Six behaviours teachers should praise to help pupils build a growth mindset

Six behaviours teachers should praise to help pupils build a growth mindset

Byline: Bradley Busch

Ask someone about growth mindset, and the majority of people will be able to tell you that it is different from a fixed mindset. We've blogged previously about the best way to capture people's attention and desire for developing their mindset, as well as why it's best not to overstate the benefits. But what people really want to know now is how to develop a growth mindset.

There is still a lot of debate about how best to help someone develop a growth mindset.Carol Dweck stated that teaching people that their brain can change is a good starting point, and warned against praising a child's natural ability or intelligence as this can lead to a fixed mindset.

The problem is a lot of the research only measures short term impact, though a recent study suggests that online programmes can deliver mindset interventions that are scalable across schools. As more research is conducted, we will no doubt learn the most effective ways to facilitate a growth mindset. In the meantime, here are six behaviours that we think might be worth praising to get towards that growth mindset:



Praising effort has been shown to have a long lasting impact developing a growth mindset. In one study, children aged 2-3 who were praised for their effort were more likely to have a growth mindset five years later. Furthermore, this type of praise has been demonstrated to enhance someone's intrinsic motivation. By focusing on the processes and effort that allow people to be successful, you give them a template to replicate next time.


In a recent interview, Dweck said: "Telling kids to try harder isn't enough to promote a growth mindset." One strategy that could work is advising them to ask metacognitive questions, such as "What could I do differently?" This helps children reflect on how they have done – successful or not – and avoid the trap of working hard but repeating the same mistakes.


In 1975 a psychologist in America studied how primary school students viewed an upcoming test. This was the basis of some of Dweck's early research. In 2002 a further research shed some more light on this. Some students viewed the test as a chance to test how much they had learnt – these pupils were called "task-oriented". Others viewed it as an opportunity to compare themselves with their classmates – they were said to have an "ego-orientation". Task orientation has since been associated with better motivation, confidence, self-regulation, academic performance and reduced anxiety. Although this is probably common sense, where possible, teachers should try to foster a mindset that is focused on learning, development and improvement, and not on outscoring a classmate.

Praise a request for feedback

People with a growth mindset seek out and value feedback more than those with a fixed mindset. One possible reason for this is that those with a growth mindset see new events as an opportunity to learn new things, develop and challenge themselves; those with a fixed mindset see them as a test (and therefore judgement) of their ability. As well as giving someone feedback, the behaviour that should be praised is their seeking out this feedback. This will lead to them asking for feedback again in the future, which is a positive response to success or failure. 

Choose difficult tasks

People with a fixed mindset equate making mistakes with having low levels of ability, which can lead to them playing too safe. Over time, this leads to worse performance. Mistakes happen – they are inevitable, learning is messy and never straight-forward. We think encouraging someone to choose difficult tasks and stretch themselves will help them develop their growth mindset. This could also develop a sense of courage and curiosity – important life skills that extend beyond just getting good grades or playing sport better. 

Set high standards

In a fascinating study of knowing your limits, researchers asked participants to cycle as hard as they could for 4000m. Later, participants were given the same instructions but were able to race against an avatar of their previous ride. What they didn't know was that the avatar was actually going faster than their previous ride. The result? The participants rode alongside their avatar, riding significantly further than their previous maximal efforts. The implication is that people are poor predictors of their best efforts and, when pushed, may surpass their own expectations. 

Keep an eye on persistence

The ability to persist and overcome setbacks is a key life skill. Many Olympic champions have developed this and say it is a key part of their success. Research indicates that those with a growth mindset persist for longer. Research in America on "grit" (the definition for grit is long-term perseverance and passion towards a singular goal) is in its early stages, but has been linked to success in school, university, military training and life in general. We think this will be an interesting area of research to keep an eye on over the coming years.

This blog originally ran on the InnerDrive blog here. If you want to learn more about developing a growth mindset culture in your classroom and school, you may be interested in their Growth Mindset CPD or Advanced Growth Mindset CPD.

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