Since I first discovered and read about the differences between growth and fixed mindsets I always try to keep them in mind whilst teaching, working or being with children and indeed adults as well.

Carol Dweck pioneered this research into the different mindsets and she believes and her research shows that focusing and encouraging on effort instead of talent is linked to achievement.  The ability to be intrigued by a mistake rather than troubled by one. To take on the extra challenge and not become a ‘slave to praise’ as she puts it.  I sometimes feel that particularly in schools today it is far easier to develop a fixed mindset then a growth mindset and as parents and teachers outside of school it’s important to understand this.  But firstly what is the difference between a growth and fixed mindset.

Growth Mindset – What is it?

With a growth mindset you may believe that through hard work, dedication and persistence you can learn, understand and master something.  A resilience to making mistakes. Think of a Thomas Edison quote that I like ‘I’ve not failed – I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work’ when he was talking about working on the lightbulb.  Here the process or journey is far more important, enjoyable to the learner.

Abilities can be developed

Fixed Mindset – What is it?

With a fixed mindset you may believe that intelligence or talent are fixed.  You either have them or you don’t and if you do have them they are there to be protected and shown off.  And if you don’t have them then it’s just not for you.  Your intelligence is to be protected and displayed. This is what I fear that a education culture of assessment can develop very quickly and easily in children.

Abilities are up for judgement

I feel that for some things I have a fixed mindset and others a growth mindset and I guess that could be the same for everyone.  And for our children at the age of schooling where they are so sensitive to our cues and direction I think it’s important to help develop more of a growth mindset for the things that they love, want to do and just learning things in general.

Schools are notorious for assessments.   I suspect that the feelings and thought processes around these tests can easily lead someone to a fixed mindset.  Ability sorting tables allow learning to be split up within the class which can seem like a good thing.  But it also says that if you make mistakes or aren’t good enough you will be here.  And if you are on the top table then you need to protect your status. Maybe I am looking into this a little bit too deeply but I really suspect that this could be the underlying message.

So how do we encourage the growth mindset –

Praise the process not the talent.
Have a go at listening to what you say to your kids and tune in to the messages that you’re sending.
Use praise to focus on the strategies, the effort or the choices that they made in solving problems or achieving something.

Personally I have always liked to have stories and metaphors to talk to children for developing a new mindset about a subject.  And this is one of my favorites. I always like to use this story when encouraging children to have a different way of looking at a problem, or a subject that maybe they are struggling with.  A new strategy.

There was once a famous archer who entered a village and saw several targets drawn on a wall. In the absolute centre of each target was an arrow. The archer asked the villagers, “Who has accomplished this amazing feat?” The villagers laughed and said, “It was the village fool who did it.” The archer said. “Bring me to this “fool” for he is truly a great master. The archer was brought before the village fool. He reverently bowed low and said, “Great master, tell me, how are you able to shoot a bull’s eye every time?” 6The village fool replied with a grin, “It is easy! First I shoot the arrow and then I draw the target.”

Have a go at being this village fool for a while.  You shoot the arrow and together we can draw the target.  It doesn’t matter where the arrow lands, on the floor, in a tree, on a cloud.  We can always draw the target.  My understanding is that it could encourage exploration, imagination and questions in whatever we are studying, which are all involved in the enjoyment of the journey rather than the results.


  • Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.