Fixed or Growth Mind Set?

Do you believe that students have academic ceilings?

This is a workshop to review Carol Dweck's research on fixed and growth mindsets.

Introductory videos address key questions around teaching and learning: How do we nurture learning in our students? Is intelligence something you are born with or something that can be developed?

Activities apply the research of Carol Dweck on fixed and growth mindsets to your own school. We then explore strategies for developing a growth mindset within our schools.

Are you born smart, or can you become smart?

Intelligent quotient (IQ) tests are standardized tests designed to assess human intelligence. As a result of these tests we tend to view intelligence as something which is fixed, even though this is not what Alfred Binet (1857-1911), the inventor of the IQ test, intended. Binet actually believed that intelligence was not fixed, but progressed at variable rates and could be influenced by the environment. He believed that intelligence was not solely based on genetics, but was malleable and could grow. He also believed that there was a great diversity of intelligence(s). However, when the IQ tests were transported and used by others they became more of a measurement of fixed intelligence.

Alfred Binet and more recent researchers like Carol Dweck (a Stanford University psychologist) believe that intelligence is malleable and that being successful is a combination of two things: Talent (what you are born with) + Mindset (beliefs about yourself and your abilities). Anecdotal evidence and scientific research both support this. Consider the following two youtube clips.

Ed Sheeran is one of the most successful British musicians of his time. But he claims he wasn’t born with talent. In the following interview with Jonathan Ross the singer/songwriter says: “When people say artists are born with talent, you’re not. You have to really learn and really practice.” At this, Sheeran then went on to play a recording of him singing badly from when he was younger.

Science shows that the brain can grow and develop. The brain is not static. It is malleable. Science refers to this as neuroplasticity.

Do you as administrators and teachers (and your students) believe that you are capable of growth, can always learn and get better? Consider the following matrix showing the mix of talent and mindset in people:


High levels of talent but a poor mindset.

Students who have a lot of potential but who don't apply themselves.


High levels of talent and a good mindset

Students who maximize their potential


Low levels of talent and a poor mindset

Students who do not have a lot of natural talent and do not apply themselves at best will perform in an average manner


Low levels of talent with a good mindset

Students who are not naturally talented in a specific area but have a good mindset and apply a lot of dedicated and effort will achieve beyond their expectations.

Fixed and growth mindsets

We have seen that people with a fixed mindset believe that they have a certain amount of brains and talent and they can't possibly change it. Whilst people with a growth mindset see that their brains and talent can be developed through dedication and hard work.

If you have time read a summary of Carol Dweck's book Mindset: How to fulfill your potential in the form of a Think Piece: a helpful one has been produced by The Main Idea and can be accessed by clicking here.

Alternatively use the following overview and TEDTalk as stimulus to learn about Dweck's key ideas.

Key ideas

Your mindset – your beliefs about yourself and others – has a powerful impact on your life. It affects how you view success and failure, the effort you put into what you do, how you approach a challenge and whether you can learn to your full potential.

However, your mindset is not fixed. You have a choice and you can change your mindset.

Everyone is born a learner, that is, with a growth mindset. Babies push themselves to do incredibly challenging tasks. However, some children adopt a fixed mindset, sometimes very early on.

Dweck’s work has shown that with a growth mindset, students’ motivation and grades both improve. In an experiment Dweck gave students a set of increasingly challenging puzzles. When a 10-year-old boy really enjoyed trying the harder ones saying “I love a challenge” Dweck started to research why some people, like this boy, are not discouraged by a challenge or even a failure whilst others are. She found that it all depended on what you believed about yourself. If you believe that your skills can be cultivated by effort you will relish a challenge and an opportunity to learn from mistakes and grow (a growth mindset). However, if you believe that your skills are carved in stone you then regard failure as a confirmation that you are not smart (fixed mindset). Her research is supported by scientists who are discovering that the brain has a much greater capacity for growing and learning than had previously been thought. People with growth mindsets keep on learning.

Researchers have noted multiple benefits of people having a growth mindset.

  • Challenge - they stretch themselves (Mueller & Dweck, 1998)
  • Persistence - they want to persist longer (Mueller & Dweck, 1998)
  • Resilience - they have higher levels of grit (Hinton & Hendrick, 2015)
  • Achievement - they getter a better levels of grades (Dweck 2008)
  • Self-improvement - they seek out better feedback (Mueller & dweck, 1998)
  • Well-being - they have reduced stress and aggression (Yeager and Dweck, 2012)

How do we develop growth mindsets?

So how are schools and individuals to develop growth mindsets in their students, staff and leaders? Consider the following strategies.

Have high expectations

Research demonstrates that teacher expectations affect student performance. This is called the Pygmallion effect, named after the sculptor in Greek mythology who carved a female statue and fell completely in love with it. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, saw the depth of his love and thus turned the statue into a real-life being.Pygmallion is the term of someone living up to someone else's high expectations. The educational research was carried out by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968). The opposite of the Pygmallion effect is called the 'Golem effect' which describes the consequences of having low expectations of students.

Activity 5:

  • What in the video resonated with you?
  • What does a learning environment (a classroom) with high expectations look like? How are these expectations communicated? What strategies do you already use?
  • What does the following flee experiment suggest to you in relation to how we set expectations for our students? Please note that this is being showed in the form of a metaphor - I am not suggesting that expectation can be inherited in humans, although it is interesting to reflect on how the culture in which we bring up our children can have a liberating or limiting effect.

Watch your language

Praise wisely: do not praise intelligence or talent. Instead praise students' effort, strategies, their improvement. This process praise creates students who are resilient. Dweck found that praising children's abilities actually harms their motivation and performance.

Reward process - effort, strategy and progress. This way encourages perseverance. 'You are developing and I am interested in your growth.'

'Not Yet' language -'Everyone learns in a different way. Let's keep trying to find the way that works for you.'

Review your learning

Ever wondered why kids say they’re bored at school, or why they stop trying when the work gets harder? Educationalist Carol Dweck explains how the wrong kind of praise actually 'harms' young people. 

Activities 6: Key Messages

Part 1: Exploring Self-Talk

How can we reframe negative self-talk? Consider the following:


  1. I am rubbish at this
  2. I'm excellent at this
  3. I give up
  4. This is too hard
  5. I can't do this
  6. I'm not good at physics
  7. I always make mistakes
  8. It's good enough
  9. I'm not as smart as her


  1. What am I missing?
  2. How can I get even better?
  3. What can I do differently?
  4. This will take some time
  5. How might I improve this bit by bit?
  6. I'm not good at physics yet
  7. Mistakes are a part of learning
  8. Am I really proud of this work?
  9. I'm going to learn from her

Part 2: Creating Positive Messages

  • Design your own poster providing motivational quotes on the theme of fixed and growth mindsets. Use a search engine to find famous quotes.
  • Use the quotes to make an inspirational collage wall.
  • How else could you display and use the quotes to have an impact?

Leadership and Growth Mindset

In chapter 5 of Carol Dweck's book Mindset: How to fulfill your potential she applies her research to leaders. Enron, the American energy company, is described as a company which had a fixed mindset - they recruited leaders with the greatest talent in a culture which worshipped talent and avoided recognition of failure. On the other hand in his book Good to Great Collins described the most successful leaders as those who had a growth mindset, always willing to examine their performance and improve in order to be great. Dweck presents case studies of three growth-mindset leaders who transformed their companies by rooting out the fixed mindset, replacing an 'I' culture with a teamwork culture.


  • What questions does a growth-mindset leader ask?
  • What do you think their communication strategy is?
  • How will their growth mindset affect their recruitment (of staff) procedures?
  • How will it affect performance management processes?
  • What is their reaction to challenge, set backs and failure?
  • How do you think they handle under performance?
  • How do you think they relate to criticism?
  • What else should a growth mindset affect in a leaders' work?

Case Study from Chew Valley School, UK

In his blog Chris Hildrew describes how his school, Chew Valley School, became a growth mindset school. One of the things they did was to rewrite their school aims. It changed from 'Developing Potential to the Full' to 'Learn, Grow, Achieve' in order to encapsulate the growth mindset ethos.

One of the things they did to launch the school as a growth mindset school was to put over ninety inspirational posters up around the school which all encapsulate aspects of the growth mindset ethos.

Here are some of them:


Activity: Growth mindset is ...

A Six-Word Memoir is storytelling tool. It is a focused way of telling a story in six words.

  • Use the Six word memoir protocol to describe your understanding of 'growth mindset' (e.g. 'Knowledge that I can be better'; 'Intelligence is not set in stone')
  • Post them on a Padlet or wiki for all to share. Choose one to use in communicating the concept to students and parents.

Dig deeper

Mindsets and Equitable Education, Dweck, Principal Leadership, 2010: a helpful short article which can be accessed by clicking here.

Website dedicated to exploring Mindsets: MINDSET. Click here to access the site. A useful page on mindset and achievement with a good description of Edison can be found here.

A summary of Dweck's book Mindset has been written by The MAIN Idea and can be accessed here.

Fixed minset vs growth mindset: your success hinges on it, Anna Kucirkova, Careers in Psychology. An article that provides a short overview of the main theory behind mindsets. Click HERE.

Carol Dweck Revisits the Growth Mindset, Education Week, 2016. Click here to access this article.

Getting gritty with it, Wellington Learning and Research Centre, (2015) can be accessed by clicking here.

Resources for teaching growth mindset - a large number of resources from the edutopia website. Click here to access the site.

Many ideas posted (pinned) on a Pinterest. Click here to access.

Case Study: How one school launched Growth Mind Set: Here is an excellent blog by Chris Hildrew providing a case study of how one school launched growth mind set. It contains some great resources and ideas. Click here to access it.

PS - Mindset revisited

In an article for Education Week (Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset') Dweck reflects on some of the misconceptions that have arisen from her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

"A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve."

"Recently, someone asked what keeps me up at night. It’s the fear that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!” The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter. Teachers who understand the growth mindset do everything in their power to unlock that learning."

Dweck is not without her critics. Click HERE to review some of the arguments.

Others, like Guy Claxton, build on her work whilst recognising the perceptual limitations noted by her critics. A useful article is Guy Claxton, Unfixing Growth Mindset.

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