Unlock Students’ Potential

Posted by Jaime DonallyO

October 19, 2017

Dr. Arau shares ideas on how students can reach their full potential using a specific focus on how both students and adults can be grouped into two categories: Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset.


“Someone with a fixed mindset believes that intelligence, talent, and ability are fixed or static. If you are talented, things come easily to you; if you have to put effort into an endeavor, you must not be talented.

Those with a growth mindset believe that intelligence, talent, and ability can be developed through process, strategies, time, and effort. Growth-mindset students embrace challenges and are excited by the process of learning, whereas fixed-mindset students shy away from challenge because “failure” could expose them as not being smart or talented.”


The success of our students is directly impacted by their attitude. Finding ways to encourage a growth mindset is the first steps towards unlocking our students’ full potential. Here are eight ideas to create a growth mindset classroom.

  1. Sharing Stories
    To help teach the idea of a growth mindset to your students, share stories of people shattering goals set by limitations. For example, in the early ‘50s there was a limitation, or fixed mindset, on how fast humans could run the mile. Roger Bannister was determined to break the 4-minute mile goal, and he did so in May of 1954. He broke the barrier of what was considered an unattainable goal because he used a growth mindset. His achievement inspired others to do the same, and just 46 days later an Australian runner beat Bannisters time, and now it is quite common for runners to finish the mile in under 4 minutes.
  2. Learning How We Learn
    Our brain has the ability to retrain and rewire itself. When we learn something new, we are carving a new pathway that connects neurons in our brain. The more we do that task or challenge, the stronger that connection gets.  Think of the brain as a muscle—the more exercise it gets, the stronger it becomes. With this knowledge, students can physically understand how and why growth mindset is important.
  3. Errors are Growth Opportunities
    To ensure that your course is promoting a growth mindset, students need to know that trust has been established, that they can feel safe taking risks and discovering new things, and that errors are viewed as an opportunity to learn.
  4. Using the Right Language
    Compliments can inadvertently impact students’ mindsets. By labeling a student as smart or extremely talented they may shy away from future challenges for fear of risking their new identity. They don’t want to disappoint or give anyone any reason to think that they are not smart or extremely talented. Instead, focus more on the process the student took to get there. For example, instead of saying “Great job on that assignment. Wow, you are really smart,” try saying “Great job on that assignment. You must have used some really effective strategies.” or “I can tell you must have worked really hard on this.”
  5. The Power of “Yet”
    This notion developed by Dr. Carol Dweck, a well-known researcher in the field of motivation and a Psychology Professor at Stanford, explains how simply adding the word “yet” to a phrase, can change a person’s mindset. For example, if haven’t mastered a skill or achieved a goal, that doesn’t mean you can’t, it just means that you haven’t YET. This short, powerful word is hopeful, and focuses on the journey to come.
  6. Embrace Struggle
    Society today can sometimes create the illusion that the road to success is easy.  In actuality, success is a journey that can take many twists and turns along the way. For example, former NBA basketball star Michael Jordon didn’t make his varsity team as a sophomore, and, while he was upset, he didn’t let that stop him. Instead, he returned to the basketball court and practiced harder. We have to normalize “struggle” as part of the learning process—struggling, and then getting back up.
  7. Reaching, Failing and Reaching Again
    We may in fact learn more from our failures than we do our successes, as persistence and perseverance are how we improve. Reaching, failing, and then reaching again is how our brain grows and forms new connections. In developing a growth mindset, it is the response we have to failures that matters most.
  8. Talent vs. Skill
    Replacing the word “talent” with the word “skill” can have a positive effect on mindsets as well. Skills can be taught and learned. By using the word “skill”, you are automatically recognizing the hard work that has been put in. For example, we may say that our favorite musician is very talented, but that can inadvertently undervalue the hours and hours of practice and sacrifices that they put in to get to where they are today.

This blog post is based off of the Unlocking Potential: The Impact of Mindset on Success module created for Hoonuit by Dr. Matthew Arau. Dr. Arau is an Assistant Professor of Music at Lawrence University.

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