Growth Mindset is the idea, as put forward by Carol Dweck (2014) that in order to learn and grow, we must try, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and try again. In a growth mindset, “...people believe that basic abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and good mentoring.” (Dweck, 2014, p.10). People with a growth mindset believe that challenges and failures help them grow, and they work to learn new skills. Having a growth mindset is contrasted by a fixed mindset, in which people believe that a skill or talent is something you either have or don’t have, and there is nothing you can do about it. As educators, we don’t expect our students to be able to do everything perfectly from the start. It is part of a teacher’s job to teach students new skills to support them when they take risks. Having a growth mindset should not stop at the students, but extend to the teaching staff as well. It is vital to creating a culture of innovation, creativity and risk-taking in the staff and students of a school.
Michael Fullan (2014) writes that in order to create “Professional Capital”, leaders must create a nonjudgmental climate where it's okay to make mistakes as you learn (70). Professional Capital, as defined by Fullan, involves three components: human capital - the teaching skills of the staff, social capital - the interactions between staff, and decisional capital - what is needed to make good decisions. Developing and nurturing professional capital through a collaborative, supportive environment will improve both teacher effectiveness and student learning (Fullan, 2014).
In a study published in the Harvard Business Review, Carol Dweck (2014) found that companies with a growth mindset received higher satisfaction ratings from both employees and supervisors. When employees worked in a growth mindset company, they were 34% likelier to feel a strong sense of ownership, and 49% likelier to say that their company fosters innovative practices. In the same study Dweck found that supervisors in those same companies had much higher opinions of their employees than supervisors in fixed mindset companies, and rated them as more “innovative, collaborative, and committed to learning and growing” (p.29).
Creating a culture of creativity and risk-taking can be challenging in a risk-averse educational culture, but if we believe that it is important for students to take risks and try new things, then school leaders and teaching staff need to model that. According to Roland Barth, it is possible to transform a school culture into one that values creativity and risk-taking, but in order to do so, supports must be in place (Barth, 2013). In the same way that teachers create a safe space for experimentation and risk-taking for their students, school leaders must find ways to allow teachers to step out and try something new, and not fear retribution if it fails.
An example of a growth mindset approach would be to greet new ideas from teachers with curiosity, rather than apprehension. School leaders should get curious about the learning and ask themselves what there is to be gained from this new idea or approach. Ideas that enhance student learning deserve serious consideration, even if they are risky or “not the way things are done”. As Barth (2013) writes, it is also important for school leaders to share responsibility with teachers. Teachers who feel supported, even when they fall, will continue to work hard and strive to do the best they can for their students.
Barth (2013) writes: “We educators will improve schools only when we take risks. It’s as simple as that” (290). In order to allow staff to take risks and be innovative, leaders can adopt a growth mindset approach. This approach allows room for error and room for growth. Adopting a growth mindset from the top down also provides a clear and consistent model for students about how they learn and how mistakes can help them grow.
Barth, R. S. (2013). Risk. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (3rd ed., pp. 287-294). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Son. Chapter 17: Risk
Dweck, C. (2014). TALENT: HOW COMPANIES CAN PROFIT FROM A “GROWTH MINDSET”. Harvard Business Review. 92 (11), 28-29.
Dweck, C. (2014). Teachers’ Mindsets: EVERY STUDENT HAS SOMETHING TO TEACH ME”. Educational Horizons, (2), 10.
Fullan, M. (2014). The principal: Three keys to maximizing impact. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Chapter Three: The First Key - Leading Learning
Verges, X. (2011, January 24). Grow your people [Digital image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/xverges/5866575567