In conversation with Eduardo Briceño
For those who are new to the concept, what is growth mindset?
Growth mindset is the belief that people can change—that our abilities and qualities are malleable, rather than set in stone. We can think of any ability or quality as malleable, fixed, or somewhere in between, be it humour, creativity, analytical skills, leadership abilities, empathy, or anything else. When we believe that individuals can become smarter or better, and that doing so requires changing one’s self, we are in a growth mindset. When we think that someone’s intelligence or other abilities or qualities can’t change, that’s a fixed mindset.
Growth mindset is often confused with simply working hard, taking risks, persevering, or adopting a positive attitude, among others. The problem with redefining growth mindset as an action is that we then tend to promote the desired behaviours without doing anything to change the underlying belief. If we encourage someone in a fixed mindset to work hard, they may just feel incapable because they associate hard work with low abilities. Research on growth mindset shows that we need to work not only on the behaviours, but also on the belief.
In what ways is cultivating a growth mindset relevant and/or beneficial to the education community?
Education is all about developing people. If we believe that people—students, for example—can’t change, then we will not search for and develop more effective ways to help them grow, or to grow ourselves. For example, when we label certain students as endowed with natural talents and place them in “gifted programs,” they and others can easily interpret that their abilities are fixed at high levels. This fosters a fixed mindset. When we label students as not made for certain subjects, and then place them on less challenging pathways without opportunities to advance to higher courses, we limit them, and we limit ourselves in exploring different ways to teach.
Fostering a growth mindset and practices that support human development involves deep personal reflection and regular engagement in learning. Regardless of our role, we must choose to engage in a never-ending journey to interrogate our beliefs and our practices so that we can evolve to expand our effectiveness and impact.
To what extent has living through a pandemic impacted your thoughts on the purpose and practice of growth mindset?
The pandemic has reinforced the power of a growth mindset, which helps us better learn, adapt, and persevere in a complex and fast-changing world. The last two years have reminded us that the world is unpredictable and always changing. So the best way to prepare ourselves for it is to become motivated and effective lifelong learners. That is, to make learning and evolving our default. If we work every day to change ourselves in some way, then when disruption hits and we have to work from home, or virtually, or focus on changing our daily habits, we can more easily redirect our routines to present needs. When we see our own continual change as the default, we are better prepared for the next unexpected change.
Throughout this time of disruption, educators stepped up to the challenge of ensuring that learning never stops through rapid upskilling, resourcefulness, and innovation. How can the education community sustainably harness these experiences to drive a culture of growth mindset?
The pandemic forced us all to react, or respond, by learning. It’s the only way to survive, and to thrive, in a fast-changing world. The question is, after the pandemic, will we continue to drive our ongoing learning proactively on a daily basis, rather than reactively? Will we turn the responsive learning habits many of us were forced to adopt during the pandemic into stable, proactive learning habits that we can use going forward?
In order to do this, we can first build a stable habit of reminding ourselves every morning of what we’re working to improve within ourselves. We can then discuss with our colleagues what we’re seeking to improve on and how we can support one another going forward through professional learning communities or other structures. When these daily habits become a part of who we are—a part of how our brains are wired—we become much better positioned to thrive during unexpected future events and to prepare students for the complex and fast-changing world in which they live, and to create the future.
From your experience and research, what are the common barriers to cultivating growth mindset within education?
One challenge is our own fixed mindset. We all fall into a fixed mindset sometimes; it’s part of being human. Sometimes we feel incapable of doing something well. Or, conversely, we might feel so capable of doing something that we feel there’s no need for further improvement. Other times, we may see a certain student as hopeless with a particular subject, or see another student as a genius who doesn’t need to be challenged. In either scenario, when we see abilities as static, we tend not to think deeply about what we can do to encourage and support development. So, we can reflect on what abilities and qualities we tend to view as fixed in ourselves and others and how that might create self-fulfilling prophecies.
Another common barrier we face as adults is the desire to appear fully sure of ourselves before our students, co-workers, and supervisors. If we say that lifelong learning is important, but act like know-it-alls, our actions will speak louder than our words (and students will emulate our behaviours). The key is to engage in learning when students are watching, not just afterhours. We can share with them what we’re working to improve, how we’re going about it, what mistakes we’ve made recently, and what we’re learning along the way.
As well as your Arena keynote on the theme of Mindsets, Habits, and Cultures to Create the Future, we’re excited for you to lead two workshops on cultivating growth mindset at Bett - one focused on classroom cultures, and the other focused on leading learning organisations. How would you suggest educators and institution leaders approach these workshops?
The workshop on classroom culture is geared toward classroom educators. We will explore practices and structures that foster growth mindset cultures in classrooms. The workshop on leading learning organisations is geared towards leaders of schools, systems, or other organisations. We will explore practices and structures that foster growth mindset cultures organisation-wide. For both workshops, I suggest that participants approach the sessions with curiosity (to learn from and with others) and a readiness to engage in active reflection, discussion, and action planning.
The overarching theme for this year’s Bett show is ‘create the future’. What does the phrase ‘create the future’ mean to you?
The future will be different from the present—whether we like it or not— and what it looks like will, in large part, be driven by what we do now. In the last few centuries, humans have become the greatest source of change in our own lives. The question is, will the future we create be better, driven by our conscious, proactive learning and contribution? To me, creating the future means clarifying what it takes to intentionally develop a better future and collaborating with others to do so, constantly learning and adapting along the way.
What are you most looking forward to at Bett?
As always, I am most looking forward to learning. After a long hiatus due to the pandemic, I am also excited to gather with so many educators and supporters of education, from all different parts of the world, to explore how we can use and evolve EdTech to create a better future.
Join Eduardo to hear more on why and how the education community can be cultivating growth mindset at Bett 2022, now taking place from 23-25 March at the ExCeL London. Register today here.