The Power of Mindset
Great learning experiences have the power to change how we think about ourselves, our relationships with others, and our role in the world. At Opportunity Education, we strive to create experiences that promote student agency and active, skills-forward learning. Often this requires both students and teachers to shift mindsets, or self-perceptions. One’s mindset about their role in learning can profoundly affect learning, skill development, relationships, achievement in school, and success in other areas of life (Dweck, 2008).
There are two kinds of mindsets we focus on: growth mindset and outward mindset. A person with a growth mindset believes that they are always capable of learning and improving, and that intelligence is not static. Unlike someone with a fixed mindset, they see effort as the key to their success and work hard to improve and learn (Dweck, 2008). A person with a growth mindset does not get discouraged when they receive feedback, nor do they take feedback personally. For them, challenges are opportunities.
Practicing an outward mindset can be powerful too (Arbinger Institute, 2016). Someone with an outward mindset frequently asks about other people in their lives: Why is this person responding this way? What do they need to be successful? What can I do to help them be successful? This is in direct opposition to thinking inwardly about one’s own needs and problems. Having an outward mindset is helpful when working with others, empathizing, responding to group needs, and leading effectively. Having an outward mindset is not about being nice or dropping everything to help others; it involves thinking about other people and their needs, even if you are not in a position to help. This perspective will help you improve your own attitude and the ways in which you collaborate to achieve shared goals.
These mindsets might remind you of Opportunity Education’s skills and habits, and that is not by coincidence. The Learning Skills and Essential Habits incorporate these mindsets. For example, Learn from Setbacks relates to growth mindset—believing you can improve and taking actions to do so, tackling setbacks or challenges head on, and receiving feedback well. Communicate Openly, Take a Position, and Collaborate require an outward mindset—understanding other people’s perspectives and circumstances, empathizing, and helping others.
As role models, you can help young people develop these mindsets. An important first step is talking to students and children about these mindsets, and making them aware of their own thinking. Here are a few strategies for developing an outward mindset:
- Ask others what they need and how you can help them.
- When frustrated with some else’s actions, ask yourself why they might be acting that way.
- Be present and listen to others.
- Focus on what you can give, rather than what you can get, from a person or situation.
Here are some ways to model a growth mindset:
- Share your own personal learning goals, as well as what you are working on, in order to improve. Also help others identify challenging, yet realistic, goals and the strategies for reaching those goals.
- Be transparent about mistakes and setbacks. Identify what actions you took to address the situations.
- Verbalize positive thinking. Instead of saying, “I’m not good at this,” say something like, “This is really hard for me. I need to keep working on it.” Repeat these thoughts out loud to model positive self-talk.
- Recognize and celebrate effort and hard work, not just success.
- Try new things! Show others you are not afraid of challenges and uncertainties, and that you see them as opportunities to learn.
Dweck, Carol S. (2008) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success New York : Ballantine Books.
The Arbinger Institute (2016). Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Jolene Zywica, PhD
Dr. Zywica is Opportunity Education's Senior Director of Learning Strategy. She ensures that the resources, tools, and experiences designed for teachers and students effectively support teaching and learning. Prior to joining the team in 2014, Jolene dabbled in teaching both high school and college students, was a high school literacy coach for 5 years, and has spent over 18 years designing and studying the impact of learning programs aimed at engaging students through active learning and technology.