Growth Mindset is a relatively new term that has emerged in education since the release of Carol Dweck’s research in the book Mindset (2008). In her research, Dweck found that students’ mindsets, ie, how they perceive their abilities, played a key role in their motivation and achievement. The research also showed that if educators changed students’ mindsets from thinking their intelligence was fixed, to a mindset where they thought their intelligence could grow, they could boost their achievement (Hochanadel, A., & Finamore, D., 2015). This became known as fixed and growth mindset.

More often than not, schools want students to practice the strength of perseverance and self regulation so jumped on this research quickly, racing to give both staff and students the terms to use in their classrooms. Posters were created, workshops were conducted, and the word ‘effort’ was prioritized in feedback. The challenge then became the oversimplification of truly encouraging grit, determination and resilience, the foundations of growth mindset thinking. Dweck is the first person to highlight the misconceptions that exist in education about the development of growth mindset thinking, identifying that it is more about teacher practice than using words of praise (Dweck, 2015). This means helping teachers reflect and improve pedagogy that focusses on progress not perfection and process not outcome (Dweck, 2015).

There are several limitations of teaching students solely about growth mindset thinking. One of these is the gap it leaves when it comes to the development of social and emotional competencies. Effective SEL programs have a long history in showing a direct impact on student wellbeing and achievement, and while helping students reframe their mindset may have its benefits, it falls short in being a holistic and sustainable approach to wellbeing and achievement in schools. Another limitation is the fact that teachers’ own mindset is vital in the development of students’ mindset as shown in the metanalysis conducted by Professor John Hattie (2012).

The good news is that teacher mindset has been shown to shift towards growth mindset thinking with brief training interventions (Seaton, 2018). This means learning about growth mindset has a place in education however, again, must be considered within a holistic model to ensure reflections on pedagogy mirror the findings of Dweck’s research.  Ecological perspectives must also be considered given mindset is influenced through systems within the environment (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). This means reviewing policies and procedures that celebrate outcomes instead of progress and encourage comparison and competition. 

One such model that encompasses the findings of teaching growth mindset thinking with SEL is Mental Toughness with its the 4 key components - Control; Commitment; Confidence; Challenge. Even better is the fact that Mental Toughness can be measured using a valid and reliable psychometric (MTQ48). 

The Mental Toughness 4C model has been shown to be a useful framework to study the non-cognitive predictors of positive academic outcomes and is aligned with resilience, perseverance, confidence and self-efficacy whilst mediating against academic stress, test anxiety and perceptions of bullying (McGeown, 2015) . Significant associations have also been found between mental toughness components and academic attainment, school attendance, pro-social behaviour and peer relationships alongside lower levels of drop out, stress, anxiety and depression (St Clair-Thompson, 2014).

So, to answer the question, is it worth teaching growth mindset thinking to students? 

Yes it is, however it depends on HOW it is done. Oversimplifying the power of yet and praising effort is not enough. What we do know is that teaching children how to think is more important than teaching children what to think. Teaching children to recognize areas in which they have Control, how to develop Confidence, as well as being able to set stretch goals for Commitment, coupled with the skills to overcome Challenges, gives students more concrete, holistic and practical ways to develop resilience including thinking in a growth mindset manner. The key here is not to over simply the complex nature of developing growth mindset thinking. It is also essential to ensure a holistic and practical approach that is measurable, if we are to truly identify if any gains or impact is occurring.

To find out more about Mental Toughness, the 4C's and activities to use with students ( )  to see a program with 21 lesson I wrote with Dr Suzy Green (The Positivity Institute).

If you want to know more about the impact of teaching Mental Toughness with teens or adults, please email us and we would be happy to send you some research papers.