My Take: Develop Growth Mindsets

Jane Alexander | October 12, 2015


Anguishing over how and where industry can get workers for hundreds of thousands of STEM-related jobs now and in the future has become almost an obsession for me. Really. But then, I sense that some of you may be similarly preoccupied. And why not? Rarely a day goes by without reading or hearing some news story or first-person account about the current or projected impact that the technical-skills gap poses for operations—or experiencing it for ourselves.

Writing in these pages almost 10 years ago, contributing editor Bob Williamson was spot on when he predicted that this workforce crisis would grow increasingly worse—much, much worse—before it got better. Alas, despite the efforts of many people, institutions, organizations, and businesses the world over, we’re still sucking wind.

Based on my own experience as a mother and grandmother, I’ve often written that capturing the hearts and minds of children early on with regard to STEM pursuits—in elementary school, if not earlier—is crucial. In my ongoing hunt for information to back up that opinion, I recently stumbled on an online Education Week (edweek.org) article by Carol Dweck, published in print as “Growth Mindset, Revisited.” It’s a good read.

In this piece, Dweck, the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, (Ballantine Books, 2007) referred to her past research that found students’ mindsets, i.e., how they perceive their abilities, play a key role in their motivation and achievement. This research also found that changing their mindsets could boost students’ levels of achievement.

“More precisely,” Dweck wrote, “students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could ‘grow their brains’ and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.”

In Dweck’s opinion, however, a growth mindset isn’t just about effort. That’s a common misconception. While effort is certainly a significant factor in achievement, it’s not the only thing. As she put it, “Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve.”

An example of her referenced “input from others” is shown in a short and sweet, yet thought-provoking, graphic in the Education Week article. It sums up several ways to encourage students using a “growth” versus “fixed” mindset vernacular. As many of us have learned, how we “say” things is of enormous importance with young people. All adults (parents, educators, employers, and others) would be wise to take this advice to heart.

For instance, saying to a fifth-grader who might be struggling with a long-division problem, “Not everyone is good at math, just do your best,” isn’t helpful from a growth-mindset perspective. A more effective approach would be to say, “When you learn how to do a new kind of problem, it grows your math brain.”

I urge you to read the entire Dweck article for yourself, and adopt a “growth-mindset” stance when it comes to any students in your life. Moreover, please encourage others, including those who educate our children, regardless of age, to do so as well. Carol Dweck wrote that she and her colleagues are on a “growth-mindset journey.” We all should join her.






Jane Alexander

Jane Alexander

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