Kohn, Dweck, and Growth Mindset: Are There Different Emerging Usages of the Term?

search search-1In his latest article in Salon, big edu-thinker and always provocative Alfie Kohn takes on one of the icons of K-12 learning, Carol Dweck and her catechism of “growth mindset”.  As I tweeted, I would pay good money to attend a debate between these two!  My thoughts are not at their level of theory, but more like notes from the field.

Kohn focuses his comments (attack might not be too strong a word) on the culture and impacts of praising students.  I tend to agree with most of his arguments, in particular when he links the roots of praise for “hard work and trying” to the findings on “grit” from Angela Duckworth and others.  These have strong overtones when applied across the board, particularly to underserved students, as was discussed extensively on this blog more than a year ago.

I don’t have the research chops to weigh in on the merit of studies conducted and/or reviewed by people of the stature of Kohn and Dweck. But I do get around to a LOT of schools, and I hear the term “growth mindset” used much more today in the context of adults than students.

I think there is a very different meaning to this term within the context of school innovation and change. “Growth mindset” amongst adults is a term, rightly or wrongly, that has come to refer to the willingness of adult stakeholders to entertain and embrace the possibility and process of change.  In THIS context, I find it very hard to argue that “growth mindset” is a bad thing. I don’t see it necessarily linked to praise in absence of progress or performance. It is just an indication of personal and organizational “change DNA”.

This may be “Dweck light” or a misreading of her work, but it has become common usage. Before we throw out the concept, let’s save this portion, or re-name it to something more appropriate, because without this willingness to challenge ourselves, to “grow” personally and professionally, by a range of measures, school innovation is DOA.

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