Andy Falconer


Growth Mindset – How to help your child develop this essential attitude to life

25 Aug 2016 | Leave a Comment |

Five years ago at St Olave’s School we became interested in something called growth mindsetgrowth-mindset. There is a wealth of material in books and online about growth mindset, the research behind it and the many lessons that can be learned from it.

The headlines of growth mindset are very simple: if you try hard and learn from your mistakes, you will make progress. That’s growth mindset in a nutshell. It sounds so obvious you would think that every educator, every parent and every human being would be able to work this out for themselves without decades of educational research and, of course, you’re right. We know that it’s common sense.

So what is revolutionary about growth mindset? Don’t we all inherently understand and agree with the logic and the theory?

Well, we may agree wholeheartedly with the headlines but the truth is that our language and our behaviour can accidentally reinforce the opposite of growth mindset in our children or those we educate: a fixed mindset.

For example, have you ever asked your child if they came top in something, or asked them where they came in the class or group? Have you ever offered rewards for reaching a set goal? Have you ever told you child how brilliant they are for finishing something quickly or with little effort?

I’m willing to bet that most of you have, as have most of the teachers in the country, so you’re not alone! All of these questions suggest or reinforce to a child that what matters to you, the most important influence in their lives, is making things look easy and beating others. The growth mindset research shows that children who hear language like this have extremely fragile self-esteem because they are worried that at any moment someone could do better than them, or a task could be too difficult for them to complete. If their self-esteem is closely tied with looking clever without effort, school may become a pretty threatening place.

Some pupils will give up, others will play up, because if it’s obvious a child is not trying, then no-one can say they can’t, they can only say they won’t. GROWTH MINDSET DISPLAYOthers will just try to hide and hope they are never asked a question or put in a situation where there is any chance of failure. It makes no difference how high achieving children are, anyone can suffer from a fixed mindset. Anyone can be constantly worried about being ‘found out’ by their peers, their teachers or their parents; this can be quite crippling and actually inhibit learning.

Growth mindset tells us that if you try hard and learn from your mistakes, you will make good progress. If we, as parents and teachers use language that reinforces the idea that success can be measured by how many others a child beats in a test or how quickly and easily they can reach a successful outcome, those children will never be comfortable with failure, which is an important part of the learning process.

Being brave enough to take a risk, to try something that is not guaranteed to succeed, to fail, to pick yourself up again, to learn lessons from the failure and to try again with new knowledge and understanding are character traits we at St Olave’s consider to be vital for a happy and successful person to develop in order to live in our rapidly changing world.

This belief in certain traits is where our eight learning habits come from: IMG_2941collaboration, curiosity, empathy, flexible thinking, initiative, creativity, perseverance, and embracing challenge. They are a tangible way for us to teach and develop growth mindset strategies to the pupils. The children are taught how the habits can be employed in different subjects to advance their learning during their time with us. It would be great if you could seek opportunities at home to develop these habits as well. For example, do you ever let your children see you struggling with something? They need to see that in real life there are set-backs and difficulties to overcome. They need to understand that adults make mistakes and they need to see how we learn from these mistakes, rather than hiding from them or ignoring them.

There are lots of celebrity examples of famous failures to show this online but how much more powerful a message would it be for a child to learn it first-hand from people they are close to? For example, did you pass your driving test first time? Richard Branson was actually disappointed when his daughter did successfully pass first time because he thought she would learn more from failure.

Although the theory behind growth mindset is one we can hopefully all agree with, the tricky thing is talking the talk. If there’s one thing you take away from what I’ve said then please let it be: think before you praise your child. Are you praising the process or the result? If you praise the process you are encouraging a growth mindset and nurturing a child who will be more likely to believe that effort leads to success. If you praise the result, you’re encouraging a fixed mindset and nurturing a belief that you are only a success as long as you keep winning.

It’s the differenceNadiya between:

‘I’m so proud of how hard you worked to get that done.’ Growth mindset.


‘I’m so proud of you – you’re so clever to have done that.’ Fixed mindset.

(This text was taken from a presentation given to parents by Cathy Lees, Director of Teaching & Learning, at St Olave’s School).