Your Mindset and the Mindsets of Your Students

Sometimes you just get the urge to write about what you’re reading lately.  The book Mindset by Carol Dweck really had an impact on me.  I recently finished reading Peter Johnston’s latest book, Opening Minds (which is fabulous), and I noticed how often he referred to the work of Dweck.  Johnston’s fixed-performance theory of intelligence and knowledge vs. his dynamic-learning theory stems from Dweck’s fixed vs. growth mindsets.

Here is the basic premise of Dweck’s work.  She says that people have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset (or a combination of those) and that “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.”  The folks with a fixed mindset believe that their qualities are more or less carved in stone; you have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character.  These are the people who say “I’m just not good at math” or “He has a natural talent for soccer” or when things go wrong, “Life stinks. I’m stupid.  Nothing good ever happens to me.” They also don’t cope with failures or mistakes very well because they see them as a reflection of their intelligence or character.  At times, they blame others when things go wrong.  And they often misestimate their true abilities.

The growth mindset people are oriented toward learning.  They think like this:  “If I’m not that good at math, I can put forth some more effort and improve.” “If I made a mistake in baseball that caused the team to lose the game, then there are certain skills I need to work on.”  “Just because I have a natural talent for golf, doesn’t mean that I can’t improve and work on my skills.” The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.

The wonderful thing about Dweck’s book is that she comes at this topic from so many different angles.  She shows how the two different mindsets work:

* In Sports – What’s the difference between a John McEnroe and a Michael Jordan? What’s different about the way some coaches coach athletes?

* In business – Why some CEO’s are better leaders than others and thus their companies are more successful?

* In relationships – Why do some marriages and relationships seem to work better than others?

* In parenting – How does the way we talk to our children affect the mindset they adopt?

* And in teaching.

I can’t recommend this book enough.  It has something for everyone.  As teachers, you will understand so much about children and they way they respond to situations, successes, and failures.  It will help you see “building self-esteem” and “motivating students” in a new light.  When reflecting on the CEO chapter, you can’t help but think about the qualities you want your principal to have.

The last chapters are filled with stories of people who have grown and changed.  Dweck’s advice can help anyone develop a growth mindset (obviously the better of the two for reaching your full potential.)  I hope others will read this book, especially if you are a person who loved Johnston’s Choice Words or Opening Minds.


  1. I will be facilitating a book study with my staff as we unpack Carolyn Dweck’s principles of growth & fixed mindset. I am looking for titles of children’s books that would be read outloud and shared in the classroom to accompany and extend the message from Mindset. Thank you!

    • I think the book “Ish” by Peter Reynolds would be great. It’s about a little boy who is trying to draw a vase and his brother comes up behind him and teases him about how it doesn’t look like a vase. So he crumples paper after paper and finally gives up. His sister comes along and scoops up one of the crumpled pieces of paper and scurries off to her room. He follows and finds drawing after drawing of his attempts to draw a vase taped to her walls. He says something like, “Why do you have these? They don’t look like vases?” She replies, “They look vase-ish.” And your heart melts and the story goes on to talk about how just a change in our mindset in this way we can work towards closer and closer approximation. Hope it helps. 🙂

  2. Heidi –
    Along with “Ish” you’ll also like P. Reynolds “Dot.” Others that may work for you are “The Junkyard Wonders” by Patricia Polacco and even a book like “Crow Boy” that’s been around forever. Look in the short stories “Every Living Thing” by Cynthia Rylant for the story “Slower Than the Rest”. All of these have something to do with children that others may view as ‘not-having-potential’ but the story shows otherwise. Hope these help.
    Pat Johnson

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