Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Voices from the Field: Growth Mindset

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Michelle Finn

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

Michelle Finn
Michelle Finn

We’ve been hearing a lot recently about the importance of these attributes through the work of Pink, Duckworth and Dweck. Should we in the field of education be sitting up and taking notice? When research shows that these attributes, rather than IQ scores, are a better determiner of success, you better believe we should notice. And act.

In the classroom, moving students from compliance to engagement, from fixed to growth mindset, from reactive blamers to proactive problem-solvers doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen, and it may come in many forms. As we discussed in previous articles, a focus on building culture and student goal-setting has great impact on not just the way students learn, but on how they think about themselves as learners. This self-reflection is crucial. In order to grow, we have to be aware of both our strengths and weaknesses, which in turn can help to set challenging, yet realistic goals. Self-reflection also promotes a growth mindset. If you continually set targets for yourself, plan the steps of your 10-mile march, to borrow from Collins, then act upon your plan, you begin to realize that everything is about a learning progression, not a pass or fail. What an empowering stance from which to greet each day!

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the kids:

“We set our class goals and we set personal goals. Mine is to be my own person and not join in with bad behavior. Even at home, if my brother is not doing his homework, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do mine. This goal is important because I won’t waste my learning time.”  -Fifth grader

“I like checking these objectives off because it means I’m getting smarter. I keep track of my learning in my data notebook.” – First grader

“I like having choices. It makes me feel good and it makes my teacher feel successful. Soon we will learn to do everything ourselves. When we get older, we’ll be prepared. It starts right here, and when we get older, we’ll be ready.” – Third grader

“It starts right here.” Truer words can’t be spoken. So, if this growth is starting for our students, shouldn’t it be starting, also, for our teachers?

Does our current evaluation system nurture a growth mindset in our staff? When we enter classrooms to observe, do our teachers feel fearful of reprisal, or do they feel supported in their own progress along a transparent and viable set of pedagogic standards? Are we working to build a high level of collegiality in our schools that allows us to share open and honest feedback in the spirit of continuous improvement? Do our teachers share, informally or formally, honest feedback of how we ourselves, as leaders, are doing?

Everyone wants to be successful. Everyone wants to grow and improve. If we want our staff to better themselves and their practice, we need to turn the old system on its ear. We need to be in the classrooms more than once or twice a year. In order to know our teachers the way we expect them to know their students, we need to have more than a once a year high stakes test. We need to take frequent snapshots throughout the learning to target exactly what our teachers know and are able to do. Let us move, as we are asking our teachers to move, from managerial leaders to instructional coaches.

If you have already begun the process of reworking your culture, climate and evaluation in order to improve teacher achievement, bravo!

If you have not, you may say, “That’s a lot of work. Why should I bother?”

“Effective teachers are the single most important school variable influencing student achievement.” OECD, 2005

Enough said.


Michelle Finn is an educational specialist for Re-Inventing Schools. She is a coach and trainer for our organization, working with and supporting teachers and leaders in building a student centered personal mastery system.