International College Hong Kong
Nov 22, 2022

A Growth Mindset and why it is chosen for special focus and reward at ICHK

As we approach the end of term, teachers are once again being invited to nominate their candidates for our three termly awards: Growth Mindset, Courage in the Learning Zone, and Support of Peers.

It struck me that, especially for parents relatively new to the school, it would be worth reminding ourselves briefly why, among all the qualities and attributes that students demonstrate at school, these three categories have been chosen for special focus and reward at ICHK.

I will start with a quick look at the notion of Growth Mindset, a concept first discussed by Stanford professor of education, Carol Dweck, in her academic publication "Self-Theories", and then popularised in her follow-up "Mindset", which was written for a wider, lay audience. For those interested in knowing more, "Self-Theories" is a more difficult and much denser book, but infinitely the better of the two and well worth the time.

Dweck's work on mindsets is comprehensive and subtle, and, as is often the case, is of far greater insight than its popular version might suggest. But even the headlines, undeveloped as they are, provide useful orientation.

In brief, Dweck suggests that people tend towards one of two extremes of belief about themselves: there are people who believe that their ability is fixed and that there is very little that they can do to improve it [fixed mindset]; and there are those who believe that their ability is plastic and malleable, and enhanced by learning [growth mindset]. Dweck's research suggests that around 40% of people fall into either camp, with 20% hovering around the middle.

In learners, Dweck notes, belief in a growth mindset tends to couple with being motivated by inner desire, rather than external stimuli. As a consequence those who exhibit a growth mindset are driven not by what others think of them, but by their own determination to succeed, which is in turn fuelled by their conviction that industry and effort are the crucial elements in experiencing success in any form of endeavour, whether academic, relational, social, or practical.

If Dweck is right, statistically speaking, nearly half of our students have a head-start in gaining a Growth Mindset award each term, as they are already believers in the efficacy of hard work and its positive effects on attainment. But a vital point to draw from Dweck's research is that the other students - those not so fortunately endowed - can, in a suitable environment, be dissuaded from either an undecided or a fixed mindset, provided teachers, mentors, and guides offer the appropriate encouragement.

A suitable environment, Dweck tells us, is one that clearly values and provides ample opportunities for effort and persistence; while the appropriate encouragement is achieved, within such an environment, by repeatedly demonstrating to students that every setback is a challenge, and that "failure" - representing the ultimate challenge - is best experienced not as the final word on any topic, but rather as a spur to greater commitment and renewed efforts. Meanwhile, by delivering a wide and diverse range of experiences, school will demonstrate to students that the growth formula applies not just within the narrow formal curriculum but right across their lives. In Dweck's terms, the growth-oriented response to any shortfall or failure is, "Ah well, not yet. When can I try again ... ?"

It's this attitude that we celebrate in students with our Growth Mindset award: a consistent orientation towards effort and endeavour, towards persistence and bounce-backability, towards personal expression, towards the determination to expand and deepen oneself, especially in the face of meaningfully difficult challenges.

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