“I Think I CAN!”: The Power of a Growth Mind-set

There is an increasing focus on students’ mental health in Canada’s postsecondary institutions.  I applaud the work institutions like Queen’s University and York University are doing to remove the stigma from talking about mental health and mental illness.  Mental illness is a big domain, spanning anxiety to chronic depression to schizophrenia. I know our postsecondary institutions educate students across this domain but it seems that anxiety is the area that has received the most press recently.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t read about increasing anxiety levels in our high school and postsecondary student population.  All of this got me thinking about how anxiety likely undermines students’ interest in learning. If students are anxious about their future, they may be more likely to view their abilities as something they either have (or don’t have) as opposed to something they can develop through effort and persistence.

In her article, “Mind-sets and Equitable Education,” Dr. Carol Dweck suggests educators (and students) tend to view ability and intelligence in one of two ways: fixed mind-set OR growth mind-set

You’ve heard probably heard a student say, “I’m just not any good at math. It’s not my thing.” This is a textbook response from a student who holds a fixed mind-set. Contrast this statement with one from a student with a growth mind-set, “It takes a lot of practice and determination but I am confident I can learn the material.” The second student’s statement views learning as a journey not simply a destination.

This got me thinking about what we do as postsecondary educators to develop students’ growth mind-sets. As Dr. Dweck shares, how do we teach students that the brain is a muscle that can be trained in ways similar to training our other muscles? Just as our arms gain strength from doing push-ups, our brain grows stronger when it’s stretched, forming new connections between ideas.

One way to improve students’ mental health may be for educators to nurture students’ development of growth mind-sets through intentional messages suggested by Dr. Dweck like, “We value (and praise) taking on challenges, exerting effort, and surmounting obstacles more than we value (and praise) “natural” talent and easy success

By incorporating this and other growth mind-set messages into our work with students, perhaps students will begin to see learning as a journey rather than simply a place where one is pre-destined to arrive. And if we can see learning (like life) as a journey, then maybe the future will not feel so daunting.

I invite you to “leave a comment” sharing how you, your colleagues or your institution develop students’ growth mind-sets.

Submitted by Tricia Seifert


One thought on ““I Think I CAN!”: The Power of a Growth Mind-set

  1. Great article !!! As a Student Success Advisor in Access & Transitions, I work with students who come into the college through the College in Motion team and are deemed at risk. They face many challenges every day and I love the comment that “School is not a place that judges you. It is a place where people help your brain grow new connections”. I use Personality Dimensions workshops to help students understand themselves and others and think of different ways to communicate. When a student discovers their strengths you can see the “lightbulb” go on

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