Do you know about the seminal work of Carl Dweck?


The seminal work of Carol Dweck provides insight both for understanding ourselves and understanding how we perceive our students. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,72 she describes two possible mindsets people have: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People who have a fixed mindset believe their abilities, personality, and moral character are fixed, and their responses to circumstances either prove or disprove their worth. People who have a growth mindset, on the contrary, believe their initial talents, interests, aptitudes, and temperaments can be changed through effort. Every challenge becomes an opportunity.

Simply recognizing these two paths can have a profound impact on our teaching. If we stop to think how much we rely on test scores, judgments of previous teachers, class placements, and our own initial impressions to determine the abilities of our students, we might realize we do not have a clue—not a clue!—about their true potential. As Dweck reminds us, were we to have been Mozart’s teacher in the first ten years of his writing music, we might have written him off as mediocre. Were we to have been Edison’s teacher in his early years, we would not have recognized his entrepreneurial skills.

From the moment we understand our teaching is all about growth and not about reward, we can make the following commitment:

  • I will not judge any student’s potential by what he has done in the past or what he has done today. Instead, I will accept what we are not good at as challenges and opportunities for making our brains bigger—my students’ and mine!

We might put this commitment on our refrigerator.

We become advocates, then, against placing students based on IQ or single-placement tests. We know some of them learn at a higher level but not always for reasons related to intelligence. While we support advanced-level courses for those who have learned the prerequisites, we cannot deny equal opportunities to others. We will remind our colleagues that less capable students and athletes can (and do) outperform their talented counterparts. We will also remind them of the crucial role of teachers and coaches. Ask any successful coach why good teams thrive with players of mixed abilities. The research also shows that mixed-ability classes are beneficial for all learners.73 And, as Richard Lavoie points, out regular students always benefit from being in inclusion classes.74

How will you make the growth mindset integral to your classroom––and your school?

For more on seeing students at they are, See Chapter 11: Abolish Tracking in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: