Encouraging Creativity with a Growth Mindset

Packed house at #edcampbos opening session

I found myself thinking a lot about what schools are doing and what they should be doing to prepare students for their lives after formal education while attending EdCamp Boston this past weekend. During a session where Katrina Kennett and her students were sharing about how they create a learning environment based off the EdCamp model1 I found myself wondering what it was like for Katrina's students to hear their teacher discussing how she designed the system and has addressed specific issues.

My mind wandered back to a discussion at an earlier session discussing ways the training/education of pre-service teachers could be improved. During that conversation the idea of encouraging pre-service teachers to employ a "growth mindset2" came up- mainly because we thought a growth mindset was something we desired for our students and as a result it's something desirable for teachers so they can encourage it in their students.

Teaching students to be resilient, creative, and independent thinkers is hard. It's not something that can be done with a "good" textbook or curriculum and is essentially impossible to assess using the current regime of standardized testing. It's not simply about having students take lots fine arts classes (though that's not a bad thing)- it's something that should be an integral part of the school culture. But how do you do that?

Personally, I think we should model it for our students in our classrooms. When Katrina was discussing how she designed and implemented EdCafés in front of her students, they were able to get a behind the scenes view of how she addresses problems that come up and how the process was changed and tweaked over time. This behind the scenes view of the teaching process can model how problems and failures can be jumping off points to future success. Often classrooms are places where both teachers and students are afraid of failing. Instead we need to model how failures today can lead to some of the best learning opportunities tomorrow. I've heard it said that the biggest challenge for science graduate students is the transition from undergrad- where information is taught like we know everything- to research- where the best place to work is in the unknown3.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'
-Isaac Asimov

In today's manic "Ed Reform" environment, there's plenty of talk about preparing kids for the future. But the future is uncertain and what knowledge they'll need in the future is uncertain. What we do know is that students will need to be flexible. They'll need to be able to adapt and change to new situations. While a good background of knowledge in science, math, history, etc. is important, it's more important we help students lose their fear of failure and help them learn how to be resilient. These are things I'd like schools to be doing explicitly.


  1. It was a good session- largely (for me) because students led the discussion most of the time modeling how the EdCafé system works in the classroom. It was nice example of good professional development design. If you're interested, you can read about EdCafés at the EdCafé posterous. (back)
  2. What is a growth mindset? "In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment." via Mindset Online For (much) more, check out John Burk's numerous posts on encouraging a growth mindset in his students. (back)
  3. I can't remember where I heard this. If you know drop me a line and I'll update it. (back)