Learning Mindsets and the Whole Child: The Fixed, Growth, and Benefit Mindset

Do we really need another learning mindset?

Carol Dweck’s fixed and growth mindset theories have revolutionized the way we teach students to approach their learning. Yet we must not forget that education used to be solely focused on measurable outcomes and the “what” of learning. Unfortunately, in some schools and classrooms, this rigid definition of learning is largely still the case.

Such emphasis on performance and product in part led to the current obsession with test scores and teaching to the test– as well as to the neglect of meeting the needs of the whole child, especially each student’s social, emotional, and soulful development.


The Fixed Mindset

As the arts, electives, recess, play, and physical education were shortchanged or permanently replaced with rigor, remediation, and RTI, we can say that many educators and administrators themselves had a sort of fixed mindset about the goals of learning.

Dweck herself asserts, however, that it’s perfectly natural for all of us to sometimes revert to a fixed mindset about our abilities and prospects for self-improvement. And as far as students striving to earn good grades and attain high test scores, there is obviously nothing wrong with such academic accomplishment and personal success. Lofty goals, high expectations, and a strong work ethic are all worthy indicators of student achievement.

Of course, one problem with children maintaining a fixed mindset is that when high-performing students face unprecedented challenges or setbacks, they often do not possess the strategies and coping mechanisms to overcome those unexpected obstacles. I wrote about this phenomenon and how we can better meet the learning needs of all students in the NCTE article “Dispelling the Myth that Intelligence = Instant and Easy.”


The Growth Mindset

How the growth mindset transformed teaching is that it expanded beyond the concentration on “what” to achieve and moved us to also look at “how” children learn. This shift has been dramatic as students (and their parents) have been taught to value process and progress, right along with the educational mainstays of performance and product.

Dweck has cautioned, however, that hard work and sustained effort are not in and of themselves indicative of a true growth mindset. As students are trained to focus on the learning process itself, teachers can provide kids with a variety of dependable learning strategies, study and organizational skills, and attitudes of perseverance that will assist them in making incremental progress. This way, challenge and mistakes become a natural part of personal growth, and the power of”yet” sustains students through the toughest parts of learning.

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The Benefit Mindset

What the benefit mindset adds to this education conversation is the “why” and reason behind all the hard work of learning. While performance, product, process, and progress are all indeed important, learning is not fulfilling until it is infused with a deep passion and a compelling purpose.

Yet the benefit mindset is about much more than student engagement. When students can actually use their developing wisdom and skills in order to also contribute to the wellbeing of others, learning suddenly transforms into a dynamic and meaningful experience that truly makes a difference.

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As I write in my book, Teaching the Benefit Mindset, putting others first and paying it forward can happily coexist with personal growth and success. In fact, the “why” and the We behind everything we teach children must lead to the application of each student’s burgeoning intelligence, experience, and abilities—not just for some final project or festive pageant but for the direct benefit of others.

Education can become a process of self-improvement that does not culminate at the individual level with a mere showing off or proving of one’s knowledge and knowhow but that continually seeks expressions of mutual betterment.


The benefit mindset is an expansive and enlightened model of educating and nurturing children that values personal growth and greatness, right along with gratitude, goodwill, and giving. Once we open our eyes to the power of cohesion and community, children become alive with learning and eagerly share their gifts and gladness with the world and for the greater good.

Whether it’s called teaching children compassion, volunteerism, service learning, character development, prosocial behavior, soft skills, gratitude, wellbeing, mindfulness, resiliency, or leadership skills, the scientific research on cultivating these habits is overwhelming. The benefit mindset is simply a much-needed umbrella term for infusing learning with the needs of the common good– the advantages of which always benefit both the giver and the receiver.


The Whole Child

To truly complete the notion of the whole child, we do indeed require an additional learning mindset. The benefit mindset adds the development of empathy and altruism to the social, emotional, soulful, and intellectual needs of children that thankfully most teachers today already attend to. When children are encouraged and specifically taught to leverage their talents and personal interests, they begin to feel integrated with– and integral to– an inclusive learning experience that benefits all!



Teaching the Benefit Mindset is Amazon’s #1 New Book Release in Experimental Teaching Methods. Now let’s transform this educational “experiment” into a daily teaching practice!


Also read how the benefit mindset can be used for genius hour projects here.

49 thoughts on “Learning Mindsets and the Whole Child: The Fixed, Growth, and Benefit Mindset

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