What should Mindset-savvy parents look for in a school?

I received an email from a parent recently, asking me if I could recommend a good Growth Mindset school for her child. What a fascinating question!

Growth Mindsets are in the public eye. Parents are beginning to recognise the importance of developing a Growth Mindset in their children, to the point where some are looking for schools that explicitly focus on the development of Growth Mindsets.

I was thrilled that she asked this question because a child’s Mindset – their beliefs about their most basic characteristics, such as intelligence, talents and abilities – is critically important.

What the Growth Mindset gives a child is choice. It is the invitation to grow, the understanding that they can choose to become the person they want to be. Of all the gifts we can give our children, this is one of the greatest.

A child who develops a Growth Mindset understands what George Bernard Shaw said: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

Growth Mindset is more than a label

A school that helps students better understand they are capable of creating themselves is one I’d be prepared to recommend. But at the same time, I was a little concerned the excitement around Growth Mindsets would lead parents to look for “Growth Mindset schools”. At some level, I thought this parent was missing the point.

So, I gave her the following advice.

Try not to think of your child’s Mindset as being Fixed or Growth. It doesn’t work like that. If we expect children to “have” a Growth Mindset, we will constantly focus on their “deficit” of not having one. What’s more, we risk stigmatising the Fixed Mindset as being bad, which can lead to the development of a False Mindset.

It’s important to recognise that our Mindset falls along a continuum, from low growth to high growth. All children have a Growth Mindset – it’s just that some are more highly growth oriented than others. Our job as parents and teachers is to nurture the development of an increasingly growth-oriented Mindset in our children. This takes time, and the changes are likely to be small and incremental.

Our Mindset is influenced by Mindset Movers. These can be positive, pushing us towards a more growth-oriented Mindset, or they can be negative, pushing us towards a lower growth-oriented Mindset. Things that categorise us and put boundaries around us tend to be negative Mindset Movers. Things that help us recognise growth and our capacity to change tend to act as positive Mindset Movers.

We encounter these Mindset Movers throughout our lives – at home, school and the wider community. So, developing a Growth Mindset is not only the school’s responsibility, it is also the responsibility of parents and the community.

Schools must develop Agile Learners

The only thing new about Mindsets is the name. Schools have been influencing student’s Mindsets for as long as they have been educating children. Some have been doing a great job of developing Growth Mindsets, others less so. I advised the parent to look for schools that had been developing Growth Mindsets in students before it was a thing.

Developing a Growth Mindset is almost synonymous with developing an understanding of yourself as a learner. So, rather than looking for a “Growth Mindset school”, I encouraged the parent to look for schools that had a strong tradition of developing learners – schools where teachers talked frequently and openly about the learning process and helped students understand and engage in that process.

I also encouraged her not to lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, we want students not only to understand they are capable of growth, but to know how to achieve that growth. We want them to have Learning Agility. A Growth Mindset is only part of the learning story. The rest consists of Habits of Mind and Practice. If a school doesn’t develop Learning Agility, then a child is left with the understanding they are capable of growth but not the capacity to achieve it.

This parent was asking me to recommend a Growth Mindset school because Growth Mindsets have captured the public’s attention. But what she really wanted was a school where her child would become an effective, Agile Learner – a school that put the growth into Growth Mindset.



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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