Growth mindset, simply put, is the belief that one’s intellect and abilities are not only unfixed, but malleable. That is, people are capable of employing different strategies to grow and improve their intelligence and skill sets. For high school students, this notion of agency and control over their abilities can be a transformative realization. Once teenagers realize that they are capable of improving themselves in any area that they choose, their options become limitless.
In order to teach concepts about growth mindset to high school students, they must first recognize what it is versus what it is not. Growth mindset is not a “cure-all” belief system that suddenly makes us capable of being perfect at anything that we attempt. Quite the opposite, actually. Growth mindset is about striving to improve, as opposed to focusing solely on perfection.
A way to encourage growth mindset in the high school classroom is to create opportunities for students to build intrinsic motivation by appealing to their curiosities. Want students to go above and beyond just for the sake of learning as much as they can? Provide student-centered options that provoke each teen’s natural inquisitiveness. For high schoolers, intrinsic motivation may just be beginning to bud. Nurture this by allowing them to research, read, and create based on content that they are interested in. For obvious reasons, students are much more enthusiastic about learning when they have had a hand in choosing the content. Additionally, when students are given choices in how they can demonstrate mastery, motivation, effort, and creativity spike. In this sense, growth mindset is all about encouraging explorative challenges.
Provide opportunities for students to get to know themselves as learners by challenges that make them think outside of the box. We all have natural talents; however, growth mindset is all about using the knowledge of our natural talents to unlock our potential in other areas of difficulty. The high school classroom should be the number one place for students to take risks—this means tackling a challenge that they know full-well will be difficult for them. Remind students that grit emerges when people are faced with setbacks and demanding obstacles. With this in mind, help students to focus, not so much on the perfected outcome of a task or project, but on the process—the trials and errors that occur as they work through a problem.
The idea here is that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Help high schoolers to expect and accept failure as a certainty of life. Allowing failure to permanently fix our mindsets is an automatic means of sabotaging ourselves. Instead of shutting down and internalizing a perceived failure, high school students need help recognizing why they failed and how they will use this moment as a building block for their next attempt. When they stumble, remind them that anything worth doing will not come easily. An essential aspect of growth mindset is the fact that effort, motivation, and reflection are bridges to success in anything that we attempt.