Planning for a Growth Mindset

Acorns, by KQEDQUEST, CC BY-NC 2.0 downloaded at Flickr.Com (

KQEDQUEST. (2007). Acorns. Licensed through Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0)

What do you see when you look at the picture above? Acorns? What you can make with acorns? Or the forest that can develop from these two tiny entities? Do you see potential and growth?

Why is the growth mindset so important?

The concept of Growth Mindset introduced by Dr. Carol Dweck an Educator at Stanford University suggests that individuals can grow their intellect; that the mind is basically like a muscle that we can work out to improve. According to Dr. Dweck’s research, learners fall somewhere between fixed and growth mindsets. With a fixed mindset, learners assume that their intelligence is a fixed attribute that cannot change. The fixed mindset learner tends to place higher value on the grade they receive than on the process of learning. The fixed mindset learner is less likely to accept more challenging work: when given a choice between something new and challenging or something easier and safe, they will take the safe option, so they do not have to face the possibility that they may fail. Fixed mindset learners are not receptive to feedback, and often become defensive, because they feel that feedback equals criticism, which means that someone is pointing out their failures and shortcomings.

The growth mindset… in a nutshell

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.

  — Albert Einstein

With the growth mindset learners accept the challenge of the more difficult problem over the safe problem. Those who fall in the category of growth mindset embrace feedback; they accept it and learn from it.

What do the growth and fixed mindsets look like?

I watched an interesting documentary about Tonya Harding last night. I think for me it’s easiest to visualize the growth/fixed mindset in reference to athletes, and that documentary really did emphasize the characteristics of the growth and fixed mindsets between the two athletes who were primarily showcased: Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. These athletes, both world champions in figure-skating and bound for Olympic glory in 1994, were skating rivals and in direct competition. Kerrigan was the favorite to win, until a tragic incident occurred. Someone clubbed the young athlete, damaging her knee with a crowbar in a brutal and frightening attack. Harding always claimed she knew nothing of the incident, but of course investigations tied her to the perpetrators. The country watched as Kerrigan worked to come back from the injury, with grueling physical therapy and agonizingly hard work. Harding practiced jumps and form, but did not really seem to be working as hard as she worked in the past. When Kerrigan returned to the ice, just in times for the Olympics, she felt ready to compete, and even though she had been through that, her first practice on the ice showed everyone that she was ready. Harding missed spins and jumps, and actually went to the judges to complain that her shoelace was broken, iconically throwing her foot on the judges’ table.

In my opinion, Kerrigan’s behavior reflected the growth mindset, while Harding’s demonstrated a fixed mindset. Kerrigan worked hard through months of rehabilitation and therapy so that she would not lose ground holding tightly to her Olympic goals. Harding on the other hand was almost complacent during Kerrigan’s recovery. Did she feel that the competition had been knocked out? Perhaps, but even so, if she had the growth mindset, she would have continued to work hard and challenge herself. And she certainly would not have acted as though she blamed her shoelace for not performing well, as she did at the judges’ table.

Moving from Fixed to Growth…

According to research from Stanford University’s Project for Education that Scales (PERTS), in order for professional development activities to be effective, educators need time, the opportunity to put what they have learned into action with practice and role-playing, and support from institutional leaders.

Time: From research conducted locally at Odessa College, we have learned that certain key performance measures (such as student retention/persistence rates, and student success rates) improve significantly when the educators are receiving sustained levels of intentional professional development. We examine student persistence and student success rates for each faculty member over the course of each term; we noticed significant increases in students persisting (not dropping the course) and in student success (students completing with a grade of C or better) during periods where faculty are receiving meaningful long-term professional development, as compared with those receiving one-time professional development sessions or one-time workshops.

Opportunity to Put Into Practice: Confucian philosopher Xun Kuang is attributed with the quote, “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.” I believe the actual translated statement is, “Not having heard something is not as good as having heard it; having heard it is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.” Either way, it really sums up our need to have opportunity to practice and apply professional development activities in real world ways. Just like our students need project-based learning experience that promote critical thinking and help develop and enhance problem-solving skills, our faculty also need that time and opportunity for practical application. By taking time during professional development activities to collaborate and work together, faculty not only are learning together, they are also able to develop a network of support. This collaborative time also allows them to connect the learning better to the needs of their learners, and to conceptualise ways to collaborate in more interdisciplinary ways.

Support from institutional leadership: In addition to needing time and opportunity, both of which must be authorised/allowed by institutional leadership, the faculty also need to be able to connect what they are learning to the over-arching needs of the institution. How does this learning experience support the mission or vision of the institution? Often if the learner can make the connection between their learning experience and their real life needs, the learning will be retained. Likewise, if a connection can be made between institutional requirements and the professional development experience, the institutional leadership will better accept, and will encourage the experience for all faculty. These supports from the institution will help ensure that the professional development experiences can help the faculty transform their processes.

In order to put the Growth Mindset in action at my institution, I will begin by sharing information with instructional leadership and administration, demonstrating to them how working with learners through the lens of a growth mindset will benefit the learners. Adapting the tools and lessons available through Mindset Kit (, we will implement a series of workshops for instructional departmental leaders that they will be able to share with their teams during professional learning communities (PLCs.) Working with our Teaching & Learning Division, we will incorporate these concepts into all professional development activities moving forward. Growth Mindset concepts will be infused in planned professional development activities that are provided throughout the year. A plan of support and development for part-time faculty, which will be infused with Growth Mindset concepts, will be implemented

On her website Mindset Online (, Dweck addresses steps that one can take to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. For educators, this is important as it can help us to guide our learners into a more growth oriented state. (Dweck, C. (2010). How Can You Change From a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset?)

Step 1. We all have an inner voice representing our fixed mindset. Step 1, according to Dr. Dweck, is to listen for that inner voice.
It’s okay to hear that voice in your head that tells you, “You can’t do this. You’re not smart enough. You’re not strong enough.” By accepting that the fixed mindset voice exists, and by hearing that voice, you are on your way to overcoming the messages that fixed mindset voice is sending you. For me, the fixed mindset voice might be saying, “No one will respond to the training I am developing,” or “Our faculty all feel they are too busy. They won’t want to participate,” with regard to the development of an institutional faculty support plan. More personally, the fixed mindset voice might be telling me, “You are not good enough to be successful in the Digital Learning and Leadership program;” “You are not worthy of further academic pursuit.” But how will this be conveyed to the instructional team at the college? By helping the instructional leadership at the departmental level understand this step, they will be able to incorporate this discussion into PLCs with their team that will be ongoing throughout each academic year. These PLCs will involve all teaching staff, including lab instructors, clinical leaders, internship coordinators, adjunct faculty, and others.

Step 2. When you learn to listen for that inner fixed mindset voice telling you, “You can’t do that…,” remind yourself that you have a choice.
You have a choice. You can believe what that inner fixed mindset voice is telling you, or you can choose to change the way you think about things.  For me personally, I know that have a tendency to allow that fixed mindset voice to sabotage my progress. I can and will remind myself that this is a choice I make… I can listen and succumb to the negativity of the fixed mindset voice, or I can choose a path of growth and progress.  Institutionally, in order to ensure that the growth mindset is into our professional development experiences, we will begin with instructional leaders at the department level, who will incorporate this step into their PLCs.

Step 3. Talk back to that fixed mindset voice with growth mindset language.
That inner fixed mindset voice might be telling you, “You are not strong enough…,” but you can talk back to that voice with language like, “I might not be strong enough YET, but if I work at this every day, I will become strong enough.” Personally, I want to be successful in the Digital Learning and Leadership program, so I have to remind myself that I am worthy… smart enough… talented. I have strengths that can and will help others. I know that I want to make positive changes in the way that our institution supports faculty, and this credential will not only help me develop the resources to do so, but will give me the credibility to be heard by administration, instructional leadership, and faculty. I want to be effective in transforming the way that we support faculty. So my conversation with my fixed mindset voice might sound something like, “I may not have the skillset or the expertise to effectively transform the way that we support our faculty at Odessa College yet, but with hard work, research, and practical application, I will when I finish the Digital Learning and Leadership program.” According to Trevor Ragan, we learn best when we move from our comfort zone. During this phase, talking back to the fixed mindset voice, will definitely move me from my comfort zone and into a place of deeper learning. I am telling myself, “These changes are so important for our faculty and students. I am strong and innovative, and can implement this plan of training and support. I can convince our leadership and faculty that these are important changes. I will convince our administrators that investing in our faculty is right, and will help us ensure that we do not lose our rank and status as one of the best community colleges in the nation.”

Step 4. Take the growth mindset action.
Without action, there would not be any growth!
By developing learning experiences that introduce growth mindset strategies that our faculty can incorporate quickly and with little effort, I think they will begin responding more to the bigger changes. I also think that sharing tools that are readily available, like the lesson plans and activities available from the PERTS (Project for Education Research that Scales, at Stanford University) website Mindset Kit ( will help more of them move more toward the growth mindset side of the continuum. This will also provide resources they can use with their students. Additionally, I would  like to share the success rates that I see in the courses that I have been teaching with our instructional leaders at the departmental level. For my learners, I have stressed that it’s more important that the learners “get it” than that they get the grade for an attempt on an assignment. I have fully incorporated a “not there yet” concept in my grading structure. Students have  unlimited attempts to submit assignments, and I provide very detailed feedback and examples so that they learn the processes. I have found that they respond very well to this, and my success rates are exceptionally high, especially in comparison with other instructors who teach part-time at this institution.

My Personal Growth Mindset Plan

I have created a blog with instructional tips for faculty. Each week an email will go to all faculty with a ‘teaser’ like this:

For future tips, I will be adapting elements and lessons provided through the Mindset Kit (, to help keep the growth mindset front of mind.

In addition to weekly tips, we will ask faculty to contribute their favorite tips. This will help to champion the project among faculty, and increase faculty buy-in!

My Growth Plan will involve incorporating these elements into professional development activities for part time faculty (and full time faculty).


Dweck, C. (2010). Even Geniuses Work Hard. Educational Leadership, 65(2),, pp. 34–39. Retrieved from

Dweck, C. (2010). How Can You Change From a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset? (2010). Retrieved from. Retrieved from Mindset Online:

Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.

Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R., Andree, A., Richardson, & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional Learning In The Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad
Retrieved 25-June-2018, from

KQEDQUEST. (2007). Acorns [Photograph]. Licensed through Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0). Retrieved from Flickr.Com June 2018

The Project for Education Research that Scales (PERTS). The Mindset Kit.

Ragan, T. (2018). The Growth Mindset: What it is, how it works, why it matters. Retrieved from Train Ugly:

Stanford University. Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS). Mindset Kit (
Retrieved 13-June-2018 from

The Proposed Plan for Part-Time Faculty Support…

Download the Plan as a PDF (proposed-plan-for-pt-instructor-support)