Changing Student Mindset

Your Mind

The mind is indeed a powerful tool! It can be your best friend, but equally, your worst enemy!

A negative mindset – the ‘bubble machine’ of negative thoughts – is a hindrance to well-being and productivity.

Although we are all susceptible to negative thinking, it’s much easier to notice another’s rather than yours! Whether it’s within schools or other workplaces, you can detect negative attitudes quite easily!

The most common negative attitude I observe with students is a ‘defeatist’ mindset. This is characterised by thinking such as “I can’t do this”, “I am not talented enough”, or “I don’t have the time to turn things around”.

There’s no doubt that school is hard work. It’s completely understandable that students can succumb to a defeatist mindset after experiencing a few challenges, set-backs and heartaches. However, when this mindset goes unchecked, it can be debilitating to performance. Defeatist thinking not only lowers well-being but it saps any motivation, enjoyment and application to the task at hand. This makes optimal performance harder to obtain and often the mindset can become self-fulfilling.

Changing your mindset!

Self-awareness is vital for managing destructive thinking. Early identification of thoughts can stop them from spiralling out of control, while subsequent rephrasing can be an effective strategy thereafter.

I would also suggest that adopting a ‘growth mindset’ is an effective way for students to promote an optimal learning mindset.

What is a ‘growth’ mindset?

Do you believe that individual performance is mostly attributed to fixed personal characteristics, or is a result of hard work and application?

Carol Dweck, the founder of the growth mindset, suggests that people with a growth mindset believe that their own intelligence/ability can be developed with effort and persistence. This mindset is underpinned by the belief that improvement is possible. Ceilings are not placed on potential and adversity can be overcome with the right attitude and application.

What is a ‘fixed’ mindset?

Conversely, Dweck describes those with a ‘fixed mindset’ as viewing any sort of intelligence (or ability) as fixed or set in stone. In other words, you either have it – or you don’t, or you were born with it – or you weren’t. Challenges & failures are directly attributed to the perceived level of inherent capability, rather than lack of effort, application and persistence.

What does the science say?

There is a considerable amount of science underpinning the growth mindset.
Modern day neuroscience demonstrates that brain’s neurons (wire like structures) are malleable; they can grow, become thicker and make more connections with learning – a concept known as ‘Neuroplasticity’. The by-product of these superior connections is improved proficiency and performance. This supports the central idea of the growth mindset; that improvement and growth are possible.

There are also countless studies highlighting some key differences in both mindsets with respect to thinking, performance and well-being. I have summarised some of these differences below.

  • Those with a fixed mindset tend to keep within their comfort zone or area of expertise, while those with a growth mindset are prepared to take risks (with failure) to learn.
  • People with growth mindsets are more focussed on learning, while those with a fixed mindset are more willing to prove or validate their proficiencies.
  • Those with a growth mindset tend not to stress or worry as much about results, while those with a fixed mindset tend to be more worried and anxious about results.
  • Over the mid to longer term, those with a growth mindset outperform those with a fixed mindset!


It’s not ‘all’ or ‘nothing’!

In addressing the common misconceptions of mindsets, Carol Dweck explains that it’s false to view yourself (or others) as either having a complete ‘fixed’ or ‘growth’ mindset. There are many areas of life where we likely have different mindsets, including for example; relationships, sport/hobbies, business.

For instance, some may fully back their ability to improve as a teacher, yet view their sporting ability as non-existent. Others may believe that temperament can be improved, yet attribute relationship success to ‘chemistry’, as opposed to more controllable effort based variables such as hard work, compromise and communication.


Practical advice for Teachers

So what is some practical advice that teachers can use to help change student mindset?

  • Teach your students about Neuroplasticity – students need to start believing that improvement is always possible.
  • Teach students the types of negative mindsets (for eg. defeatist, black and white thinking, personalisation) and how to identify it.
  • Have students identify fixed and growth mindset traits within themselves.

Hope you find this useful, feel free to share.

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