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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset in (Early Childhood) Education

Schools talk about ‘growth and fixed mindsets’ often in relation to students learning. A ‘fixed mindset’ assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static or unchangeable. A ‘growth mindset’ thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of being unintelligent but a learning experience for growth and stretching our current abilities.

When we look at these two mindsets from the point of view of our work, teaching, and learning, many of us are stuck in fixed mindsets about what we do. We can also call these fixed habits. They form quickly, and usually bad habits stick more than good ones.

Let’s do a mental exercise!

Imagine you were going to open a school. Your school is seeking to be a place for young children to thrive, follow their passions, engage in authentic learning experiences and love school. You have your building, teachers, and students ready. Now it’s time to plan for the daily operations.

What are you going to do?

Take a few minutes to think or write down the things you need to do first.

For most of you I bet one of these things came to mind:

o Daily and Weekly Schedules (math class, English class etc.)

o Creating lessons to align with standards.

o Allocating rooms (library, math/English/Science/Chinese classrooms, etc.) These are just three elements you will find in nearly every school, yet they are all connected to a fixed mindset approach. How can you improve student autonomy (where children follow their passions) if they spend their day going from class to class without any real time to engage in individual or collaborative passion projects?

Consider this... What if we left two to three hours per day where children had complete choice in what they did and where they did. The only rules would come down to health and safety.

How can learning be authentic when lessons are artificially created to align with standards?

Consider this...What if we didn't worry so much about standards at the beginning so we let learning happen and see where the standards can come in or be met during the process.

How can learning be cross curricular when subjects and resources are segregated? (math classroom, English classroom, library etc.)

Consider this...Well you tell me what to consider!

To find better ways of working we must shed these fixed mindsets we have, challenge them and be brave to try other ways of doing things. I'm sure you are all aware of this quote,

Many of our fixed mindsets about how things should be done come from years of doing things a certain way. We went to school with busy daily schedules, subject classes, homework etc. and so we think it is normal. Others are things teachers put on themselves. Generally early years educators have the advantage of being able to arrange their day as they like, something primary up might not have. Things like how to arrange ECE classrooms, what materials children can and can’t use, daily schedule etc. are constructed based on the sum of each teachers experiences until now. For example, teachers who have only ever taught the same age students might be strongly against teaching younger children, mixed age classrooms and vice versa. We all have fixed mindsets based on our experiences. We must try and find ways to be aware of them, prepared to break them or at the very least challenge them.

Working in an Emergent Curriculum can be very frustrating for people with fixed mindsets. They often feel helpless by the prospect of listening and responding to children's interests compared to designing "fun" activities based on a set curriculum. I always die a little inside when I meet a teacher who proudly shows me their 'teaching folder' full of activities to be repeated each year. Trying to adapt to a growth mindset means identifying a problem, brainstorming possible solutions and then entering the process of trial and error to find what works. This same process is what will helps educators succeed in an emergent curriculum.

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