Growth Mindsets and Mental Health Part II: The How-To of Interventions and Developing Growth Mindset

By Whitney Becker, CEI Intern


This is Part II in a Growth Mindsets and Mental Health Series. View Part I here.


Growth mindsets of emotions and people can be fostered in multiple ways within the classroom setting. This article focuses on how growth mindset interventions are implemented. Although you may not be able to employ a growth mindset intervention program, you can teach students to develop a growth mindset. Below are some tips and ways to get started.


Promoting Change


Why are growth mindsets so effective? One reason is that growth mindsets focus on the changeable nature of our thoughts and feelings. Emphasizing the message that our thoughts and feelings can—and do—change helps relay to students that even if they may be feeling a certain way or having certain thoughts now, those thoughts and feelings are temporary. This can be especially helpful now, when students are experiencing changes in routine and, in some cases, social isolation as a result of the pandemic. It can help students change the narrative from “something is wrong with me” to “something is wrong with this situation, but it can get better.” Activities that teach about how the brain makes connections when you learn new things, try new strategies, and participate in new experiences can be an effective tool for changing the narrative.

School Environment


You can extend this idea by emphasizing that people and emotions can change. You aren’t stuck being one kind of person and your emotions can change, too. Integrating examples of how people can change, such as the story of Malala and having real-life discussions can help foster this understanding. Do you use books in your classroom or school that show how characters change over time? Maybe you use math warm-ups and can have students track how they grow and change over time and how they feel about themselves. In science, lessons and labs can illustrate how the scientific process requires many iterations. Talking about working through emotions during collaboration and how people change as a result of the process is important. All of these are vehicles for teaching students that people and emotions can change.


Finally, emphasizing students’ ability to create change and employ coping skills sends the message that the brain is constantly making new connections and changing. This can help facilitate the idea that everyone’s brain is a “work in progress.” In other words, people can always create change by making new connections in the brain through coping skills, new experiences, and other strategies such as seeking advice and problem-solving. The more you practice, the stronger the connection grows and the easier the process becomes. So, those new feelings and experiences are opportunities to make change. If you think of emotions as signals, they can help direct people toward a change. Encourage students to reflect on why they may be feeling a certain way and how coping skills and other strategies can help them make a change.


Approach


Research suggests that indirect approaches are more effective (Yeager, 2011). When students are asked to help or to give advice and do not feel as though they are the target of the intervention, the intervention becomes more effective (Yeager, 2011). For example, asking students to write a response to a short scenario where they give advice to someone else in their grade who faces a challenging situation can help facilitate the “saying-is-believing” effect (Hausman, 2008). You may ask students to say how they would feel if their friends started acting differently after returning from virtual learning. Then, you may follow up with a question asking students to give advice to other students who experienced the same problem with their friends. In their answer, you may ask them to emphasize what they know about the brain and how people change/emotions change in their answer. In other words, asking students to say how they would feel and give advice helps them to remember, internalize, and believe it! If you don’t have access to a growth mindset intervention, this can be employed using some of the activities above.

Another effective approach is focusing on the process, not the product. By emphasizing that change doesn’t happen overnight, students can come to understand that, much like their progress in a course, emotions and personality changes are a process that happen over time. Using messages that promote that learning is a process that allows students to learn new skills and try new things. It can also teach them that people struggle for reasons that have nothing to do with innate abilities.

Finally, teach students to view challenges as learning opportunities. By teaching students to view challenges as learning opportunities, students learn that challenges happen in the pursuit of any goal. They learn to view challenges as a way to learn new skills and strategies, along with coping skills that help them to manage their emotions.

School Environment


When implementing growth mindset interventions, it is important to keep in mind that the school environment matters. In order for these interventions to work, the school environment must reflect those beliefs and educators must also adhere to those beliefs (Walton & Yeager, 2020). Furthermore, the messages from the intervention are critical and need to result in a change in how students think and feel about school and their identity in school (Yeager, 2011). For example, one study found that learning performance only improved when the student received a note from their teacher as well, stating the importance of working hard at learning (Reeves et al., 2019).

While there is no denying we are in the midst of a very challenging time, growth mindset interventions can be a tool to help students navigate those challenges. Growth mindset interventions enhance motivation and achievement, and teach students strategies and tools that result in beneficial mental health changes. As educators, we know the importance of having multiple tools in our toolbox. Growth mindset interventions are just one of those tools! Growth mindset interventions, along with other social emotional learning techniques, can work together to produce powerful outcomes for your students.

Are you looking for more specific ideas on messages and coping strategies to help promote growth mindsets in your school? The next blog in the series will focus on messages and strategies to promote growth mindsets.


References


Burnette, J. L., Russell, M. V., Hoyt, C. L., Orvidas, K., & Widman, L. (2018). An online growth mindset intervention in a sample of rural adolescent girls. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 88(3), 428-445.

Calvete, E., Fernández-Gonzalez, L., Orue, I., Echezarraga, A., Royuela-Colomer, E., Cortazar, N., Muga, J., Longa, M., & Yeager, D. S. (2019). The effect of an intervention teaching adolescents that people can change on depressive symptoms, cognitive schemas, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis hormones. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 47(9), 1533-1546.

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Essays in social psychology. Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Psychology Press.

Gearhart, S. (2021, January 1). Phineas Gage. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Hausmann, L. R. M., Levine, J. M., & Tory Higgins, E. (2008). Communication and group perception: Extending the `Saying is believing' effect. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 11(4), 539-554.

Miu, A. S., & Yeager, D. S. (2015). Preventing symptoms of depression by teaching adolescents that people can change: Effects of a brief incremental theory of personality intervention at 9-month follow-up. Clinical Psychological Science, 3, 726–743.

Reeves, S. L., Henderson, M. D., Cohen, G. L., Steingut, R. R., Hirschi, Q., Yeager, D. S. (2019). Subtle differences in teacher language activate the effects of a purpose for learning intervention. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Schleider, J. L., & Weisz, J. R. (2016). Reducing risk for anxiety and depression in adolescents: Effects of a single-session intervention teaching that personality can change. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 87, 170-181.

Schleider, J., & Weisz, J. (2018). A single‐session growth mindset intervention for adolescent anxiety and depression: 9‐month outcomes of a randomized trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 59(2), 160-170.

Schleider, J. L., Abel, M. R., & Weisz, J. R. (2019). Do immediate gains predict long-term symptom change? findings from a randomized trial of a single-session intervention for youth anxiety and depression. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 50(5), 868-881.

Schleider, J. L., Burnette, J. L., Widman, L., Hoyt, C., & Prinstein, M. J. (2020). Randomized trial of a single-session growth mind-set intervention for rural adolescents' internalizing and externalizing problems. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 49(5), 660-672.

Sisk, V. F., Burgoyne, A. P., Sun, J., Butler, J. L., & Macnamara, B. N. (2018). To what extent and under which circumstances are growth mind-sets important to academic achievement? two meta-analyses. Psychological Science, 29(4), 549-571.

Walton, G. M., & Yeager, D. S. (2020). Seed and soil: Psychological affordances in contexts help to explain where wise interventions succeed or fail. Current Directions in Psychological Science: A Journal of the American Psychological Society, 29(3), 219-226.

Yeager, D. S., & Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They're not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 267-301.

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