Developing a 'Growth Mindset' at QAHS


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Developing a growth mindset within our community through grit (sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement) is key to our Academy approach in preparing students for success in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. 

Grit is the perseverance and passion to achieve long–term goals. Sometimes grit is referred to as mental toughness. Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that grit is a strong predictor of success and ability to reach one's goals. Duckworth (2017) suggests success is determined by the two-part formula for grit. This is based on passion and perseverance:

Talent x effort = skill

Skill x effort = achievement

To better understand this formula, Duckworth provides the following explanation:

Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them. Therefore, effort makes skill productive. Duckworth suggests, there is no clear answer to the question 'How can we build grit?' The closest approach to a solution, she argues, is Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck's theory of “Growth Mindset" (2017).

For Dweck, grit is the ability to recognise that failure is not a permanent condition, and that our minds are capable of growth and development. Put simply, success is determined by a student's ability to not say “I'm smart" or “I'm not smart" but “I have the ability to learn more".

Studies have found that students are more academically motivated and successful if they believe their intellectual abilities can be developed—a belief called growth mindset—than if they believe that their intellectual abilities are static—a belief called fixed mindset (Dweck, 2000). These two beliefs shape students' interpretations of academic difficulties and affect the way students feel and behave when they encounter an academic challenge (Mueller & Dweck, 1998; Romero, Master, Paunesku, Dweck, & Gross, 2014; Stipek & Gralinski, 1996).

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When students believe their intellectual abilities are fixed and they come across an academic challenge, they are more likely to believe that they have “reached their limit" or that “there's no point" because they “aren't smart enough" to succeed. These beliefs make students feel not worthy and frustrated, and can lead to academic disengagement. In this way, a fixed mindset can lead students to avoid the very strategies that would help them succeed, like asking for help, studying longer, or trying new study strategies.

In contrast, when students have a growth mindset, they are more likely to interpret challenges as temporary and surmountable. This interpretation spares them many of the negative emotions and behaviors that a fixed mindset elicits in response to setbacks. Rather than anxiety and self-doubt, challenging coursework can elicit interest and curiosity. As a consequence, students with a growth mindset are more likely to respond to challenges by engaging in behaviours that help them learn, such as seeking out help, working through problems, and asking questions. Over time, these behaviours compound, and students who have a growth mindset outperform students who hold a fixed mindset on a variety of outcomes (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007; Romero et al., 2014; Stipek & Gralinski, 1996), especially in the face of difficulty (see the diagram below). Students' mindsets about intelligence can influence a host of important academic behaviours, but — like any belief — they are themselves amenable to change. Research indicates that individuals' mindsets about intelligence are shaped through their experiences (Haimovitz & Dweck, 2016; Mueller & Dweck, 1998; Sun, 2015).

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James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, suggests the following steps can assist with our development of grit.

Step 1: Define what grit or mental toughness means for you. It could be…

  • going one month without missing an exercise session
  • delivering your assessment due ahead of schedule for two days in a row
  • calling one friend to catch up every Saturday this month
  • improving your vocabulary in Spanish

Whatever it is, be clear about what you're going after.

Step 2: Build grit with small physical wins.

So often we think that grit is about how we respond to extreme situations, but what about everyday circumstances? Mental toughness is like a muscle. It needs to be worked to grow and develop.

Choose to do the tenth rep when it would be easier to just do nine. Choose to create when it would be easier to consume. Choose to ask the extra question when it would be easier to accept. Choose to accept one percent improvement in maths as a win.

Prove to yourself, in a thousand tiny ways, that you have enough determination to improve and learn.

Step 3: Build strong habits and stop depending on motivation.

Grit is not about getting an incredible dose of inspiration or courage. It is about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions over and over and over again. Mentally tough people do not have to be more courageous, more talented, or more intelligent - just more consistent.

Grit comes down to your habits. It is about doing the things you know you are supposed to do on a more consistent basis. It's about your dedication to daily practice and your ability to stick to a schedule.

During the final week of school for this year, students and teachers will be collaborating in class to further develop an understanding of the behaviours identified at varying levels of effort, behaviour and homework as reported across the year at the Academy. This research-based approach acknowledges that developing students' skills productively through certain impactful behaviours is the way to make the most of their 'smarts'. 

The Guidelines for reporting (Behaviour/ Effort/ Homework) rubric is attached here, which explains the expectations. This rubric has been created in accordance with DET reporting guidelines and in consultation with students, staff and research evidence.

Finally, gritty people do not seek perfection, but instead strive for excellence. Excellence is an attitude, not an end game. The word excellence is derived from the Greek word Arête which is bound with the notion of fulfilment of purpose or function and is closely associated with virtue. It is far more forgiving, allowing and embracing failure and vulnerability on the ongoing quest for improvement. It allows for disappointment, and prioritizes progress over perfection. Like excellence, grit is an attitude.

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Alita Lee
Deputy Principal

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Last reviewed 20 May 2022
Last updated 20 May 2022