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March 1, 2017

Mindset is a relatively new education term which helps teachers understand mindset brainthe complex challenges of teaching and reaching every student. Often a teacher comes to realize that despite his or her best efforts, not every student responds positively to a lesson and engages in learning. Also, teachers are frequently perplexed by unexpected student behaviors. Frequently, it is a negative mindset that makes students appear resistant to learning or behave in unanticipated ways.


Most of the recent conversations about mindsets focus on the growth mindset made popular by Carol Dweck (2007) in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. When students lack a growth mindset and possess a fixed mindset, they often give up when they fail at achieving something, since they perceive they have reached the zenith of their predefined level of learning. The fact that students hold a fixed mindset in often the unintended consequence of the way that educators and parents talk about intelligence and learning by defining student learning with a test score and using limited measures of giftedness. Even complimenting high achievement with the label of “smart” creates the false impression that academic success is a result of a fixed intelligence level rather than a combination of effort and improvement.

Mindsets are a result of a student's experience, and since no two student experiences are the same, each student will have different degrees of a positive or negative mindset which can be a barrier to learning. Understanding and appreciating mindsets reinforce the importance of teachers getting to know students and building relationships. It is through these relationships that teachers can begin to fully understand the personal mindsets of students and encourage the experience, feedback, and reflection which can begin to initiate change.

In spite of all of the attention to the growth mindset, there are several critical mindsets teachers should explore with students. The American School Counselors Association (2014) in the publication Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success identifies six mindsets. Successful Practices Network has defined seven learning mindsets in the white paper, Life/Career Abilities Framework: Begin with the End in Mind

Learning Mindsets from the SPN Life/Career Abilities Framework.

  • Balance: “I will development myself mentally, emotionally and physically.”
  • Growth: “I can change my abilities through effort.”
  • Efficacy: “I can succeed.”
  • Belonging: “I am comfortable as a member of this learning community.”
  • Relevance: “This work has value and purpose for me.”
  • Hope: “I choose to be optimistic about future events.”
  • Commitment: “I will apply my talents and skills to achieve the best result.”

In CTE, because of the many hands-on, group projects, teachers have many opportunities to move students toward positive learning mindsets that can enhance a student's overall school success. Following are strategies CTE teachers can apply to help move students to the positive level of each of these seven mindsets.

  • Balance - Encourage students to reflect on that success is more than having technical skill and think about controlling emotions with customers and how to positively resolve conflicts with peers and supervisors. Also, don't forget to remind students of the physical demands in their chosen career field.
  • Growth - Have students chart their growth toward proficiency in the full range of technical skills in the program employability profile.
  • Efficacy - Have students discuss and write down a five-year plan to enter into a career field and the steps necessary to achieve that goal.
  • Belonging - Spend time helping students develop positive relationships with peers and use the student leadership organization to build a sense of community.
  • Relevance - CTE has an advantage over other school subjects in appearing naturally relevant to students. However, continue to explain to students why specific skills are essential to career success.
  • Hope - Through work-based learning and observing master career professionals, encourage students to visualize themselves as a proficient professional.
  • Commitment - Give frequent feedback on work, particularly positive comments on good work and describe how their skill contributed to positive results. When students are initially unsuccessful, give encouragement to continue to practice.

Finally, for all mindsets:

  • Hold High Expectations - Teachers need to show confidence in students through high expectations that students can achieve, perhaps not at first, but through repeated efforts. Technical skills are an excellent way to hold students to high expectations encouraging then to become more proficient.
  • Listen to Students - Pay attention to student words that indicate a less than positive mindset and help them to reflect on their perceptions and encourage them to think about how that current mindset affects choices.
  • Reflect On Your Words - Whether, from stereotype, humor or anger, words can be powerful in reinforcing the negative mindsets. Choose your words carefully and consider language.
  • Model Positive Mindsets - Students learn from watching adults; teachers should consider their personal mindsets in each of these elements and consistently use phrases that show your positive mindsets to students.

Mindsets are powerful aspects of learning, and CTE teachers can help to create positive learning mindsets in their students.


Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Reprint edition). New York: Ballantine Books.

Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success: K-12 College- and Career-Readiness Standards for Every Student. (2014). American School Counselor Association. Retrieved from