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My mantra of the summer:  let’s look at that through a “growth mindset”.

I have to thank my sister for recommending Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck.  As a parent and a teacher, I wish I had come across this book 25 years ago!  Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  This is definitely my WOW book of the summer.  I have already begun to give it out as a gift.

The book’s premise is that we tend to fall into one of two categories in how we view the world and our place in it: with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  The fixed mindset person believes things like talent is innate, and intelligence is pre-determined in an individual.  In contrast, a growth mindset person will believe that with work and effort, talent can develop and intelligence can grow.  Fixed looks at the end product, while Growth doesn’t see an end product, but instead a process to work towards end products.

One key difference in these mindsets is how a person handles the inevitable setbacks or failures in life.  Imagine a fixed mindset person who believes himself to be very bright, inherently smart.  A test grade in the 80s will send this person reeling.  “I’m supposed to be very smart.  If I did that poorly, I must be a failure.”  The simple utterance to a child or student “you’re so smart” sets that person up to fall into a fixed mindset.  Over time, this person will learn to avoid challenges, because they may expose the sad reality that they are not as smart as touted.

How do you praise someone, then, in a growth mindset?  You focus on the hard work and effort that has paid off.  “Wow!  You really worked hard on your math facts, and your test grade shows just how much time you put in!  Great job!”  The lesson learned?  What matters is the effort, not some genetic and unchangeable characteristic.

Another key difference in these mindsets is the realistic expectations you can have for people.  Unfortunately, many teachers believe kids more or less match up to their test scores.  I admit to having believed this too, as a person for whom learning came easier.  But when you switch things up and start to believe that ANYONE can learn, teaching becomes much more dynamic!  My sister, the same one who recommended this book, does not allow her high school math students to say “I suck at math.”  Instead, they have to rephrase that, and say “I used to suck at math.”  Or “I sucked at math last year.”  She believes in the capability of all of her students to learn math, and she is willing to meet them where they are, and get them where they need to go.

In retrospect, I was fortunate to be raised by parents with a growth mindset.  There was a weird genetic mutation confluence in our family, and learning came easy to all 7 of us little Cichellos.  Accolades were piled on throughout our combined elementary and high school education, but our parents never ever muttered anything close to “you’re so smart!”  Instead, they let us know they were proud of the work we had done.  If they knew we had put minimal effort into a project or an exam, they were not very phased by a good grade.  If they had seen us dig in and get some hard work done, praise was extended.  That slight change allowed us all to feel proud of the learning, and not that we were infallible little intellects.  We also saw that effort was what mattered most.

I now also understand that for over 10 years I had the good fortune to work for a boss with a growth mindset.  I need to send that man a personal thank you note.  I bet most of us go through our working years never experiencing a boss with a growth mindset.  Growth minded leaders “start with a belief in human potential and development – both their own and other people’s.  Instead of using the company as a vehicle for their greatness, they use it as an engine of growth – for themselves, the employees, and the company as a whole.” (p. 125)  The result is a work atmosphere that celebrates individuals, allowing them to develop in creative and unexpected ways.  Hierarchy still exists, but matters little.

In what remains of the summer, I will be applying this growth mindset to my own parenting, to my lesson planning for the fall semester, and maybe even to my still developing ability to understand undertones in wine.  Tonight’s selection: 2011 Chakalaka Spice Route red wine from South Africa.  It is a blend of grapes that will challenge the palate.  Worst case scenario: I find no nuances of pepper or berries, but instead remember how we hollered out “BOOM!” before every sip!

BOOM Chakalaka!

About Claire Ziamandanis

Claire Ziamandanis is Professor of Spanish at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Over her 20 years at the college, she has been a champion for study abroad, establishing the first affiliation for Spanish students, and then working with the Study Abroad office to open the doors to students from other majors. Claire loves travel, food, wine and Spanish but not necessarily in that order!


  1. I LOVE this post!!! Woo Hoo!!!

    I’m glad that you loved the book. I really think it could change the look and feel of education if more teachers and parents understood about the implications of having a fixed or a growth mindset, and knew how to have an impact on the mindset of others.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for giving the book to others!


  2. A terrific post!

  3. The “growth” vs “fixed” mindset idea is really important, especially to those who teach. I stress to my Drawing 1 students that drawing is a learned skill that takes a lot of practice. But the notion that art is a product of inborn talent and divine inspiration (never mind that artists are nutty!) is very deeply set in our culture. I’m sure many reading this comment feel that they can’t draw, period. Claire, I think you’re not fully free of the fixed mindset either: “as a person for whom learning came easier…. There was a weird mutation confluence in our family, and learning came easy to all 7 of us little Cichellos.” Well, aren’t you a smart bunch!

    • Claire Ziamandanis

      We were a scary bunch, Scott, but not driven to academic success at home. It just happened. Accolades from teachers did set us up to be in the fixed mindset, but they were balanced at home with a certain nonchalance. Maybe I should say that learning did not come easier, but test taking did? Or book learning came easier? Less effort was needed to achieve high test scores.

    • There was no pressure to be a super student in the Cichello house. (We all may have wanted to be on top of the heap within the sibling power scuffles, but that’s probably another post… or ten!) In our family, we were expected to do what was expected, and doing our school work was one of those expectations. In retrospect, Mom’s and Dad’s nonchalance was a blessing to us, in that we did not have the pressure that some kids are put under to get high grades all the time. On a related note, I do remember Mom saying, “When you go to college…” which created the expectation that we would all go to college.

      Concerning Scott’s comment: We’re all somewhere on a continuum between a fixed and a growth mindset, and it’s surprising how easy it can be to move a person in one direction or the other on that continuum. Some types of learning DO initially come easier to some people, so it can be easy to develop more of a fixed mindset when in that easy learning mode. Eventually we will all “hit a wall”, and this is when a growth mindset can be much more helpful.

      I hit the wall in college. Even though I grew up in the aforementioned Cichello household, I had internalized more of a fixed mindset about my intelligence by the end of high school, which did not serve me well in college. I think it would have made a world of difference in my mindset if my high school teachers had said to me, “When you get to ____, you may find yourself really confused at times. That’s okay. Everyone needs help at some point. Get help from your professors. They like it when you to come for help.” Instead, I got, “You’ll do great!”, “Hey, I heard that ____’s lacrosse team is all messed up. No doubt you’ll be able to straighten them out!” (I didn’t even play lacrosse.) and “Watch out, ___! Here she comes!” My teachers were expressing their total confidence in me as I headed off to a very challenging college, but in retrospect those comments made me conclude that even though I expected to work hard, I shouldn’t expect to struggle.

      As a teacher, I keep “younger Teresa” in mind as I talk to my students and more recently I’ve talked to them about fixed and growth mindsets.

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