The Growth Mindset at Tower School

October 4, 2012


A couple of years ago I read an article in Educational Leadership, called “Even Geniuses Work Hard” by Dr. Carol S. Dweck. She and her team identified two distinct ways in which individuals view intelligence and learning. Individuals, with what they identified as a “fixed mindset,” believe that their intelligence is simply an inborn trait – they have a certain amount of it. In contrast, individuals with a “growth mindset” believe that they can develop their intelligence over time.

Before reading this article I was not familiar with the fixed and growth mindset research, yet in reading it, I immediately recognized elements of Tower’s efforts (as stated in our mission) to “encourage children to strive for personal levels of excellence and to develop fully across a broad range of academic, physical, creative, and social endeavors”, and realized that we, in fact, work to develop a “growth mindset” in our students.

A constant at Tower is that all of our students are intellectually talented. They are bright. In our work with students, as we provide meaningful learning experiences, we comment on their approach to a task, on their problem solving, on how they collaborated in an assignment. We do not praise kids for being “smart”. We strive to provide the “right” kind of praise and encouragement. To quote, “Beyond promoting students’ learning, meaningful work can also teach students to love challenges, to enjoy effort, to be resilient, and to value their own improvement. Praising students for their effort and the process when they succeed rather than telling them they are smart promotes more long-term benefits.”

Stated another way in a recent New York Times article, Raising Successful Children, by Psychologist Madeline Levin, (which quoted Dr. Dweck’s research), In making reference to an earlier described puzzle exercise done with students, “This may seem counter-intuitive, but praising children’s talents and abilities seems to rattle their confidence.  Tackling more difficult puzzles carries the risk of losing one’s status as “smart” and deprives kids of the thrill of choosing to work simply for its own sake, regardless of outcomes.”

The premise is that “students with a fixed mindset do not like effort. They believe that if you have ability, everything should come naturally. Students with a growth mindset, in contrast, value effort; they realize that even geniuses have to work hard to develop their abilities and make their contributions.”

“If you have a full on growth mindset, anything and everything is possible. If there is something you have an interest in, yet don’t know how to do, you do whatever it takes to learn it. By stretching your comfort zone, you are able to continually develop yourself and define your own levels of success. With this mindset, even failure and criticism become opportunities to learn and grow.”

I love knowing that when something new is presented, or is challenging, at Tower we are teaching the kids to say, “I don’t know how to do that…yet.”

Deb Strainge
Head of Lower School
Tower School, Marblehead MA

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