Growth mindset: Why is this the ‘new’ buzz word?


As usual, there’s a new buzz word in town. The world of education and childrearing is all about developing ‘new’ ideologies and cult followings every couple years. While it wasn’t too long ago that “common core” was taking over the world, now the newest term “growth mindset” is the hot topic these days. You’ll find teacher trainings, books studies, staff meetings, and child psychologists honing in on this ‘new’ term. So, what is it!?And, is it really so new?

Taken from Mindset works :

“When students and educators have a growth mindset, they understand that intelligence can be developed. Students focus on improvement instead of worrying about how smart they are. They work hard to learn more and get smarter. Based on years of research by Stanford University’s Dr. Dweck, Lisa Blackwell Ph.D., and their colleagues, we know that students who learn this mindset show greater motivation in school, better grades, and higher test scores.”

This all sounds great, and I don’t disagree. The growth mindset is all about goal setting, motivation, perseverance, and hard work- all good values and a positive frame of mind but is this anything new? Hmmm….? Isn’t this what good teachers have always done? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that kids learn and grow more if they believe they are capable of growing. If we teach kids that their intelligence isn’t “fixed”, then yes, there’s a much better chance that they’ll grow and achieve. If a child believes they are ‘dumb’, they won’t believe they can achieve or be equal with their peers and motivate to change. As school counselors, we have always worked with improving one’s ‘self-esteem’, another outdated buzz word. This is not a new concept.

It’s all the same thing: ‘self-esteem’/ ‘positive attitude’/’growth mindset’. What we believe, we become. If one’s outlook is positive, their future will be more positive. But, there will always be kids who are smarter than others. And, more importantly, there will always be lazy kids in this country. But, are kids getting lazier?

What’s interesting to me is that we have to teach kids in America to have a ‘growth mindset’. Is it that they just have things too easy? Is there such thing as too much technology, kids are addicted, and have too much to do? Is school just so boring that we have to remind them to keep trying? Are parents not teaching the value to hard work? What’s missing? I think all of the above could be the case. We want things too easily in this country because we do have so many things easier than 99% of the world.

I wonder if kids who grow up in third world countries who actually have to work to survive know about the ‘growth mindset’?! It seems like having so much can sometimes lead to wanting things to be too easy. It’s sad to me that we must convince kids that they can and should grow. Kids in America are lazy; mine certainly are. They just have it too easy so now we have fancy terms that teach kids to feel motivated. We have groups to teach teachers to convince kids that they can do it when parents should be coaching their kids.

Not that we should stop persisting but I would like to see more self-motivated kids who have the intrinsic motivation and desire to succeed because they understand they need to,  because their actions will impact their future. If we did our jobs as parents to instill the value of hard work, of sweat and challenges, of exploring true interests and talents, and experiencing more natural consequences, then we may not need to spend time and money teaching teachers and kids to believe they can become smarter. The ‘growth mindset’ wouldn’t be taking over the world of education because kids may just choose to want to try harder and work to change because it makes sense or because they are truly motivated and/or inspired.

While this ‘growth mind’ isn’t the worst theory ever, I just have to wonder what got us here in the first place. And, what can we do to fix our lazy kids?

  • Stop telling kids they’re awesome at everything.
  • Let them fail, and even feel bad sometimes.
  • Praise a good effort.
  • Do not give them everything they want!
  • Point out their strengths. Talk about your own strengths and weaknesses and how you are able to overcome your weaknesses.
  • Encourage them to work hard without expecting them to be perfect. (Remind yourself that every child looks different).
  • Teach them that we don’t have to have fun all the time.
  • Expect good habits at home including limits on technology, reading time each day, practicing weaker skills, and especially time to explore personal hobbies- not your personal hobbies.

As a parent and School Counselor, I won’t stop my goal-planning and encouragement. But, then again, this has always been a habit; this isn’t something new for any caring educator. This ‘growth mindset’ concept isn’t really something new at all. After all, the story of the Little Engine That Could has been around! It actually dates back to first being published in an article in 1906 Story of the Engine That Thought It Could based on a sermon.

“Grit” is another hot topic, but similar concept,  but I look forward to more groundbreaking theories that hold more weight. At least, ‘grit’ is a more substantial concept and holds more value because it focuses on working hard instead of a belief system. Grit carries over to many faucets of life from sports to academics and personal goal-setting. But from ‘growth mindset’, to ‘grit’,  to having a ‘positive attitude’, it’s all nothing new. Here’s to working hard this year and getting the job done whether you like it or not, kids, because we all have hurdles to jump!




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