The Importance of Having a Growth Mindset Within Professional Development

Dr. Lamont Moore
Dr. Lamont Moore
Director of Testing, Accountability, Gifted Education, and Title III; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Gardner-Webb University, NC

If you ever take a moment to bring up the topic of education in conversation, I’m sure that you will quickly hear laments of deep-seated frustrations with the field. The complaints about the politics of high-stakes testing and underfunding of school districts, among others, would somehow find their way into the discussion. In a matter of minutes, a well-intended dialogue about education would be derailed. The solution is not to adopt a delusional perspective, but rather to focus on the original intent of education, which is to create enlightened individuals who are equipped with mental fortitudes that instigate societal progression. It is what psychologist Carol Dweck described as a growth mindset.

What is Growth Mindset?

Is success caused by hard work, intelligence, or a combination of both? After 30 years of research, Dr. Carol Dweck has stated that it is neither. She asserts that success has more to do with an individual’s mindset or beliefs about themselves, rather than how smart they are or how hard they work. Hard work, talent, and intelligence are only the starting points, but it is the attitude of the mind that accomplishes success. Dweck defines growth mindset as a belief that the most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.

An individual with a growth mindset believes that success is certain despite realistic challenges. In other words, although they are fully aware of present barriers, their mental outlook is relentless and determined to demonstrate progress anyway. When complaints are expressed, those with a growth mindset find themselves naturally brainstorming solutions to silence them.

Strategies for Promoting Growth Mindset within PD

Professional development (PD) is crucial for educators because it deepens the knowledge base, ensures up-to-date practices, and boosts confidence levels. All of these things cause individuals to be more efficient and enjoy the work that they do. This is sometimes easier said than done when individuals attend PD sessions with a fixed mindset. These mindsets are rigid attitudes that resist change, fixate on status quo, and are perplexed by the challenges of embracing new methods. To be clear, the mindset of an individual can only be changed by that particular individual when they choose to do so. However, a growth mindset can be promoted within PD sessions using three key strategies.

The Testimonial Approach

In this approach, the presenter or designer of the professional development session utilizes the positive testimonies of others to promote a new method or concept. When planning PD using this approach, it is critical that the presenter finds individuals who initially had a fixed mindset, later saw the benefits of a concept and want to share their story with others. This can be captured by showing videos of testimonials, including reflective quotes from these individuals, incorporating live testimonials into the PD session itself or incorporating more lengthy reviews and commentaries.

In this approach, the goal is for the participants to not just take the word of the presenter but to be influenced by what others are saying. It is also important to make sure that it is clear that those who provide the testimonials do not have other intentions or hidden agendas. It would not be wise to pay for individuals to provide testimonials. The testimonials should not be rehearsed or scripted.

Many times, there are those who come to PD sessions with a fixed mindset because they believe that the presenter functions like a salesperson who is trying to “sell” a new perspective or method for some sort of personal gain. These individuals are usually very guarded and may not respond to the presenter’s claims but are more open to the testimonials of those who have nothing to “gain.”

The Social Buy-In Approach

This approach is a more strategic version of the testimonial approach. There are those who will not be impressed with the testimonials of others because the testimonials may or may not be coming from someone in which they have a personal connection with.

When utilizing the social buy-in approach, the presenter would need to do a bit of studying and planning prior to the PD session in order to identify individuals who are uniquely connected to others in the session. The presenter would need to know who the ringleaders or agents of change are in the group. The ringleaders would be those who influence others because of their excellent leadership, work ethic, or reputable track record. These ringleaders should be strategically seated in the group, placed in breakout sessions, utilized for examples, and highlighted during discussions.

Because many of those who have fixed mindsets are socially connected to and influenced by the ringleaders, it may be easier for them to adopt a growth mindset when they see the ringleaders promoting and supporting what the presenter is sharing during the PD session.

The Data-Driven Approach

For those who are not persuaded by the glowing testimonials or influenced by the sentiments and displays of the ringleaders, you should utilize the data-driven approach. This approach highlights impressive statistics, objective data charts, and compelling research that appeal to logic rather than emotional connection.

When employing this strategy, the presenter should seek to remove affective triggers and allow the data points to speak for themselves. Prior to the PD session, time should be spent pulling research and statistics that prove to encourage individuals to embrace a growth mindset based simply on proven facts and figures.

How Does Growth Mindset Impact Student Performance?

In many ways the growth mindset operates in the fashion of the domino effect. Once one mindset is changed, it impacts and changes the mindsets of the others with which it is connected.

The same occurs between educators and their students. An educator with a fixed mindset approaches instruction from a rigid place, which causes students to approach learning from that same rigid mindset. When the educator doesn’t fully believe that success can be achieved, then the learning experience is limited for the students. As a result, students have very little to build from regarding their own mindsets.

On the other hand, when educators believe that their students can achieve and be successful regardless of barriers, then the educators are relentless in their planning of instruction. This creates students who are relentless in their pursuit of learning. This relentlessness spills over into growth in student performance and an enhanced quality of student work.

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