Wednesday / May 29

7 Reasons School Leaders Need a Growth Mindset

7 Reasons School Leaders Need a Growth Mindset

The power of a growth mindset can transform teaching and learning, but it also is critical for school leaders. A growth mindset is not exclusive to teachers, students, and parents. In fact, school leaders with a growth mindset empower the school and provide rich and sustaining learning opportunities for students and teachers. I believe there are 7 Reasons School Leaders Need a Growth Mindset. Our students deserve school leaders who model, believe, and promote a growth mindset.

  1. Hiring – Perhaps one of the most important jobs of a school leader is to hire teachers and staff members that have a growth mindset. The influence of a teacher can impact a school for close to thirty years; this is why it is mission critical for school leaders to select teachers who are ingrained with a growth mindset. Here are some tips to help identify a candidate’s growth mindset:
    1. Ask them about a challenge they had and how they overcame it
    2. Have them talk about one of their own failures and how they confronted the failure
    3. Ask them about their views on struggle, grit, resilience, and praise
    4. Ask them to show you how they praise a student in their class
  1. Professional Development – Students aren’t the only ones that need to have a growth mindset with their learning. Teachers and School Leaders are to model growth mindset in their own professional development. As the School Leader, plan for professional development that focuses on a growth mindset. Challenge one’s self perceptions on their own ability and encourage productive struggle, grit, and resilience. Lead a book study, share a podcast, or examine research on growth mindset together with teachers.
  1. Evaluations – When school leaders demonstrate a growth mindset during the evaluation process, true progress is made. Whether it be the difficult conversations about a teacher’s mediocre performance, a walkthrough observation that missed the mark, or a lesson that went great, school leaders have a responsibility to guide the teacher toward a growth mindset for themselves and their students. Some examples may be to document the praise that’s going on in the classroom, identify the amount of productive struggle, or to note how the teacher is promoting a growth mindset with their students.
  1. Learning Conversations – I’m a big believer that one of the best things a school leader can do is to have constant learning conversations with students, teachers, and parents. These conversations are targeted toward talking about student learning and to identify student, teacher, and parent perceptions toward a growth mindset. These conversations can take place in the classroom, hallways, or lunchroom. Be intentional in asking students and teachers about their learning, what they are learning, how challenging it is, and what they do when the face a rigorous task that they are uncertain about.
  1. Parent Partnerships – Many parents grew up in schooling that focused on a fixed mindset, where they were praised for what they were good at rather than the handwork to overcome an obstacle. In turn, a growth mindset may be new to many parents and a struggle for them to understand the skills needed to support a growth mindset. I find this to be true of many parents who have high achieving children because these students are often praised for what they are good at rather than their resilience or grit when facing a struggle. This is why school leaders need to provide regular communications to parents sharing examples and the meaning of a growth mindset. Provide parent workshops on how a growth mindset strengthens a child’s ability to learn and excel in the classroom. Ask teachers and students to share testimonies on how a growth mindset has supported their learning.
  1. Leadership Decisions – School leaders make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions everyday. When a school leader makes decisions with a growth mindset, students and teachers are more likely to flourish and grow. These decisions can be around course selection, budgeting, academic placement, interventions for students, etc. For example, a few months ago, I had a student request to drop a course because he wasn’t earning the grade he wanted. The student struggled with a course that was rigorous and instead of working through the struggle, he wanted out. I met with the student and his parents to encourage him to work through the problem and to not give up. I scheduled meetings with him weekly where we reviewed his grades, contacted his parents to give them a grade update, and to encourage him to do his best and to work hard. I am pleased to share that his grade in the course increased dramatically, and he now has a B in the course. Hard work does pay off!
  1. Positive Self Talk – I recently heard Corwin author and educator Cathy Lassiter share about the importance of positive self talk. I know firsthand as a school leader myself, that we can become engrossed in negative self talk conversations surrounding our fears, struggles, and obstacles. Cathy shared that on average, 95% of a school leader’s self talk is negative. In her book, Everyday Courage for School Leaders, she talks about how we need to transition to positive self talk. This relates directly to a growth mindset; we need to be talking ourselves through the struggles, obstacles, and worries of our most hectic duties. When we transition our self talk into a focus on growth mindset, our confidence, actions, and leadership is strengthened and grows.

As a school leader, I ask you to consider how you can have more of a growth mindset in your leadership. I constantly self reflect on how I need to strengthen my leadership and am regularly reminded of ways that a stronger growth mindset is needed with what I do. To truly transform learning, school leaders need to model, practice, and promote growth mindset with the entire learning community. This won’t be easy, but it is worth it. Or, should I say: Our students are worth it–they deserve our best!

Written by

Dr. Bill Ziegler is a high school principal, the 2016-17 Pennsylvania Principal of the Year, and a 2015 National Association of Secondary School Principals Digital Principal Award Winner.  Bill is an author and educational consultant with Corwin on School Leadership.  He also served as the President of the PA Principals Association and is an adjunct professor in Temple University’s Department of Education. 

Twitter: @drbillzieglerWebsite:


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