Fostering a Growth Mindset in the Classroom

Kelly OrsmbyKelly Ormsby, Associate Professor, English Department
Stephanie WebbStephanie Webb, Assistant Professor/Assistant Chair, English Department

Another academic year is starting, and many of us are already thinking about ways that we can more effectively engage our students this semester. We’ve all heard the terms Academic/Growth Mindset used in the past few years, but many of us are unsure of how they exist at the level of practice inside the classroom. The answer is perhaps easier than it might seem. In fact, most of us are already utilizing teaching techniques that bolster a growth mindset. We find it helpful to organize mindset work around three touchstones that help us become more intentional in our practices: Belonging, Purpose, and Capability. Read on to see how your classroom approaches fit this framework—or what you might add to your own toolkit to boost student success.


You may recall that belonging is the third tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy, just above safety and basic physiological needs. (No wonder it is an important part of our new QEP!) Underrepresented populations, first-generation college students, and returning adults can feel especially isolated. So how do we help all of our students feel like they belong in what may seem like a completely unfamiliar landscape?

  • Take time for team building, starting with the first day.
  • Look at class from a student perspective; empathize with fears.
  • Incorporate examples/readings that reflect all of your students.
  • Use frequent surveys and short writing exercises to take the class pulse and address concerns.
  • Invite campus and community representatives into the classroom to build a network of support. be sure they also reflect your students so they can see themselves in these future roles.
  • Encourage engagement outside of class through club participation, service-learning, and other opportunities to plug in while developing skills.


While the connections between our individual course learning objectives and students’ future goals may seem obvious to us, many of our students do not see the correlation and some wonder why they’re in college at all. How do we increase motivation and persistence?  Helping students to clarify their purpose and placing obtainable goals in front of them regularly can make a big difference.

  • Get to know the students and their goals.
  • Utilize students’ prior knowledge and discuss connections to their current courses
  • Use the NACE career readiness competencies to connect course goals to students’ individual goals.
  • Talk about course learning outcomes within the contexts of our personal and professional lives.
  • Use the TILT Model of assignment design to increase motivation and learning.
  • Build in opportunities for reflection, such as requiring that they respond to graded work to assess their own learning and study habits and to set future goals, connecting assignments to progress.


Brene’ Brown and others have deepened our understanding of the power of our internal stories. For many of our students, their school narrative is full of fear and doubt. How do we help them persist on the long and difficult road to our course learning outcomes, or keep them from giving up before they have really started? We can begin by remembering how overwhelming the first week can feel for students. While we are focused on preparing syllabi, covering course policies, and jumping into content, students may be feeling more overwhelmed with each class they attend for the first time, looking at all the work ahead and wondering how they will possibly succeed. Fostering a growth mindset is not about lowering standards or inflating grades for the sake of effort, but supporting students along the way as they build their skills and helping them identify their own obstacles.

  • Ask them to reflect on past experiences with your discipline to confront fears and build on successes.
  • Emphasize learning as a process to normalize anxiety and struggle—the power of yet;
  • Include reassurance from former students that these feelings and challenges are common (solicit advice from former students and people in the field).
  • Incorporate examples/readings that normalize struggle and encourage resilience, like this video on famous failures.
  • Invite campus and community representatives who reflect your students to come in and share stories from their own educational journeys, or have students attend campus events that accomplish this purpose, and have students connect the stories to their own college progress.

Again, the key here is intentionality. It doesn’t have to be complex, and it doesn’t mean adding an extra layer on to an already overwhelmed schedule. In fact, many of the principles of a growth mindset start with seeing our students exactly where they are and forming a connection with them in whatever way we can. We wish you the best as you set out on this new semester full of excitement and promise.