T2.2 Develop positive academic mindsets

Highlander Institute Spotlight Series


An academic mindset is a key part of student agency and learning readiness, impacting motivation, engagement, and perseverance. As detailed in research from The University of Chicago Consortium, the four beliefs of an academic mindset are:

  • I belong in this academic community
  • My ability and competence grow with my effort (growth mindset)
  • I can succeed at this
  • This work has value for me

Student perceptions around these statements deeply influence their learning behaviors, which enable academic success. Yet, inequities within school systems and learning experiences result in disparities between student self-perceptions. Research shows that students from lower-income families are less likely to hold a growth mindset than their wealthier peers (Claro et al., 2016). Further, student-reported beliefs about growth mindset were 0.2–0.8 standard deviation lower for students with lower prior academic achievement, English learner students, and Black students than for their higher achieving, non–English learner, and White counterparts (Snipes & Tran, 2017). 

How teachers foster academic mindsets in their students is important — and teacher mindsets matter. Educators who believe that student ability and competence are fixed tend to treat academic mindset as an IQ score, rather than a developmental process. Cultivating academic mindsets is not like teaching facts or skills; it is about supporting students to internalize habits of mind. 



“When students believe they are likely to succeed in meeting academic demands in a classroom, they are much more likely to try hard and to persevere in completing academic tasks, even if they find the work challenging or do not experience immediate success. Believing one can be successful is a prerequisite to putting forth sustained effort.” Further, the “degree to which students value an academic task strongly influences their choice, persistence, and performance at the task” (Farrington et al., 2012, p. 29).

  • In this blog post, Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain, details how to Create Counternarratives that disrupt the dominant messages students receive and internalize about their identities. Using this strategy is a great fit when building off of what you learn about your students in the Awareness Domain of the CRSP Framework.
  • The Mindset Kit is a free, comprehensive set of online lessons and practices designed to help you foster adaptive beliefs about learning in your classroom.
  • The Mathematical Mindset Guide helps teachers create and strengthen a growth mindset culture. The guide contains five Mathematical Mindset Practices along with links to teaching videos.
  • Read about 5 Strategies for Changing Mindsets by Dave Paunesku.


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Claro, S., Paunesku, D., & Dweck, C.S. (2016). Mindset tempers effects of poverty on achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113 (31), 8664-8668. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1608207113

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Farrington, C.A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T.S., Johnson, D.W., & Beechum, N.O. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners. The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from https://consortium.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/2018-10/Noncognitive%20Report_0.pdf

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Paunesku, D., Walton, G. M., Romero, C., Smith, E. N., Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2015). Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement. Psychological Science, 26(6), 784–793. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615571017

Snipes, J., & Tran, L. (2017). Growth mindset, performance avoidance, and academic behaviors in Clark County School District (REL 2017–226). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory West. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs

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Walton, G.M., & Cohen, G.L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes among minority students. Science, 331, 1447-1451. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198364

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