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Growth mindsets and wellbeing
Don’t we all want children to be happy at school?
Mike Gershon Trainer, writer and consultant
Well of course! And one thing that contributes to their happiness is how they perceive themselves and their learning. Growth mindsets research suggests that children may enjoy learning more and have a stronger sense of self- esteem if their thinking is built on the premise that intelligence, talent and ability are open to change.
Growth mindsets research comes from cognitive psychology. Cognitivists look at the role of thinking in our lives, how some thoughts give rise to others, how thoughts influence or cause behaviours, and how our thinking can create patterns of behaviour.
A mindset is a set of beliefs we have about ourselves
Or to put it another way, a set of thoughts. As these thoughts are beliefs, they are strong, making them influential. When it comes to learning and school, the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset is the difference between the central beliefs which animate these two ways of thinking:
• Growth mindset core belief: Intelligence, talent and ability are open to change
• Fixed mindset core belief: Intelligence, talent and ability are fixed
As mindsets are thoughts, they can be altered
They are not innate features of who we are. When we talk about implementing growth mindsets in school, we’re really talking about trying to reinforce existing growth mindsets and changing fixed mindsets to growth mindsets wherever possible.
It’s important to remember that growth mindsets aren’t saying that anyone can achieve anything – far from it. Instead, it’s saying that anyone can develop their intelligence, talent and ability from where they’re currently at – and that this is often easier and more enjoyable if you start from the belief that this is true.
Core beliefs of mindsets
The core beliefs of each mindset give rise to a series of further thoughts. You might like to think of these as conclusions flowing from the initial premises.
We can see from the chart (right) that the core beliefs lead to a series of further beliefs, all of which are rational within the bounds of the core belief. If you believe that intelligence cannot change then it makes sense to give up easily and avoid challenges. After all, you don’t think that you can change so why bother trying?
This, for me, is the crux of growth mindsets and wellbeing. While not being definitively the case, we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that a child exhibiting the growth mindset characteristics laid out above is likely to have a more positive view of themselves, their potential and learning in general. They are more likely to feel actively involved in their learning – as the main player in making things happen.
One way to conceive of fixed and growth mindsets is as the difference between a passive view of learning (I have little or no control – fixed mindset) and an active view (I am in control and what I do has an impact – growth mindset).
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