply it properly. They are just telling kids to try hard: which I call nagging, not growth mindset. Or they are just saying ‘hey kids, have a growth mindset’.(Carol Dweck says mindset is not ‘a tool to make children feel good’)

The faddish or pop culture version of the growth mindset is emerging as: “Have a Growth Mindset.” This smacks of the “Just So No” campaign of the Reagan era.  Catch phrases about a growth mindset will have as much effect on actually developing a growth mindset as just saying no did on curbing drug use.

I mirror Dweck’s concern about educators and learners needing to do the work required to develop a growth mindset. It is a deeply reflective process requiring that this process occur often and over time.

I developed the following graphic as a reflective tool for my college students to assess the amount of effort and work they put into individual assignments:

Growth Mindset_ Personal Accountability and ReflectionThis personal assessment is designed to be used following numerous assignments so learners can continually assess the amount of effort given.

Similar tools can be used with elementary and high school learners as well as by educators themselves so they can (1) assess amount of effort put forth for learning tasks, (2) make personal judgements if this was okay (learner agency), and (3) learn where and how they are engaging in fixed or failure mindset attitudes and behaviors. These tools can include reflective blogs, questions for discussion (like the ones included in my graphic), and personal assessments. Again, this is not a one time occurrence but a process that needs to occur over time.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 4, 2015 at 11:17 pm

14 Responses

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  1. I fully concur with your statements Jackie. The other frustrating saying that’s coming to be used in schools is the comment that you are negative if you point to issues arising during staff meeting discussions or ask questions about what might result. In a positive education labelled setting negative is another no-no. Where do grit and resilience fit into a positive education setting where no is considered bad?


    September 5, 2015 at 8:19 am

  2. I agree that we need to “do the work” and that growth mindset requires reflection. I start off every semester talking about growth mindset, and students complete a self assessment. It really isn’t until the end of the semester when I have them reflect that they see how their effort = results. Love the work you do Jackie!


    September 5, 2015 at 10:41 am

    • Thank you, Patrice – hope you do a few of those assessments during the semester.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      September 5, 2015 at 6:57 pm

  3. Nice graphic, Jackie. I just finished co-teaching a course with 30 teachers where the journey to the teachers final projects exemplified the many indicators you included in your poster. I am thinking I will use your graphic with educators in future PD endeavors.

    Learning with Lucie

    September 5, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    • Great – go for it, Lucie – hope you find it useful!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      September 5, 2015 at 6:57 pm

  4. Hi Jackie! Yes, sort of like the overuse of “You did a great job!”, without being honest or specific. Thinking also that having a Growth Mindset is akin to reflecting on the Habits of Mind, or learning dispositions, empowered during the learning journey. With the reflective act of thinking about thinking, learners have the opportunity to truly wrap their heads around what it took to be successful and go there when feeling a sense of frustration. Also, seeing a connection to Carol Kuhlthau’s Inquiry Model which notes what students might be feeling throughout the Inquiry process in addition to what they are or should be doing. (sorry about not including links. Never could figure out how to do in Word Press comments!)


    September 5, 2015 at 9:33 pm

  5. First, let me say that I love your educational insights and I appreciate the different perspectives you bring to an issue. Second, I can see how pushing a growth mindset could be the next catchy “thing” to do with students and one certainly doesn’t want it to be abused or misused. That being said, I have to disagree with your graphic…at least in the context of working with elementary and middle school students. We have been living a growth mindset for a few years and I have seen such positive affects in our lives, but I think your graphic perpetuates a growth mindset with regards to academic work – not a general life approach. Rather, with my family and the students that I work with, growth mindset is about how you approach a challenge (not necessarily an assignment given by a teacher). Yes – it’s important to try your hardest, but what does that mean?

    Did you give up because it was too frustrating? or did you step back and realize that the difficulty in understanding/designing/learning the new material is because your brain is actually making new connections? Your brain is growing and it might take you longer than someone else, but that’s okay. Are you going to quit because you didn’t “get” it or are you going to ask for help or approach the problem differently? I guess many would call this grit, but I talk to the students about the brain science behind growth mindset (at least as was described in Dweck’s book, Mindset).

    We have a saying in our house – whenever we talk about not being good at something, one of of us will inevitably add the qualifier “yet” to the end of the sentence. “I don’t know my multiplication tables – yet.” “I am not quite sure what to do about this problem…at least not yet.” Etc. etc. It helps to remind us that this is not an insurmountable problem, but it might take a lot longer than we were hoping to truly “get” it.

    I am hardly an expert (yet), but I found that this is extremely helpful with perfectionists (or those labeled gifted). It’s not about completing an assignment to the best of your ability. It’s about approaching life as a series of challenges meant to be undertaken and enjoying the process along the way!


    September 6, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    • Good insights – this looks like a blog. Have you written about it?

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      September 6, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      • Ha ha – no. I haven’t formally written anything about growth mindset, rather I direct people to her book as I think she says it better than I can. 🙂 However, you’ve inspired me to keep it in mind for a future post. Thanks!


        September 7, 2015 at 6:30 pm

  6. Hi Jackie,

    I very much enjoy reading your blog and agree with you about the attribution theory being seemingly present in the mindset discussion. I have been interested in mindset especially because of the link to the learner agency, which is the focus of my dissertation. However, all too often I see mindset discussions leading to blaming poor performing students for the lack of grit, which I think is very inappropriate. So, I blogged about my thinking yesterday:

    The growth mindset belongs into much larger scale paradigm change in education, I think. The way we perceive the nature of knowledge and learning, and the role of a teacher are starting to change to reflect the 21st century and the needs of information/knowledge society, where lifelong learning is a must. Growth mindset is one part of lifelong learning, and we as teachers should ensure that graduating students are confident, curious and capable learners.



    September 6, 2015 at 4:49 pm

  7. “It [a growth mindset] is a deeply reflective process requiring that this process occur often and over time.” Yes!

    To speak to this point, I strongly believe that teacher education programs should put more effort into fostering the unique reflective abilities of each educator. Much emphasis is placed on the importance of reflective practice, but I suspect that many teachers go into the field with little knowledge about how to reflect beyond the typical journal assignment.

    I am starting to believe that you don’t “have” a growth mindset, simply checking it off of a list as a permanent quality. Rather, you “live” or “do” a growth mindset, maintaining a constant mindset of growth through exploring the connections between your reflections and your actions.


    September 6, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    • nicely said!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      September 6, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    • Our school has adopted the Growth Mindset as its motto, and we attach “yet” as in “I haven’t mastered algebraic equations yet” to our mantra. I am content with the idea of teaching kids coping skills..because to me the idea of growth mindset and coping are one and the same. I love to tell them that I am giving them a task today that they will most likely struggle with, and yes, I agree, Danielle, that the words “growth mindset” are just words. It’s the attitude behind them that should be constant. I also firmly agree that teachers who possess the ability to accept that they can always improve, and self reflect, do in fact, become the better teachers. I’ve been a mentor for many years, and I was always surprised by how many student teachers did not reflect or attempt to really improve their practice. I STILL reflect in order to improve my practice, believing, I can always get better. That’s why I like to teach. It’s very challenging.


      September 30, 2015 at 1:46 am

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