Youth and ‘Growth Mindset’

“Anger Management: Sit and think before you act”

A male student, a senior at Southwest High School in Kansas City, Missouri, was referred to Community Mediation Center (CMC) School Conflict Resolution Specialists Judy Heath and Don Ivans for fighting off school grounds the day before.  An adult, not affiliated with the school, taunted the 18 year old, 6’ 3”, 280 pound student, with a negative comment about his mother, and school security had to step in to stop the fight.  The student told Judy and Don that he was ready to fight again and would not let anyone talk about his family that way.

By the end of the hour long session, the student had changed his mind about fighting, and wrote an agreement with himself, about how he would respond peacefully to bullying behavior from the other individual if it happened again.  Instead of telling the student the consequences of fighting, the CMC facilitators helped him think about what he wanted; his goals for school and his future.  By writing down a plan and signing it, he was making a choice based on his own best interest, and believed his choice would help him succeed.  Instead of telling the student how smart his decision was, they complimented him on his work to figure out a plan to stay safe.

Psychologists identify two different mindsets that affect the way students react, learn and live in the world, a ‘Fixed Mindset’ and a ‘Growth Mindset’.  Students with a fixed mindset, believe intelligence is set at birth, and they are either smart or they are not.  They do not believe their effort contributes to or affects their success.  They think that if they receive a bad grade on a test, it’s because they are not smart, and not because they didn’t study. Students with a growth mindset believe that effort directly relates to results. Instead of becoming discouraged by a bad grade, they are likely to study harder for the next test. These students learn more in school and are more successful overall than students with a fixed mindset.

Studies show that teachers and other adults have influence in changing students’ mindsets from fixed to growth (and from growth to fixed).  Adults can encourage a growth mindset by praising a child’s efforts and choices instead of their innate abilities.  Instead of saying, “You did so well! You are so smart!” say “You did so well! You worked really hard!”  Instead of saying, ”You should do fine on the test—you’re smart!” say “You should do fine—you’ve been studying for a while!” (see reference below)

Focusing on effort instead of innate ability helps move students away from a fixed mindset and towards a growth mindset.  When the CMC facilitators checked back with the student a couple of days later, he reported that he had been successful with his plan and was very happy with the choice he made.  Welcome to the Peace Party!

The information about ‘growth mindset’ was brought to my attention by Mikhala Lantz-Simmons, Project Coordinator, Tolerance Foundation, Montreal, Canada, and sites the article found here


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