Growth Mindset and Academic results are not separate goals

Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story entitled “[1]Reduce HSC pressure in favour of a ‘growth mindset’, NSW tells David Gonski”. While the article raises some interesting points, the headline should not be misinterpreted to mean that a Growth Mindset is more important than academic results.

A Growth Mindset is not an alternative to academic results. Rather, it is a pathway to help students achieve those results. After all, our work with Growth Mindsets is about helping students increase their talents, abilities and intelligence, not simply giving them the understanding that they can.

The article focuses on reducing the pressure and stress experienced by Year 12 students. It also correctly emphasises the importance of developing skills beyond mere academic results to “better prepare students for a rapidly changing and uncertain world”.

The problem lies in the way the article distinguishes a Growth Mindset from academic results. Stating that schools should put “more emphasis” on “non-cognitive skills … such as a Growth Mindset” implies that education should shift away from academic achievement towards the development of a Growth Mindset. But the two should not be considered separate goals.

Developing a Growth Mindset is important, but it is just the first step. Our job as educators is to first help students understand they are capable of growth, then show them how to engage in the processes and behaviours required to achieve that growth. We need to be clearly focused on helping students develop the abilities they’ll need to succeed when confronted with challenges in their lives – at work, home and in the community.

In other words, it is not enough for students to simply develop a Growth Mindset, they also must develop the capacity to grow – the Learning Agility.

It seems to me that with all the excitement around Growth Mindsets, we’ve become too focused on Mindset and not enough on GROWTH!

Let’s start putting the Growth back into Growth Mindset!


  1. Koziol, M., 2018, Reduce HSC pressure in favour of a ‘growth mindset’, NSW tells David Gonski,, accessed 5th March 2018,



James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.

James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.

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One Comment

  • Alex Delaforce March 5, 2018 at 11:15 am

    Unfortunately it seems almost ubiquitous practice to quote an educationally significant term in the more high-brow supplement of a paper, misuse it or confuse it, mix it with a few facts or quotes and assume it counts as quality reporting. What is the difference between academic and cognitive anyway, surely they mean the same thing!!??
    When I was in the UK’s RAF (I maintained electronics, computers and hydraulic systems for aircraft simulators), members of our team of simulator technicians would quote meaningless technical buzzwords or jargon-sounding terms around the officer aircrew and then see how long before we heard one officer using the term when explaining some apparent fault to one of his (not often her) colleague. They had no idea what they were talking about, but it sounded good. I suspect the same thing happens with journalists.

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