Building a Growth Mindset the Montessori Way

Building a Growth Mindset the Montessori Way
Jemma Lloyd-Helliker

The terms “fixed mindset” vs. “growth mindset” have been recent fixtures in the news, within parenting blogs, and on the playground. These terms, developed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, describe two distinct ways that we perceive our abilities. A “fixed mindset” is a belief that intelligence and abilities are static, incapable of development and improvement, which can cause a person to avoid new challenges or give up easily. In her TedTalk, “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve”, Carol Dweck discusses this mindset, commenting that “instead of luxuriating in the power of ‘yet’”, students are too often “gripped in the tyranny of ‘now.’” Alternatively, a “growth mindset” is the belief that intelligence and abilities are dynamic and can grow with work and effort, leading a person to embrace new challenges and life-long learning. Thanks to the incredible malleability of our brain, the great news is that everyone can develop a growth mindset. For our children, a Montessori classroom is a perfect place to start. 

To develop a growth mindset, Dweck describes three key practices: effort, persistence, and embracing challenge. Take a step into any Montessori classroom at any time, and each of these practices can be directly observed. Children are offered a choice of work, and, because of this freedom, put forth the effort to complete the work from start to finish. If the child faces a problem with that task, she can repeat it and persist. Through this repetition, the child comes to learn and move towards mastery in her own time. Also, the child is constantly invited to embrace challenge, as the Montessori materials are arranged in succession of difficulty, growing with the child. Throughout this, the teachers do not offer external judgements; instead, it is the child who drives her own learning. Everything in the classroom—the environment, the materials, and the guides—work together to develop a growth mindset within the child. 

Alongside the work within the classroom, the growth mindset can be cultivated at home, too. Utilize these three practices for incorporating this development outside of school:

1. The word “yet”

You may hear negative phrases like “I can’t do it” or “I’m just not good at this” from your child. By adding the simple, but powerful, word “yet” to those phrases, the child is transformed from the belief of a fixed mindset into one of a growth mindset. The phrases become “I can’t do it yet” or “I’m just not good at this yet”. This subtle change makes a profound difference in the tone of the words. In place of negativity, there is now hope and potential. 

2. Praise effort, not intelligence. 

Your praise is powerful, and children are sensitive to every word. To build a growth mindset in your child, avoid praising intelligence; instead, praise effort. For example, “You’re very smart” could be changed to “Wow, all the effort you’ve spent reading about that subject has really paid off!” This alteration will help your child understand that intelligence is not an inherent quality, but something to develop through effort and perseverance.

3. Let them fail. 

Try teaching your child a new game or sport, and don’t be afraid of failure in the beginning. By practicing over and over again and getting better at the game, she will eventually receive the benefits of a job well done. 

Ultimately, Carol Dweck poses an important question: “Are we raising our children for ‘now’ instead of ‘yet’?” Deliberately choosing words and planning how work is approached ensures that teachers and parents can answer this question in a way that benefits student growth and confidence alike. 

  • growth
  • persistence