How a Growth Mindset Can Affect Your Teaching Career

students working together

As educators, we have certainly had our fair share of schooling to get to where we are. Earning your bachelor’s degree, proving yourself during student teaching, and surviving those first few years as a teacher is hard work! It’s no wonder we crave some repetition in our classroom. We all have those tried-and-true lesson plans and activities we bring out every year because they have predictable outcomes.

However, teaching can bring new challenges our way every day. New policies, a difficult class, incorporating new lesson ideas, earning a master’s degree; these can all disrupt your daily routine and bring some discomfort to your teaching practice.

The way you approach these obstacles can directly impact the outcome. Do you see these moments as opportunities or setbacks within your life?

Let’s think about this in terms of a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

students working together

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset is a model of thinking developed by Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor who studied how people solve challenging problems. Dweck’s findings are summarized in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck describes that, historically, intelligence was thought of as fixed—you were either smart or not smart. Failure was seen as a weakness, a sign you weren’t smart enough to figure out the answer.

However, Dweck observed that some people approached learning differently. They believed working hard and putting in the effort to learn something new would make them smarter. In other words, these individuals had a growth mindset. For these people, failure and solving problems were necessary components for growing as a learner. School districts and teachers from all over the country have adopted this approach to learning as a way to empower their students to grow as learners.

How can a growth mindset affect you as an art teacher?

We tell our students that artists engage and persist in challenges while stretching and exploring new ideas and techniques. These Studio Habits of Mind, outlined in Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, fit nicely within the growth mindset model. Furthermore, they inform the National Core Arts Standards, as well as some state visual art standards.

But, how consistently do we model these same Studio Habits for our students? Often, we fall to the teaching strategies and lessons we know because the risk of failure looms large in our minds. Performance evaluations and student growth goals can stifle our courage to try new ideas. But let’s not forget artists like Katsushika Hokusai, Louise Bourgeois, and Carmen Herrera, who all achieved success as artists later in their careers.

What if we embraced a growth mindset in our teaching practice? Staying in a fixed mindset does not allow you to see new possibilities of working or creating—it is almost like you have blinders on. Being open to new ways of teaching and creating can lead to unexpected and amazing results. You never know what new opportunities can come your way for you and your students.

students working with spray paint

Make a personal goal to try a new teaching method, such as using choice boards or bringing in a contemporary approach to making art. You could take a studio class at the local community center, go to an education conference, or make time to listen to podcasts about art and teaching. To really stretch your comfort zone, try something you have never done before, such as rock climbing, salsa dancing, or a new art medium. You may make a novel connection, and you have a chance to experience failure as you learn this new skill.

The most important part of having a growth mindset is sharing your learning journey with your students. Showing them you are a lifelong learner and are willing to take risks will give them a model to connect to. Sharing your failures and how you overcame them will help students see how to work within a growth mindset. For even more ideas about bringing a growth mindset into your classroom, be sure to take a peek at the Growth Mindset in the Art Room PRO Learning Pack.

How can a growth mindset affect your career?

master's degree

Having a growth mindset can open many doors in your career as an art teacher. Why not create a Professional Learning Community (PLC) with other art teachers in your area to help support one another with your new strategies for the classroom? Asking your district to provide you access to Art Ed PRO, will allow you to brush up on areas of growth and discover new, exciting ideas.

Or, perhaps you could ask your evaluator or peer observer to help support you as you try new lessons in your classroom. What better way to demonstrate your commitment to improving as an educator?

You might also take graduate-level courses, such as the ones offered at The Art of Education University, to learn about the latest pedagogy in art teaching and accrue hours for your recertification or salary schedule. We have an incredibly helpful map that lets you begin to find out which of our offerings might work for you.

Finally, this might be the time to finally give yourself permission to get your master’s degree. The Art of Education University offers an MA in Art Education that is relevant and developed specifically for art educators. This program is optimized for working teachers so that you can complete work on your own time, according to your unique schedule, as life permits. See if our program will work for you, and find all the details right here.

How are you going to explore a growth mindset? For me, there are some great lecture series at the local art museum I have been meaning to attend, and I’m considering ways to bring more social media into my classroom. Maybe I’ll even try a dance class…the possibilities are endless!

What is the next step in your journey as an art educator?

How could you step out of your comfort zone this school year?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Alexandra Overby

Alexandra Overby, a high school art educator, is one of AOEU’s Adjunct Instructors. She immerses herself in topics of photography practice, visual ethnography, technology in the art room, and secondary curriculum.

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