Growth Mindset in Classrooms

Creating a growth mindset in classrooms requires that teachers understand how they can influence a student’s mindset with their communication. Teachers are professional communicators, yet they receive virtually no professional communication training. They are taught learning theory and psychology, but the process of communicating with their student at the conscious and unconscious level is ignored. Learning really is about making neurological connections in the brain, which is one of the results of effective communication. You would think education professionals would be more involved in making sure teachers understand how to communicate more effectively with their students.

Let me illustrate with a far too common example. Imagine a high school chemistry teacher who has been teaching for many years and knows that students struggle with one particular unit. The teacher begins the unit by telling students, “We are about to start the most challenging and for many students most difficult unit of the year. It will be vital for you to do all the assignments, even when you find them difficult. You may even want to make sure you come to see me for extra help during study hall. By working hard, and persevering though you can get through this unit without too much added stress and difficulty.”

The teacher is genuinely concerned for her students and wants them to do well. She is trying to prepare them ahead of time for the challenges she has found students face in this unit. She knows this is not a challenge of her students alone. Numerous colleagues all say the same thing about this unit. Unfortunately, her speech is communicating the wrong message to her students. It is not communicating to develop a growth mindset in classrooms.

Creating a growth mindset in classrooms, a teacher must become a master of the Law of Requisite Variety.

Growth mindset in classrooms: the Power of Language

Words have meaning. Words have meaning beyond the connotation and denotation. The actual structure of the sentence provides meaning as well. Beyond that, the body language and auditory cues of the person delivering the message impact meaning. Those meanings go beyond the relationship basics that good teachers have and use. 

Teachers are taught how to design and present lessons to impart knowledge and train students to think. Obviously, students need to learn reading, writing, mathematical and scientific thinking, reasoning, as well as core social studies knowledge. If you have spent any time at all in this site, you also know that I believe far more emphasis should be provided in training students’ mindset, in particular, building a growth mindset, or a mindset of a champion. Teachers can help students attain a growth mindset in classrooms through the use of their communication including their spoken and written language.

Let’s look at how the chemistry teacher should have used her language to influence a growth mindset in classrooms. She could have said,

“We are about to begin a new unit. I can’t tell you that this unit will be easy, or that you will be excited to embrace the challenge of learning this material. What I can tell you is those students who decide to, and you all can decide to, embrace the challenge, and become excited to learn what some people say is not easy material. Just know that doing all the assignments and asking questions will cause you to do better, maybe even better than you think you can, and you all know you can… do better. I am here to help, and really love embracing this challenge and seeing my students choose to persevere when they come to the parts they find the least easy to do.”


This latter opening speech uses the structure of the language to communicate important growth mindset ideas – embrace challenges, and believe they can do better. There are numerous other suggestions being communicated to students that are the exact opposite of what was being communicated in the former opening despite the core meaning being the same – this is a hard unit. That is how a teacher can impart a growth mindset in classrooms.

Growth Mindset in Classrooms and
the Law of Requisite Variety.

Whether it is trying to instill a growth mindset in classrooms, the more complete mindset of a champion, or simply trying to help a child learn, a teacher’s (or even a parent, or coach’s) ability to master the Law of Requisite Variety is invaluable. The Law of Requisite Variety states “the system or person with the most flexibility of behavior will control the system.” In the system of education or the classroom learning system, if the teacher and or the instructional system they use is more flexible than the students within the system or individually that teacher and or instructional system will be in control.

Simply put, the more flexible a teacher can be in his or her own behavior the greater the results he or she will get. That can mean moving outside his or her comfort zone and taking risks. Unfortunately, public school systems in particular, and educational systems in general do not encourage risk taking. Risk taking can be willing to do the unexpected to interrupt negative patterns of thinking or behavior. Helping students by using non-verbal and verbal communication to interrupt ineffective behavioral responses to frustration and helping students try new patterns of behavior or thinking is yet another way of communicating a growth mindset in classrooms. 

Teachers need to understand how to use powerful tools such as anchoring, reframing, breathing, and mindfulness to help students build that growth mindset in classrooms. Anchoring and reframing can go hand in hand. For example, think of a middle school teacher who as the following system established in the classroom.

When a student feels frustrated in the work they are doing, he or she gets up out of his or her seat and rings a bell and says in front of the class,

“I am frustrated which means I am so close to a breakthrough who can help me get my breakthrough?”

Everyone pounds on their desk and cheers and the teacher asks, “what specifically is frustrating you.”

The student responds and another student says they think they can help and proceeds to go work with the classmate. Setting up a system like this requires the teacher stepping out of his or her comfort zone and the students stepping out of theirs. To help, rewards and celebration of handling frustration well, cause students to begin to develop that all important growth mindset in classrooms.

Mastering the Law of Requisite Variety allows teachers to become masters of instilling a growth mindset in classrooms.

Subliminal Messaging, Mantras, and Mindfulness

Educators understand the power of messages on the walls of their classroom. They also are beginning to rediscover the value of mantras and adages. Mindfulness too is beginning to find its way into the classroom. Much more work needs to be done to bring these powerful tools of communicating a growth mindset back into the classroom. Posters with growth mindset in classrooms quotes or adages are very powerful subliminal messaging tools. There are numerous other tools that would fall into that category. Developing regular phrases to use which embed suggestions to

  • embrace challenges,
  • persist in the face of setbacks
  • know effort is a path to mastery
  • believe critiques cause you to learn more, become smarter, and grow
  • realize the success of others are models of possibility, celebrate them because they have given you a road map,

a teacher can dramatically improve their ability to influence the all-important growth mindset in classrooms.

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Advanced Communication Skills for Educators

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