Developing a Growth Mindset

At Citywise, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to develop a Growth Mindset. Here’s why:

In our mentoring curriculum, it’s one of the first topics we cover as it sets the stage for many of the other skills and character strengths we focus on. Taking the time to unpack what it means to develop a growth mindset and how we can apply it to different contexts is important. When we’re working with children, we use language and activities that are accessible and relevant, and we introduce tools that children can use in different contexts. If you have children in your life who you think would benefit from learning about growth mindset, we have shared some resources at the end of this blog that you may find helpful.

Fixed vs Growth

The term was first coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, and has since become an established principle in developmental and educational psychology. In their research, Dweck and her colleagues recognised that the ways in which individuals spoke to themselves and reflected on their skills in response to failure could be seen as representing a ‘fixed’ or ‘growth’ mindset. Students who adopted a ‘fixed’ mindset towards tasks or skills believed their abilities were static and finite, and saw failure as confirmation of their inability or lacking. By way of contrast, those students with a ‘growth’ mindset thought of failure as a step towards attainment, and thought of themselves in a constant state of learning and improvement. 

Put simply, a growth mindset represents a “belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your own efforts.”

C.Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006) p. 7.

And why is this important? Because we now know that young people who apply a growth mindset to learning are more likely to achieve their goals and succeed across different areas of their lives. This goes to the heart of everything we do at Citywise: helping young people to unlock their potential and flourish not just in school but in all areas of life. 

How do you develop a growth mindset?

At Citywise, we use a character called ‘Yeti’ to demonstrate this. He encourages children to replace ‘I can’t do this’ with ‘I can’t do this yet’ when facing something challenging. At this point in our curriculum, we have spent time with mentees reflecting on their self-knowledge and thinking about what they’d like to improve in. So when a mentee thinks about and articulates their qualities and abilities as fixed, we try and gently challenge them to question this and reframe these as fluid and changing.

But adopting a growth mindset isn’t always easy. Research has shown that a fixed mindset is, for many of us, the default position in the face of challenge and uncertainty. Developing a growth mindset requires bravery, resilience and a willingness to reframe our understanding about our qualities and abilities. Education researcher and TED Talk sensation Brene Brown has an interesting take on this. The ability to reframe failure as a necessary step towards improvement, she argues, takes both courage and confidence. At Citywise, we aim to create a safe and supportive space for children to talk not just about their hopes and aspirations, but to also reflect on when things don’t quite go according to plan, or unexpected challenges arise. It’s certainly a lot easier to reframe hiccups and mishaps as learning opportunities when you have a team of cheerleaders at your back!

Tools and Resources

Encouraging children to reflect on their mindset doesn’t need to be tricky. One great way of thinking about the growth mindset (both for children and adults!) is to think very practically about what’s going on in the brain when we’re learning new things. As we learn new skills and information, neurons fire between different parts of the brain; the more practice you put in, the stronger those neural pathways become. Our brain, quite literally, changes as we learn! Remembering this when you’re struggling with a challenge or new skill might just give you the motivation to push through and carry on!

Finally, here are some resources you might find helpful when talking to children about growth mindset. Click on the images below to see the full-size worksheets which you could print off and even turn into games!