What’s the point of a growth mindset anyway?

By Luke McKenna

Growth mindset- it is becoming the phrase on the lips of many educators.  It is great research and it should transform the way educators praise and give feedback on student learning progress. I have even heard of a few schools that are declaring themselves to be growth mindset schools. I do believe this is a good thing. But I also believe that many have missed the point. So what is the point of a growth mindset?

Firstly, what’s not the point? Having a growth mindset is not the point. It is not the destination or desired outcome. But it certainly leads towards it.

The point of a growth mindset

What is the desired outcome? We want students to understand the brain- and as a result, behave with persistence and resilience. To build gritty students is the point of the growth mindset. It’s not actually about understanding or talking about a growth mindset- it is about doing something about it.

A growth mindset doesn’t change the brain. The brain doesn’t change because we believe it will, or hope it will. The human brain adapts based on the demands placed on it. If we understand that our brain is malleable and we don’t do anything to direct or focus our attention in order to make it more efficient- it doesn’t get more efficient.

“False growth mindsets”

It is possible to know about a growth mindset- to learn it and speak it- and not do anything about it. This is what Carol Dweck and Susan Mackie have recently referred to as “false growth mindsets”.  People are assuming growth mindsets because it seems to be the right thing to do and makes sense- for educators it would be. But that will not enhance learning.

Having a growth mindset is not about believing you can do anything- most 12 and 13 year olds will tell you that (believe me- we’ve surveyed them)! It is about actually applying yourself long enough at something so that the brain has the opportunity to adapt to the demands placed on it.

Growth mindsets only work if we do!

A growth mindset does not make kids smarter. However, it does give them more chance at success. The real desired result of the growth mindset is that students would behave in different ways based on what they have learned about their malleable brain. The hope is to develop gritty students. Grit actually improves performance because it is the action that allows the growth mindset to work. Students who have grit will set and strive for meaningful goals, create helpful habits, delay gratification, practice deliberately and continuously seek improvement.

The point of a growth mindset is not to pump up the tyres of all the students in our schools. It is not the same as optimism or thinking positively. It is not a fad. Growth mindsets are instead based on the scientific findings of how the brain actually works. Our brain only adapts when we try hard, put forth effort, stick with things longer, ask questions, seek guidance from coaches and teachers, lean into the discomfort, learn from setbacks and set new challenges for ourselves. It is actually doing these things that leads to improved performance.

The point of teaching educators and students about growth mindsets is to actually enhance learning in every endeavour. But this will only happen if students and teachers transmute their growth mindsets into behaviour that actually enhances learning.

Building persistent, resilient, lifelong learners

Growth mindsets are essential and are actually the foundation for building grit. But let’s not seek to develop growth mindsets for their own sake. Instead, let’s seek to stand on the ground breaking research about growth mindsets, and use it to build persistent, resilient, lifelong learners. Let’s build a generation of learners who understand how their focussed effort and application actually changes their equipment for learning- their brain. Let’s build gritty kids who take responsibility for what their brain learns.


At Unleashing Personal Potential, we improve learning and expand lives by providing schools with training and resources that develop growth mindsets, grit, wellbeing and leadership.


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