Cultivating a Growth Mindset

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

In 2006 psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck published Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck identified two mindsets: fixed mindset and growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to think “I’m either good at something or I’m not,” “I stick to what I know,” and “feedback and criticism are personal.” Their underlying assumption is that their basic qualities, like intelligence and talent, are fixed.

Wellington encourages students to cultivate a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and are willing to try new things. People with this mindset believe that their skills and talents are developed and emerge from sustained effort. Having the confidence that with effort, one can learn to do anything, creates a love of learning, expands curiosity, and provides students the confidence to try new things.

Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. By focusing on helping students cultivate a growth mindset when they face challenges, Wellington is working to fulfill its mission to help students realize their potential.

Early Childhood–

Kathy Yant’s pre-kindergarten class develops their growth mindset through repetition.

For literacy learning, students practice skills like rhyming, listening for beginning sounds, and putting sounds to images regularly. Each day, they say the alphabet. At the beginning of the year, letters tend to run together and are not clearly enunciated. By the end of the year, letters are said clearly and confidently.

To understand numbers, students use an abacus. This ensures students know how to count, but also helps them understand the concept of numbers. By moving the abacus to represent a number, they get a sense of the number’s scale.

To master fine motor skills, students practice drawing, particularly self-portraits and favorite animals. While gripping a marker or brush tends to be challenging on the first day of the school year, by the end of the year, students are adding fine details like tiger stripes, eyelashes, and hairstyles.

All this daily practice builds confidence. When students begin to doubt themselves, Yant reminds them of how much they’ve learned. She also keeps portfolios of students’ work, so they have evidence of how much their practice pays off. Success – from writing their name for the first time to drawing a cat – is celebrated with raising the roof.

Lower School–

After reading Dweck’s Mindset, Erica Foster P ’32 immediately knew she wanted to incorporate Dweck’s research into her classroom. The first year she incorporated this framework, she hung a flowchart on the wall where she could see it. That same chart still hangs on her wall years later.

As she shifted her language, she approached everything differently from student disputes to handing back tests. Her approach focuses on embracing the process of learning and she regularly reminds students that asking questions and persisting through challenges is what a growth mindset is all about. This is what cool looks like in Ms. Foster land.

When students are afraid to fail, they can become disengaged, anxious, or angry. When two students sat back and hesitated to participate, Foster put them in a group together to learn coding. They took their fear and frustration out on one another, which led to arguments. Foster asked them to embrace new behaviors. She suggested the pair take a breath and encourage their partner when they encountered moments of difficulty. Having a growth mindset doesn’t mean ignoring that learning new skills can be difficult, but rather saying, “This is hard but I will persist.” As the two began encouraging each other, they also began to compliment one another.

Foster is passionate about incorporating a growth mindset into math, which Dr. Jo Boaler, a professor of education at Stanford University, argues is a subject largely taught using a fixed mindset. Foster encourages students to tackle open-ended problems that require creativity to solve. Using rich problems, visuals, models, and manipulatives, students make connections, dig deep, and explore.

Middle School–

Middle school counselor Emily Crema applies growth mindset in her advisory. She emphasizes reframing students’ negative thoughts because they turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When students feel like they always fail or they’ll never understand math, they are less motivated to try. She asks them to record their anxious or negative thoughts in a template of a head with a thought bubble. They then help one another reframe those negative thoughts. This exercise is powerful because they not only learn to reframe their own thoughts but assist others in reframing theirs.

In Crema’s Executive Functioning Skills DIVE, she helps each student set individual goals. For students who struggle with organization, she helps solidify language about being organized. She might encourage a student to think, “I don’t enjoy organizing my materials but I can be an organized person.” When she talks to students about studying, they tend to say things like “I always fail.” Crema encourages them to think of grades as feedback that can indicate what a student needs to work on.


While working in the lower school, Laura Trubilowicz P ’27 ’30 ’34 learned about growth mindset from lower school teacher Erica Foster. It changed how she teaches and coaches students in moments of learning.

Trubilowicz became a teacher so she could be the teacher she always wanted – one who was supportive, aware of social, emotional, and learning challenges, and understood that learning is a challenging process. In her advisory, she stresses positive self-talk, a skill students can use their entire lives. Instead of focusing on thoughts of “I can’t” or “this never works,” she uses “yet” – “I don’t understand this equation yet.”

She recognizes that middle school is often a time of self-hatred and self-judgment. She believes that is never too often or too early to give students the ability to coach themselves through arduous tasks. While lower school is a time to teach students the language and behaviors of growth mindset, middle school is the time to allow students to see the fruit of this mindset and their labor. It’s their time to truly believe they are capable.

Upper School–

Zin Min P ’29 and Wishmith Samaranayake ’24 bonded over a shared love of horticulture. Min was hydroponically growing plants on campus, which Samaranayake noticed. He began asking questions about hydroponics due to his interest in traditional gardening. Min suggested he participate in Growing Beyond Earth, a citizen science project operated by a partnership between NASA and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The program is designed to advance NASA research on growing plants in space.

Samaranayake undertook the project alone, planting the seeds in a growth medium, measuring variables like humidity and changes in mass, and submitting the data. Thanks to him continually expressing his interest, he helped spur a hydroponics course and sustainability club.

Gardening in any form is not always easy. Gardners learn from their mistakes, whether that’s too much or too little water or a lack of sunlight. Samaranayake is a true gardener and embodiment of a growth mindset. When faced with a setback, he asks more questions so that next time his plants grow successfully.


In Foundations of Physical and Biological Sciences with Keith Klingler P ’23, Bella Rish ’24 has shown extraordinary desire to grow. When faced with difficult test questions, Rish is the first to ask questions so she can truly understand the answer. Klingler describes her as a student “hungry to learn and someone who wants to be challenged and grapple with material.” Unafraid of challenges and willing to learn from mistakes, Rish shows a growth mindset in her desire to learn.

When asked why she likes Wellington, Rish answered that Wellington “teaches you for real-world experiences and prepares you for college.” Students have confidence to try and push themselves when they feel supported and welcome. “ Wellington, I feel like I belong,” Rish said. “The community is so welcoming and just an overall safe environment to be in.”


Life will always be full of moments of challenge and opportunities to learn and improve. Determining how we want to face those moments expresses our mindset. At Wellington, students are encouraged to practice a growth mindset to help them embrace any challenge they meet at school or in the future.