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Attitude and mindset shape our successes

by Maja Kelly, School and College counselor at SCIS Pudong of  Shanghai Community International School (Pudong Campus)

Fostering a growth mindset in your child

Attitude and mindset shape our successes

Why do some students reach their academic potential, while others, with apparently more talent, don’t? According to Carol Dweck, psychology professor at Stanford University and one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of social and developmental psychology, the answer to this question lies not in individual differences in talent and ability but in the way in which we think about our talent and ability.


Dweck explains that people use different mindsets to understand themselves and to guide their behavior. She bases the notion of mindset on our understanding of where ability comes from. Some people believe that their success is based on innate ability and have a “fixed” view of intelligence. This is an example of a fixed mindset. Others, who believe their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others have a “growth” view of intelligence, or growth mindset.


The difference between these two mindsets is especially evident in the way people react to

failure. Individuals with a fixed mindset fear failure because it reflects poorly on their self-worth.

Their goal is to look smart and they avoid being unsuccessful as they believe that it reflects badly

upon themselves as individuals. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, don’t mind

failure because they believe their performance is a reflection of their current skill level, which can be

improved. This is important because people with a growth mindset are more likely to continue working hard despite setbacks, and they are more likely to adopt new strategies and seek help from others. Research conduced by Dweck and her colleagues over the past four decades has consistently shown that a growth mindset leads to better outcomes in education, business, sports and health.


Dweck believes that our attributions of the origins of intelligence, success, talent and ability form a continuum, and that everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. For example, a student might have a fixed mindset regarding his math ability (“I am just bad at math!”) and a growth mindset regarding his athletic abilities (“I am becoming a better runner - I used to run a mile in 9 minutes, but now it only takes me 7 minutes!”). A “pure” growth mindset doesn’t exist; however, it is possible (and necessary!) to help students develop a growth mindset across as many areas and contexts as possible. How we praise children matters greatly. When children are give praise such as “Great job, you are so smart!” they are much more likely to develop a fixed mindset. Instead, Dweck suggests using phrases such as: “Wow, you really practiced that, and look how you’ve improved!” and “Well done, you tried different strategies and you figured out how to solve the problem”.


If the child is unsuccessful, instead of criticizing or pressuring them to keep trying, Dweck argues that

it is important to sit down with them and say, “Let’s look at what you’ve done”. “Let’s look at what strategies you’ve used, and let’s figure out together what we should try next”.


Developing a growth mindset among students is not an immediate process. Rather, it takes a concentrated joint effort on behalf of teachers and parents. However ultimately, this view fosters a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for success in school and in life.