School by Design

Inspiring student-centered, intentionally designed schools

How to Design a Growth-Minded School

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How Might We design a school that encourages, nurtures and teaches a Growth Mindset? From Curriculum to Culture, here is a School By Design!

Mindsets Infographic

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset. From The Guardian. (Link in footer)

*This post is based on Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset theory. For a quick overview, please see this online book review or the Official Mindsets website. An excerpt of the book review is at the end of this article.

Design Principles

  • Growth mindset is encouraged and developed for all stakeholders (students, teachers and staff).
  • Growth Mindset is an integral Key Performance Indicator of all of the school’s activities, since it is a fundamental part of the school’s philosophy (Curriculum, Assessment, Teacher evaluation, School performance).
  • Growth Mindset is treated as:
    • A learning objective for students.
    • A philosophy guiding instruction.
    • A philosophy guiding assessment, feedback and reward systems.
    • A philosophy guiding professional development of teachers and staff
    • A philosophy guiding teacher performance evaluation.
    • A criterion in organizational performance evaluation.
  • In a nutshell: We should embody it. We should teach it. We should asses through it.

School Design

1. Assessment: 
Growth Mindset is not about the momentary success, but rather is about an intentional will to continuously improve, even if one is succeeding according to a certain standard. Therefore, students and teachers should not be automatically satisfied with an “A”, or be completely devastated with a “B-“. The students, with support from teachers, should strive to identify their weaknesses and strengths and develop action plans to improve on them.

  • Formative Assessment:
    Build-in formative assessment with deep discussions. The goal is to analyze student answers and help students identify next steps.

    • Correct answers: Identify these as “mastered” concepts. Help students identify what strategies they employed that enabled them to master these concepts. Help students develop an action plan on how they will further challenge themselves (could be peer teaching, or attempting more challenging problems, etc…)
    • Incorrect answers: Work with student to identify the reasons for lack of mastery. They could be that she does not understand the concept, or needs to improve her studying strategy, or test taking skills. In any case, the teacher should help the student develop an action plan to address these areas of improvement.
  • Self assessment:
    Growth minded students have the ability to accurately assess their skills, which informs their analysis of their weaknesses, strengths and next steps on any task. Incorporate self-assessment in student learning to encourage students to practice this skill. Ideas:

    • Let students decide whether or not they mastered a concept (and later compare this to their performance)
    • Let students develop action plans to change behaviors/attitudes to enhance their performance on a specific task.
    • Let them decide how to spend “unstructured study time”, based on their areas of improvement.
  • Growth Mindset Assessment
    Building on the “Growth Mindset as a Learning Objective” design principle, we should develop assessment tools to measure students’ mindsets in order to inform instruction and school strategy.

2. Reward Systems: 
Grades can become a goal and hinder the development of a growth mindset get blocked once grades or “ranks” are in question. Include more than just “Mastery” grades in your rubric, such as:

  • Strategic Effort: How much effort has the student put? How much of that effort was intentional and informed, based on a careful process of self-exploration and planning?
  • Growth: How much the student has grown, both in terms of mastery and in terms of strategic effort.
  • Challenge: How much has the student challenged herself? Has she attempted risky/unfamiliar tasks? Has she raised the bar for herself?
  • Grit/Resilience: Does the student show persistence in face of failure/struggles?

3. Feedback

  • Praise for process not trait: Students should should be praised not only for mastery but also for challenge and strategic effort. They should not be praised for being “quick” or “smart”. While they need to understand their skill set, they should be aware that they need to develop other skills to achieve excellence.
  • Provide detailed feedback on where and how to improve:Constantly help them identify areas and strategies for growth.

4. Curriculum

  • Covers Content, Skills and Mindsets
  • Enables differentiation
  • Includes tasks where failure is necessary for learning. Design Thinking, Maker-inspired, Experimentation and Project-based tasks are great opportunities to do so.
  • Includes tasks that require practice to be mastered. Tasks like playing instruments or sports usually require practice, which helps level the playing field for students and develop their skills for working hard to hone a skill.
  • Emphasizes growth-minded role models. Curriculum should debunk the image of the “lonely genius” and accentuate the image of the consistent, collaborative hard worker.
  • Delayed gratification tasks. Such tasks can train students to not only seek the “rush of success” but also enjoy the process of getting there, without the need for constant validation.

5. Teacher training (PD)

  • Growth Mindset: Teachers should embody a growth mindset, believe in it and have the ability to teach it to students.
  • Self-awareness: A major part of a growth mindset is one’s ability to assess one’s skills and safely explore strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures. Our teachers should be coaches of self-awareness; helping our students develop the skills to explore their feelings and thoughts, and make action plans accordingly.
  • Deep content knowledge: Teachers will need to help struggling students by using different instructional strategies to address weaknesses. They will also need to help proficient students challenge themselves. Without a deep content understanding, the teacher will not be able to provide the safety nets needed for struggling students to develop a growth mindset, or the high bar required for proficient students to develop the growth mindset. Growth mindsets cannot be adopted if there’s no clear path for “growth”.
  • Differentiation: Linked to the previous point, teachers should have a strong ability to differentiate instruction and tasks.

6. Culture

  • Culture can be seen in the traditions, artifacts on the walls, events, etc… Growth mindset can be reflected through aspects such as: The Celebration of Failing Forward/Growth/Strategic Effort.
  • Engage Parents: Parents need to be incorporated into the culture through constant engagement, workshops, etc… to ensure their buy in and that the mindsets are being adopted and fostered at home as well.
  • Assessment and reward systems are a major part of the culture, discussed above.
  • Mottos:
    • “Explore Yourself”
    • “Stretch Yourself”
    • “Becoming is better than being”

Phew! that was a long post! Share away and follow me @EmanAbouelatta.



Excerpt from brainpickings book review: A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.

Image retrieved from The Guardian.


Author: schoolbydesign

I’m Eman, the founder of School By Design. I created this blog to inspire schools and educators to use Design in their everyday work. I’m a School Experience Designer. What it means? I help schools perfect their user experiences, build innovation capacity and culture, and develop systems for continuous need finding and innovation. I use an array of tools: design thinking, qualitative/quantitative research, user-centered design, organizational theory, research in education, my MA in Education Leadership (Stanford, '14), my background in program management and strategy (Microsoft Program Manager), and good old research.

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