Developing a Growth Mindset

As a very new teacher in my first year of teaching I drew the short straw (at least that was the concept at the time) and was given the lowest ability Mathematics class. Mathematics is one of those subjects that has the reputation for being very challenging and one that many students find difficult.

By Mr Ralph Luchow—Principal, Hills Adventist College 05 August 2016

The students in my class came with the attitude, “I cannot do Maths.” I did not know their past as I was the new graduate on the block. However, I did look up their results from Year 6 and was not filled with confidence about their mathematical ability.

Having a class of students who did not like (more realistically—they hated Mathematics) was very disheartening as I always enjoyed the subject and was looking forward to engaging students of like mindedness and having a great time together.

In my naivety, I decided that my first challenge was to get them to begin to actually like Mathematics and I worked on the premise that if they had some degree of success, they may begin to change their attitude from “I cannot do Maths”. I proceeded to set a test and I was pretty certain all of them would do reasonably well. Sure enough, they all passed! One girl actually burst out crying when she got her results—it was the first Maths test she had actually passed. I wish I could say she went on to excel in Extension 2 Mathematics and is now a lecturer of Mathematics at some prestigious university but she did not. She continued to struggle with Mathematics but the journey was actually enjoyable with increasing degrees of success.

Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset

Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset is a challenge for us as educators but also for students and parents. My class of Year 7 students had developed a fixed mindset from their past experiences, they believed that their ability in Mathematics could not be changed; they were no good at Mathematics and that was just how it was.

A growth mindset occurs “When students and educators…understand that intelligence can be developed. Students focus on improvement instead of worrying about how smart they are. They work hard to learn more and get smarter. Based on years of research by Stanford University’s Dr. Dweck, Lisa Blackwell Ph.D., and their colleagues, we know that students who learn this mindset show greater motivation in school, better grades, and higher test scores.” (

The article referred to above, asks the question “What does a growth mindset look like?”

Parents support their children’s learning both inside and outside the classroom. They partner with teachers, and respond to outreach. They worry less about advocating for their children to get good grades and focus on making sure kids are being challenged and put in the effort needed to grow.

Students are enthusiastic, hard-working, persistent learners. They take charge over their own success.

Carol Dweck has done a significant amount of research in this area.

In her research Dweck found, “one of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves, has to do with how we view and inhabit what we consider to be our personality. A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behaviour, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.” (

How do you promote a growth mindset? See the two approaches below:

Thinking back to my first Year 7 Mathematics class, I wish I knew then what I know now. Perhaps my approach would have been different and my students may have been able to grow their talents and abilities.

I would like to encourage you to read the information from the websites. You have the opportunity to significantly assist your children to grow and stretch their abilities.

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