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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kristen Mattson

The Growth Mindset & Professional Development: Six Tips for Instructional Leaders

This reflection was originally written for a doctoral course I am taking called “Professional Learning in Education,” but I thought some of you may also be interested in reading it.

The Growth Mindset & Professional Development: Six Tips for Instructional Leaders

Education has been abuzz about cultivating a growth mindset in students thanks to the writings of Carol Dweck and her colleagues. The benefits of a growth mindset, however, are not solely reserved for children. Teachers who believe in a growth mindset for their students are more likely to acknowledge that their own skillsets are constantly growing and developing. These same teachers often see innovation and change as an opportunity for growth and a welcome challenge. Educators with a growth mindset are more likely to collaborate with colleagues as well as expend greater effort and persistence in light of challenges. Conversely, teachers who attend to a fixed mindset are more likely to perceive new innovations as intimidating, give up when things get difficult, or dismiss opportunities for professional learning. The findings about growth mindset in educators have important implications for professional learning. A district or building’s efforts to support ongoing professional development will be ineffective unless leaders attend to the efficacy beliefs of their teachers. These internal beliefs about capability, knowledge, and growth actually drive teachers’ motivation to implement new instructional strategies, curriculum, and resources (Tschannen-Moran & Chen, 2014).

Leaders can work to cultivate a growth mindset in a variety of ways. Here are six important points to consider.

  1. Model and support growth. Principals who believe in a growth mindset for both their teachers and students serve as strong role models for lifelong learning. Building leaders can demonstrate the growth mindset by setting personal learning goals and documenting their efforts along way. In the same respect, leaders can facilitate and support goal setting and progress monitoring with their staff.

  2. Expose and celebrate the process. Teachers are often exposed to the successes of others, but are rarely given a true picture of the commitment, trial and error, perseverance, and mistakes it took to get the results. While it is important to celebrate achievements, individuals with a fixed mindset can benefit from exposure to the ups and downs of the process. Providing teachers with “permission” to make mistakes as well as strategies to overcome bumps within the process can help promote a growth mindset.

  3. Let your teachers observe one another. Bandura (1997) claimed that when people have very little experience with an activity, a strong sense of self-efficacy can be evoked by watching others perform the task. Giving teachers this opportunity can be difficult due to the cost of substitute teachers, but there are ways to work around cost. Leaders can start by vocally giving “permission” for teachers to enter one another’s classrooms. Many have the desire, and will often do so during prep periods if given the opportunity. Leaders may also choose to use themselves as substitute teachers, subbing out each person in the building for a predetermined amount of time each semester. Leaders may also consider filming teachers and creating a video library of model teaching within the building.

  4. Pick the right role models. Educational leaders often use successful teachers, teams, or even whole schools and districts as examples of what “can be” in education. For teachers with a fixed mindset, it can be easy to dismiss these role models if they are not chosen carefully. Schunck and Hanson (1989) show that struggling teachers are more likely to have a confidence boost by observing or hearing from a “coping model” over a “mastery model.” A coping model is one who acknowledges the struggles of the process and provides ideas for overcoming them. A mastery model either ignores the mistakes or pretends as though they never happened, attempting to pass off the process as a breeze. An entire school’s collective efficacy can be boosted when shown how a similar school in terms of size, student population, and funding was able to improve student achievement. On the contrary, such success can be easy to dismiss when the role model school is perceived as “having it easier” because of population, achievement, funding, or support.

  5. Provide follow up coaching. Tschannen-Moran and McMaster (2009) found that of four professional development formats presenting the same reading strategies, teachers reported the highest levels of confidence and ability to implement these strategies when follow-up coaching was involved. This support does not necessarily need to come from an instructional coach. The practice feedback, collaboration, and follow-up can come from a building administrator, department chair, or knowledgeable colleague. The role of the coach is not only to help see that initiatives are implemented with fidelity, but also to help teachers recognize how their own learning and growth can impact student achievement.

  6. Keep a pulse on staff morale. Most educators can tell you from experience that positive moods can generate more positive moods while negativity breeds negativity. People often gauge their own self-efficacy as a correlation to their emotional states – excitement, hope, anxiety, or stress. While teachers may comply with mandates and attend trainings regardless of their affect, true change will only happen when people buy in. Leaders can help facilitate professional learning by showing staff how appreciated they are, using encouraging, positive words and phrases, as well as being empathetic to the demands on their time and energy.

While it may be difficult to take teachers from a fixed to a growth mindset overnight, it is important that leaders acknowledge such perceptions of competence within their staff. Without strong efficacy beliefs in themselves and their students, efforts at professional development may be futile. Working to increase the growth mindset in teachers will benefit both staff and students alike.

grow your people


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Schunk, D.H., & Hanson, A.R. (1989). Influence of peer-model attributes on children’s     beliefs and learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 431-434.

Tschannen-Moran, M., & McMaster, P. (2014). Focusing attention on beliefs about capability and knowledge in teachers’ professional development. In Martin, L.E., Kragler, S. Quatroche, D.J., & Bauserman, K.L. (Eds.), Handbook of professional development in education: Successful models and practices, PreK-12 (pp. 246-264). New York: The Guildford Press.

Tschannen-Moran, M., & McMaster, P. (2009). Sources of self-efficacy: Four professional development formats and their relationship to self-efficacy and implementation of a new teaching strategy. Elementary School Journal, 110, 228-248.

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