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

April 12, 2022 / 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.


There are two mindsets within Carol D. Dweck, Ph.D.’s mindset theory: 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 time and effort can cultivate people’s qualities. These mindsets impact every person daily and influence how they view themselves, others, and their activities. If you haven’t already, click here to read part one of this article to understand the mindsets and how they affect your child daily in school. In part two, we will focus on creating a growth mindset in your child. 


  1. The Power of Yet: Dweck’s research says that a mindset can be changed. The first way a parent can begin to change their child’s mindset is by “The Power of Yet.” Instead of suggesting that they have failed, the parent, or anyone for that matter, suggests they have “not yet” succeeded. This suggestion lets them know they are not a failure but learning and have not yet accomplished success in an area. The power of yet allows for a learning curve. Students will not enter a classroom on the same level on the first day and likely will not leave at the end of the year on the same level. The power of yet allows for differentiation. It tells students, “You aren’t a failure just because you have not yet achieved the same things as other students.” Every person is a work in progress, and the power of yet lets students know that is okay. Dweck’s studies show that just the words “yet” and “not yet” create greater persistence and confidence in students and give them a clearer path to future success.

    This can come out in the simplest of ways in your home or classroom. Every parent or teacher has said something along the lines of “You don’t have the right answer.” To foster a growth mindset, we can add yet to these simple corrections, such as “Oh, we haven’t gotten that answer yet.” This simple step toward growth only takes intentionality on the part of the parent to accomplish.
  2. The Danger of Praise: In Dweck’s research, she discovered that over 80 percent of parents believe that praise is necessary to foster growth and achievement for their children, but you can see a certain danger to praise if you consider the fixed mindset. The fixed mindset is already focused on being smart, talented, and the best. Does praise not just encourage the fixed mindset? Dweck’s research shows that praise itself is not the enemy; however, the way people praise can be.

    There are two types of praise, process praise and skills praise. Process praise praises students for their initiative, strategies, effort, and persistence. Skills praise praises students for their abilities, talents, and intelligence. Many parents, teachers, and directors would say that students should be praised for their skills–that it motivates and encourages them. However, Dweck’s findings say quite the opposite. She conducted seven different studies on hundreds of children, and the results clearly led to the conclusion that skills praise harms children’s motivation and performance. This praise may provide a momentary boost in self-confidence but produces a fixed mindset over time. When children hear they are smart, they interpret “I am naturally gifted, and I don’t need to study.” When that child receives a poor grade, they interpret that as “I’m losing it. I can’t understand things. What am I now?” Even with the best intentions, these positive labels foster a fixed mindset and develop children who are in constant need of validation to feel worthy. In contrast, process praise creates resilient children who learn to feel pride in their effort to accomplish a task. The growth mindset is not about withholding praise from children who deserve it but rather about being more intentional with praise to use it as a tool to help them grow.

    So, how can a parent apply this idea of process praise to daily life? First, the parent must take an intentional look at how they encourage their children or if they encourage their children. The parent must stop saying things such as “You are so smart;” or “You are so athletic.” These statements seem innocent enough and maybe even encouraging, but they are, in essence, labels – positive labels, yes, but labels all the same. The growth mindset says that labels (both positive and negative) are harmful. Instead of these labeling phrases, parents can praise children for their process. Praise such as “You have made so many improvements,” “You’ve learned so much,” and “I can tell you have been practicing quite a bit; what a great improvement you have made” are just as encouraging to the children in the moment and will continue to motivate them to work in the future. Dweck has shown that with process praise, students are willing to put in more effort, try new strategies to succeed, and persevere over longer periods of time.
  3. The Benefit of Failure: Parents and teachers know that sometimes even when a student tries, they do not succeed. Does this not disprove the growth mindset theory? No, because the growth mindset is not about instant success but about growth over time. Failure is a necessary ingredient of growth over time. How can a parent encourage a child who has failed? For example, a child takes a test and receives a low grade. Some instant reactions may be to tell the child that they were great and should have gotten a 100, or that the teacher did not know what they were doing, or to reassure them that grades are not that important in the grand scheme of things and that they will do better next time. However, all of these answers only serve the purpose of a momentary ego boost and are not actually honest. The best answer seems somewhat cruel but is the most honest and helpful: “You did not deserve to succeed.” While a parent might not say it in that exact way, that is the message that should come across. Success was not earned. Following this, however, it is important to instill in the child that failure is not a permanent state, nor does it define them as a person. The message is, “If this is something you really want, then it’s something you’ll really work for.” With this message, children can disconnect their worth from their failure; they are unable to blame failure on others; the failure has now become an obstacle that they can work hard to overcome. Failure is inevitable and is perhaps one of the most critical steps toward growth. A parent must deliberately guide their child through failure to obtain a growth mindset. 


These three points are only a small part of beginning and maintaining a growth mindset. If this article interests you, I encourage you to read more about it in Dr. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Philosophy of Success. You can also watch Dr. Dweck’s TED Talk here.