written by
David Wingfield

Growth Mindset - I Can’t Do It Yet!

Thought Leadership 3 min read , June 28, 2021
Growth mindset
Eaton House The Manor Pre-Prep boys coming to understand that science is trial and error - leading to success

By David Wingfield, Headmaster of Eaton House The Manor Pre-Prep School

Table of contents:

A growth mindset cultivates potential and promise

Potential. Promise. Failure. Growth. Concepts that will be familiar to every teacher, even if Carol Dweck’s theory of mindsets is not.

A growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, holds to the belief that our potential and promise may be cultivated through effort concerning the outcome. It is a mindset centred on the hope that everyone develops through perseverance and experience; all experiences - successes and failures - are viewed as opportunities to grow.

On the other hand, a fixed mindset holds to the belief that one’s abilities are determined at birth, requiring constant justification to assert one’s position in the social pecking order. In contrast to a growth mindset, every experience is assessed through the lens of winning or losing. As a result, one either meets with triumph or disaster, and there is little capacity for a bounce back from the latter.

Fixed mindset - I’m stuck!

‘I’m stuck!’, the familiar fixed-mindset chorus, at least to teachers in primary settings, so growth mindset, this ain’t. It is, in my experience, more an admission of defeat - ‘I can’t do it!’ - on the part of the pupil than a statement of fact, expressed in the hope that someone of greater expertise - the teacher - will swoop in and solve the problem.

Pupils’ instinctive readiness to announce that they are ‘stuck’ illustrates the need for educators to encourage them to adopt a growth mindset approach to learning that fosters independence and resilience. In the example above, when a pupil informs an adult that they are ‘stuck’, an adult could take this as an opportunity to ask the pupil coaching questions that enable them to take a growth mindset approach to become unstuck:

  • What do you know already that could help you?
  • Have you encountered this problem before?
  • How do you think you could solve this problem?
A growth mindset allows all children to achieve their potential

A second approach to developing a growth mindset is a commitment to praise effort in relation to the outcome - ‘process praise’ - rather than praising attainment per se: ‘Well done for scoring ten out of ten in the spelling test!’. Praising attainment after the initial buzz may leave pupils feeling anxious about future mistakes and difficulties: ‘What if I do not score ten out of ten next time?’.

Process praise focuses on how pupils are undertaking the task and areas they may improve to complete it more effectively: ‘Well done for finding time to practice your spellings every morning this week, which has improved your test result. How could you improve your recall further next week?’

Growth mindset
Complex work is underpinned by an effort at Eaton House The Manor Pre-Prep

Growth mindset - I can’t do it yet!

These two techniques for promoting a growth mindset arguably only have a lasting impact when:

  • Practised deliberately over time by teachers who can identify and challenge any areas of their own mindset that are fixed.
  • Pupils feel continually safe, secure and confident in their learning environment - they can fail without fear.

The power of the word ‘yet’

If all of the above is true, pupils may gradually realise that they may be stuck at the moment rather than for all time. So rather than ‘I can’t do it!’, the small word yet may be added to the end of this sentence to revolutionise its meaning and create new horizons of hope.

Growth mindset
A growth mindset can apply to sport, art or any other subject
Can we do it? Yes, we can!

Further information

Eaton House Schools - if you are interested in finding out more about our schools for your child, please contact Miss Sam Feilding, Head of Admissions, on 0203 917 5050 or by email at sfeilding@eatonhouseschools.com if you have a general enquiry, please contact us at enquiries@eatonhouseschools.com.

Education growth mindset