Growth mindset: more than just a trendy buzzphrase

Scarlett Parr-Reid shares the change-making power of a growth mindset and how you can adopt it.

Growth mindset. A buzzphrase nowadays in schools, offices and workplaces. But what does it really mean? In a global pandemic, with schools closed for most of the last year and online tuition soaring, attitudes towards school progress and learning have been of utmost priority across the education sector. 

Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Dr. Carol Dweck coined the term ‘growth mindset’, which she explains in her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck’s research has shown that intelligence is a spectrum on which we can move based on our implicit attitudes to learning. 

In a fixed mindset, we believe that our intelligence is set in stone and can’t be changed. Criticism is seen as proof of our lack of ability. This can lead to praise-seeking behaviours, which ultimately prevent us from embracing challenges. Instead, we focus on appearing clever and hiding when we don’t know things. With a growth mindset, intelligence is seen as fluid and evolving, with setbacks a chance to improve and reflect. The hallmark of someone with a growth mindset is not simply working hard (this is a misconception), but approaching challenges with resilience and becoming more invested when faced with obstacles. 

The good news is our brains are malleable and we can shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. When we make this shift, our motivation and achievement are boosted significantly. Simple ways that we can foster growth mindsets as tutors, teachers and educators is in the language we use as we reflect with pupils on their work. For example, switching from complimenting smartness to congratulating effort. This means praising the process that leads to the outcome, so pupils are empowered to work towards their goals. 

In her 2014 TED talk, Dweck told the story of a high school in Chicago that instead of giving a fail to students who had not passed their courses, gave them a ‘Not yet’. The word ‘yet’ is a reminder that there is room for growth. There is a path to follow with increasing confidence instead of the path of least resistance. Dweck notes that there will be times when our fixed mindset is triggered, such as when we encounter a big challenge or when we see someone else excelling in an area we pride ourselves on. Knowing these triggers, we can adopt strategies to learn more effectively, such as reaching out and asking questions, seeking learning resources and valuing our agency as changemakers. 

David Yeager, Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas studied 18,000 first-year college students and saw that those who took part in growth mindset workshops known as Brainology took on more challenges in the long-term than those who didn’t attend them. A 2018 report titled ‘What School Life Means for Students’ Lives’ by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 37 % of students across its 38 member countries reported that they believe that intelligence cannot change very much over time. 

A key factor in this belief is motivation. Motivation is typically either intrinsic and characterised by curiosity and enjoyment of the inquiry process, or extrinsic and characterised by seeking of external validation through grades and prizes. According to a 2018 study in the sciencejournal Cogent Education, intrinsic motivation is enhanced through task persistence and self-evaluation. As tutors, teachers and educators, we can nurture these qualities through prompt questions such as “do you think there is another way you could approach this?” and “walk me through your thought process as you approach this question.” This fosters self-efficacy, a skill which will instil accountability in pupils. We can further encourage this through 1-1 evaluation of class work and independent work, cultivating a desire for and optimum use of constructive feedback. 

Adopting a growth mindset means making use of the armoury of resources and positive tools we have at our disposal to ensure that once a challenge comes along, we are prepared to persevere and move through it knowing that the long-term gains will be worth the initial risks. It is one of the greatest facets of being an educator to be able to use our voices and experiences to inspire growth mindsets amongst our tutoring teams and the pupils we support.

As written by Scarlett Parr-Reid, BSc Medical Sciences. Scarlett is now studying for an MSc Science Communication at Imperial College. If you seek Science tuition from GCSE to postgraduate level or UCAS Applications support, please call +44 (0)207 3856795 or email 

Having tutored internationally for the last year, I have had the pleasure of working with pupils of a diverse range of nationalities, subjects and passions. Being able to adaptably pivot into tailored teaching styles, especially in a global pandemic, is paramount. This has involved working closely with parents and tutees to build rapport and curate personalised programmes. Having led two successful homeschooling programmes and tutored for several others, I know the importance of interactivity in tutoring sessions, which helps build tutees’ agency for the future. Being a tutor has bolstered my confidence as an educator and I am thoroughly proud to be able to empower young people to become changemakers. Looking forward, I aim to continue growing as a tutor and build bridges with tutees as we remain in touch throughout their educational journey.”

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