A popular catchphrase associated with the Growth Mindset is: Mistakes are proof you’re trying.
It’s easy to see why social media has latched onto this saying. There are some good messages embedded in it.
We certainly want students to try, and we want them to put in the effort. And by associating mistakes with trying, we recognise that mistakes are a normal part of the learning process. This takes away some of the stigma and negativity associated with mistakes. These are great messages we should send to students.
However, although this catchphrase captures two important elements of a Growth Mindset – effort and mistakes – it misses the most important part of a Growth Mindset: the actual growth!
Yes, mistakes are proof you’re trying, but correcting mistakes is proof you’re GROWING!
As I’ve written before (Getting “Praise Mistakes” right!, Mistakes about Mistakes), it’s not the mistake that’s important, it’s the actions we take to correct the mistake that are key. While we should encourage students to stretch outside their Comfort Zone and into their Learning Zone, where they are likely to make mistakes, we must equip them to address those mistakes – to develop their Habits of Mind – so they can learn and grow.
We’ve lost sight of Growth
“Mistakes are proof you’re trying” underlines a bigger issue for schools trying to develop a Growth Mindset culture. That is, there is too much emphasis on Mindset and not enough emphasis on Growth.
For example, consider “the power of yet”.
When psychologist Carol Dweck talks about the word “yet”, she does so in terms of providing students with a pathway to future learning. The self-limiting phrase, “I can’t do this,” turns into, “I can’t do this yet,” which shifts students’ focus from what they are now to what they can become.
However, the power lies not in the word “yet” – that’s simply the invitation to act. The power lies in the actions a student takes after “yet”! Without the right sort of actions, “not yet” becomes “still not yet” and growth does not take place.
A teacher must do more than simply teach students to say, “Not yet.” Once the student sees the pathway to future learning, teachers must show them how to stretch just beyond their current abilities and develop the Habits of Mind, which will enable them to achieve growth.
In other words, students need to develop Learning Agility, not just a Growth Mindset.
We must remember that we are not talking about an Effort Mindset or a Mistakes Mindset. We are talking about a Growth Mindset. As educators, our focus should always be on helping students develop the capacity to achieve their goals.
Let’s put the focus back on Growth in Growth Mindset.
- Anderson, J., 2017, Getting “Praise Mistakes” right!, mindfulbydesign.com, accessed 12th March 2018, https://mindfulbydesign.com/need-stop-praising-mistakes/
- Anderson, J., 2016, Mistakes about Mistakes, mindfulbydesign.com, accessed 12th March 2018, www.mindfulbydesign.com/mistakes-about-mistakes/
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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