Mindset Matters, Part I: Director of Choral Music Amy Whittenton Shares Insights from Mindset Theory

December 7, 2021 / Perspectives in Education/All News

Jackson Academy partners with parents to raise up the men and women who you’ll want as neighbors and co-workers someday – good people with kind hearts and bright minds. This month on the blog, Director of Choral Music Amy Whittenton shares insights into Mindset Theory with parents, providing foundational information with the power to improve anyone’s self-confidence and resilience. Whittenton completed a master’s degree in Music Education at Mississippi State University.


The mindsets are a theory developed by Carol D. Dweck, Ph.D. Within this theory, there are two mindsets: fixed and growth. At its most basic level, a fixed mindset means that a person believes that people’s qualities are unchangeable or “fixed”.  The growth mindset opposes this view, stating that people’s qualities can be cultivated through time and effort. These mindsets impact every person daily and influence the way they view themselves, others, and their activities. 

With this definition, one might assume that fixed mindset people are unintelligent or unsuccessful while growth mindset people are intelligent and successful; this is not the case. The mindsets do not have anything to do with the abilities and skills that one currently possesses, but rather the view that a person takes about those abilities and skills. 

With the growth mindset, one starts with the belief that people have the potential to change and develop. This means that children who do poorly in school are not labeled as “dumb,” but rather they have not found the right strategies to develop their knowledge. With the fixed mindset, one’s attributes, including intelligence, are something with which one is born. Therefore, that same child who struggled in school is labeled as “dumb” and does not have the potential to get any better. 


To learn the mindset that your child possesses, start by asking them to agree or disagree with the following statements: 

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

If they tend to agree with statements similar to one and two, they lean towards the fixed mindset. If they tend to agree with statements similar to three and four, they lean towards the growth mindset. The word “intelligence” can be replaced with endless other attributes such as athleticism, communication skills, artistic ability, etc… Know that a person can have a growth mindset in one and a fixed mindset in another. 


  1. Equality: Unfortunately, stereotypes exist and our children face them when they arrive at school each day. It is the hope of a parent that our children can overcome hurtful stereotypes; however, a child’s mindset may affect their ability to do so. The fixed mindset will hear a stereotype that people like them aren’t smart and say, “I am unintelligent and there’s nothing I can do about that.” In the growth mindset a stereotype, regardless of its truth, cannot hold a child back because they believe in their own ability to overcome it.
  2. Motivation: Dweck has done extensive research on how children respond to challenges such as school tests. These studies reveal how students find motivation in school. The growth-minded students felt motivated and excited about the idea of challenge, while the fix-minded felt threatened by the challenge. Interestingly, the feeling of threat did not motivate students to work harder to overcome the threat. Instead, it had them looking for a way to avoid the threat. Does the phrase “the teacher just hates me” sound familiar? This is an avoidance tactic born of the fixed mindset.
  3. Self-esteem: It may seem that the fixed mindset is more likely to afflict those who are below average; however, according to Dweck, this is not the case. Dweck does not claim that all people are born the same. Some people are endowed with gifts of natural skill and intelligence in certain areas. It is those endowed members of society who are at greatest risk of the fixed mindset. In the fixed mindset, a student’s self-esteem relies upon being better than or more special than those around them. If the thing that makes them feel special is threatened, then their self-esteem is also threatened.

In contrast, for the growth-minded person, self-esteem is not tied to superiority or an easy success. To them, there is no shame in working harder than those around them to achieve a goal. In fact, this effort and struggle to succeed may be a point of pride for them. This does not mean that a growth-minded student will enjoy failure. Failure can still be a painful experience for anyone. The difference between the failure of a fixed-minded student and a growth-minded student is that, for the growth-minded student, the failure does not define them. The failure is admittedly a problem, but it is a problem that can be faced and overcome with strategy and perseverance. 


The good news is, mindset can change and you can help your child change theirs. In part two of this blog post, I will talk about how you can create a Growth Mindset within your child. If you would like to read further about the mindsets and their impact on your child, I recommend reading Dr. Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Philosophy of Success.