Beginning the School Year With a Growth Mindset

Learn how to start the school year with a growth mindset
Contributed By

Kristen Cole

Education Writer

Beginning the School Year With a Growth Mindset

Posted in Pro Tips | August 07, 2019

As students enter the classroom, they already have a perception of how intelligent they are as well as how much they are capable of learning. Some students stroll in with confidence in who they are and their learning abilities. Others slump into seats and pray they are never called on in class because they already don’t know the answer. Every student at some point will get an answer wrong or somehow fall short of the expectations. The challenge is to help them see that as an opportunity to grow instead of a limitation.

As teachers it is our job to help students change their fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It is hard, especially as students get older, to help them see their shortcomings as part of learning instead of the end of the road. Helping students change their own ideas about themselves, what they can learn, and how much they can learn is truly a challenge.


Acknowledge Weaknesses

Everyone has them. Nobody likes them, but weaknesses don’t have to be a bad thing. Encourage students to tackle areas of weakness to strengthen them instead of pitying themselves in that area. If a student always struggles on tests, help them develop a plan to get a better grade on the next one. Maybe it’s a study strategy, affirmations to repeat as test day approaches, or ideas to help them stay calm during the exam. By doing this, students gain control over their learning and confidence in themselves that they can accomplish anything by setting a goal and developing a plan to accomplish it. 

Change Your Vocabulary

When a student succeeds at something, teachers usually say something along the lines of “Great job!” or “You’re great at addition!” What students start to hear is that if you get the answer incorrect, you are not “great” at whatever the task is. Teachers can encourage a growth mindset by encouraging the learning process over praising the fact that a student got the right answer. 

Tell them that you are glad they developed and executed a study plan for getting a better grade on a test. Kiddie Matters says that you must be sincere and specific in your accolades. Students know when adults are being disingenuous with them. Now, say encouraging words such as, “You figured out how to do that correctly. How did you do that?” This not only boosts confidence in one student, but that student’s explanation could be the key that unlocks how to solve the problem for another student in the room. Simply adjusting how you acknowledge student success can be a huge game changer in a student’s growth mindset.

Incorporate Group Work

Many students are uncomfortable working on their own because of their fixed mindset. Allowing students to work in partners or small groups fosters a growth mindset because they can discuss how to solve each problem. This helps students who struggle to see that there is a process behind learning. It also bolsters confidence in other students that their process of learning is beneficial. One great way to build a growth mindset is to have students complete work on their own and then compare answers with 1-2 other students. This gives each student a chance to tackle the work on their own, but then the conversations that occur after while comparing answers is what really advances the growth mindset. 

Students are encouraged when they all have the same answer, but they get to discuss the process behind how each person got a different answer if their answers don’t match. They can even ask teachers for clarification in this process. So group and partner work can encourage all students by building their confidence.

Use Your Classroom Literature

Almost every classroom has a textbook. Use the stories within the textbook or stories about real life people who encountered challenges. Think about or look at how each person dealt with those challenges. What was the process for solving the issue? Think about Abraham Lincoln getting ready to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. What might he be feeling about the consequences of his actions? Discuss Mark Twain writing and publishing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Why did he decide to include the racism and stereotypes if he knew or even thought people wouldn’t like it? Consider Thomas Edison. What made him continue to try to create the lightbulb when he continually failed? All of these real-life scenarios helps humanize failure for students. 

Integrate Goal-Setting Activities

Lastly, help students change their mindset about learning by helping them set goals and a plan to achieve that goal. Using SMART goals is a great way to help students grow and learn.


What if at the beginning of the unit, a teacher lays out all the upcoming assignments. Then the teacher can help students choose an attainable goal and develop a plan to achieve that goal. If a student who repeatedly turns in late assignments makes a goal to have no late or missing assignments by the end of the unit, help him or her develop a plan for success. Maybe a student wants to get a certain grade on a project or test. All of these are great ideas for goal-setting. 

After a unit is over, revisit those goals to see how students did in accomplishing them. Some will succeed, and others will require another try. Both are opportunities for growth. Help the ones who failed to understand why it didn’t work and develop a new one for the next unit. Encourage the students who succeeded and help them set a new goal as well. This will show students that success can be achieved for anyone, no matter who you are and what you know.

Growth mindset is challenging, but it’s extremely rewarding. When a student who didn’t think they could achieve something finally does succeed, the smile on their face makes all the work worth it. Do you have ideas of how to build a growth mindset in students? Share with us on Twitter @Schoology


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