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Mindset & Motivation, Podcast Articles   |   Jan 3, 2016

How to cultivate a growth mindset to enjoy teaching more

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

How to cultivate a growth mindset to enjoy teaching more

By Angela Watson

Of course I have a growth mindset.

I mean … wait. What does that even look like for a teacher??

Growth mindset — the understanding that intelligence and abilities are not “fixed” but can be developed with dedication and hard work — is a concept first defined by psychologist Carol Dweck. Her research has exploded in popularity, and has trickled down to schools across the nation and beyond as students are taught that they can train their brains to learn anything.

We can all agree that one of the best ways to teach kids to have a growth mindset is to model that thinking ourselves. But as much as we’d like to believe that we’re growth mindset oriented, most of us (myself included!) will likely discover upon reflection that there are old fixed mindset thought patterns that we haven’t quite let go of.

Fortunately, we can examine these self-defeating thoughts and replace them with growth mindset thoughts that are empowering and energizing. See if you can recognize yourself in any of these fixed mindset traps, and practice exercising a growth mindset instead:

1) I can’t admit to students when I was wrong or if I don’t know something because they’ll lose respect for me.

There’s no better way to help students understand that mistakes are an essential part of the learning process than to model that for them! I can create a classroom community in which I learn WITH and FROM students. As the kids watch how I respond to frustrating or embarrassing situations, they’ll learn how to rebound from their own mistakes more quickly and discover what it means to be a lifelong learner.

2) I can’t learn yet another new curriculum (or assessment, or set of standards).

It will be a lot of work to learn a new way of teaching, but I’m resilient and I can do difficult things. I’m ready for this — it isn’t the first time I’ve faced major changes in my job and it won’t be the last. I want my students to face challenges head-on and not be discouraged when they’re overwhelmed, so I’m going to practice and model that same behavior myself.

3) Professional development is always so boring and irrelevant — they never teach us things we actually need to know.

I don’t rely on others to mandate or direct my growth as an educator. I am in charge of my own learning! It’s empowering when I choose to grow in areas I care about and seek out new teaching ideas and best practices. (Plus, Pinterest totally counts as PD.)

4) I wish my students’ parents would stop telling me how to do my job.

I can learn something from every interaction I have with another person. I can choose to disregard the information that’s unhelpful without ignoring the kernel of truth within each piece of feedback. I can choose to look past tone and word choice to see the heart of the message that can help me improve. I can create a relationship with families that encourages them to provide feedback in ways that are constructive, such as through parent surveys. Giving parents a chance to be heard gives me more insight as to how families perceive what’s happening in the classroom so I can continue growing as an educator.


5) That lesson this morning was a complete disaster. My motivation is gone for the day.

I’ll feel even worse if I  give up on myself (and my students) and write off the whole afternoon. Instead, I can choose to put this in perspective: Having a chaotic morning doesn’t mean I’m a bad teacher, and it doesn’t mean my students are hopeless. I can quickly identify what I can do differently next time, and mentally move on with the day. The past is over: Each moment in the present is an opportunity to make a new choice and work toward a better outcome, starting right now.

6) I don’t have time to reflect on my teaching, and it’s not a big deal, anyway.

When I take a moment to think about what I did to make a lesson successful, I have a better understanding of what created that success. This helps me get excellent results again next time, making teaching easier AND more effective! I can create habits and routines that allow me to reflect on my teaching practice … even spending 2 minutes at the end of the day thinking back on everything that went RIGHT (and why) can make a difference in my efficacy.

7) The school year is halfway over; I can’t introduce a new procedure or activity now.

This is actually the perfect time to try something new, because I’ve already established a rapport with this class.  I can have a conversation with the kids about what’s working and what’s not, and together, we can come up with a better plan. It’s never too late to change something that’s become less effective, and my students will benefit if I show them how to continually reflect and improve.

8) Kids these days don’t put any effort into their work and want everything to be easy.

Many of my students struggle in this area, but perseverance and grit can be learned! I can explicitly teach growth mindset strategies to students and help them take charge of their own learning. I can show students how to think critically about what it takes to be successful, push themselves to do their best work, and teach them to believe in their own ability to learn.


9) Some of my students are just unteachable — there’s nothing I can do to reach them.

I choose to believe that every child is capable of growth. I can continue to build a rapport with students and help them make progress, celebrating even the smallest wins to help us all have the motivation to keep pressing forward. I refuse to give up on any child in my class, and I refuse to give up on my own teaching abilities. I believe my work makes a difference, regardless of whether I see results.

10) All we do is test the kids. It’s impossible to enjoy teaching!

I know teachers who are facing these same pressures who still love what they do — I wonder what their secret is? I can learn more about the type of mindset and daily practices that have a positive impact on my energy level and enthusiasm. I can choose to learn about, discuss, and implement strategies that help me enjoy teaching every day … no matter what.

You’ve only failed if you’ve given up. Until then, it’s learning. Click To Tweet

Only had time to skim through the post? Listen on the go!


This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers, which is now back for Season 3! A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new 10-15 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section!

NEW! Beginning with this episode, the podcast player embedded in posts will allow you to download the MP3 file. The audio is also now shareable, so you can post an episode of the podcast right to your Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and so on for your friends or colleagues.

Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go! A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.See blog posts/transcripts for all episodes

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
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  1. This podcast was exactly what I needed to hear on my commute this morning. We’re gearing up for a new group of students (4×4 block scheduling), and I dislike the negativity several of my co-workers espouse about the requirements we have. Hearing the positivity in your podcast always cheers me up. Your first point especially made me smile, because I could never be the teacher who refused to acknowledge mistakes. I think the students respect a teacher more if that teacher is willing to admit to a mistake and correct it gracefully, or allow herself to be corrected by the student if it’s done politely. Your take-away truth also sticks out to me this week. May I put it up on a poster in my classroom and quote you? It’s a message that students, teachers – people – need to be reminded of more frequently.

  2. I listened to my first podcast of yours today while on the treadmill. I did enjoy it. I hope you can listen to a suggestion: the first few minutes was advertising for the blog and the podcast I was already listening to. Since I was running (taking care of myself, yay) I could not really fast forward like I might have done. How about putting the advertising etc at the end? Thanks for your consideration.

    1. Welcome to the podcast! So glad you enjoyed it. This was the first episode of season 3, so after several months off, I needed to take care of some housekeeping issues and updates for long-time listeners and keep them up to date. Later episodes will have a briefer introduction. There are no ads in this season–the information at the beginning is a standard intro, like a theme song for a television show that always plays before the show begins.

  3. Mrs. Watson, I stumbled upon your podcast on Sunday. You suggest listening once per week; its Tuesday and I’ve listened to all of your podcasts…some of them twice! I have airdropped the link to friends and made a co-worker promise me, to listen at her earliest convenience. Thank you so much for your insight! I have been repeating your words and ideas over and over in my head, for days. I never expected to become so enthralled in a podcast….but words are very powerful. Thank you for sewing seeds of uplift, to everyone who hears your voice.

    I have a question, that I hope you can answer:
    I am one of two pre-k teachers at my school. I enjoy decorating my classroom. I spend so much of my time there, that I put just as much effort into decorating my classroom as I did my home! I get lots of joy from being around beautiful things. Without going into too many details….lol…..How do you deal with/work with a colleague who feels pressured to have a room that looks like yours, even though they actually aren’t all that interested in having the “pretty” classroom? I often feel like I should hold back on some of my plans because they may be too elaborate; like maybe she thinks I’m trying to show her up? I really love what I do and I’m so blessed to have an amazing staff and admin. and students to work with and I express that happiness in creativity, in my classroom with my students. I don’t know what to do concerning this issue but I do know that I don’t want to not follow through with my big ideas because of how someone else may feel about them.

    1. Wow, I am so humbled by your kind words. Thank you!

      Your question is a great one. I don’t think you should hold back on doing what you love, but you can downplay it when you talk to your colleague, and keep emphasizing you’re just having fun expressing your creativity. Try to make a concerted effort to recognize her areas of strength so you can compliment them. Keep doing what you do! 🙂

  4. I got your book for Christmas. I love it! It is the change I have been looking for.but did not know how. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  5. I love this! It is so up-lifting. I am working on gathering growth mindset materials for the staff at my school. So many times, we focus on our students having a growth mindset, that we forget about ourselves. Would I be able to put these points on a card ring and distribute to the teachers so they can flip through and have them as a resource when they hit one of these bumps in the road? I would of course include the website to credit the ideas and words back to you.

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