The Growth Minded Educator Contest is our way of capturing and sharing collective learning experiences, and recognizing the efforts that educators have put into instilling and cultivating a Growth Mindset in their students.


December 2011 Contest Results

We had some terrific entries to Novembers’ contest, so we decided to honor the entries of three educators! The Growth Minded Educators of December are: Kelly O'Shea, Catie Morrison, and Derek Piper.

Congratulations to our winners, and thank you to all who participated! We received many fantastic submissions, and will reach out to some of you to discuss potential methods of incorporating your ideas and experiences into other areas of the Growth Mindset community.

Below are the winning entries to the contest question, "What techniques are you using, or planning to use, to encourage your students to take on challenges and persist through difficulty?

Kelly O'Shea, St. Andrew's School, Middletown, DE

This year, I'm trying to help my students see the value of mistakes as a necessary component of learning. To help normalize mistakes in my high school physics class, we do an activity that I call "The Mistake Game." During the activity, we whiteboard problems (small groups present their solutions to physics problems to each other after writing them out on whiteboards that are about 2' by 2.75'). As part of The Mistake Game, each group must incorporate at least one intentional mistake (along with as many unintentional mistakes as they'd like) when they write up their solution. While they present, it is the job of the rest of the class to ask questions that highlight inconsistencies in the work (the other students must ask questions rather than simply point out mistakes). The pressure of being in front of the class is removed (even when they have been assigned a particularly challenging problem) since they are supposed to have something wrong with their work no matter what. It is great fun to tell them, "Don't worry, you'll get better at making mistakes as you practice it." Students often incorporate mistakes that they themselves made when they first tried the problem or that they had recently made on a test. This activity works especially well with students who are prone to being paralyzed by their hopes for perfection as well as with students who are not (yet!) confident in their ability to do tough problems.

More info about The Mistake Game (I wrote a longer description of it on my blog at the beginning of this school year):

Catie Morrison, Morrison Mentoring, Melbourne, Australia

My work includes tutoring/mentoring students who are returning to full-time schooling after long absences due to serious illness. I work one-on-one with these students, so I have the opportunity to listen deeply to the issues they face in the classroom. After their absences, self-confidence often dips. This results in an unwillingness to ask questions, e.g. not raising their hands in class to ask for clarification. We talk about the definition of the word “ignorance”, and the students come to realize that not having had the opportunity to learn something is nothing to be ashamed of. We return to this discussion over many weeks. This is a very simple technique, but it is very effective, and often changes the students’ attitude towards needing to ask more questions of than their peers who have not missed large stretches of work.

Derek Piper, Vickery Creek Middle School, Cumming, GA

The use of “positive deviants” within my classroom has proven to be a powerful practice in terms of getting students to focus on a growth mindset. In short, positive deviants are those students who, given similar circumstances, excel beyond what was predicted (Pascale, R, Sternin, J., & Sternin, M., 2010). Through the use of simple regression or change scores between tests, around 10 to 15% students whose scores dramatically improved are identified. These “deviants” are then gathered together for activities such as constructing and sharing posters or advisement cards about the secrets to their success. It allows them to share information in terms of how they motivate themselves, their strategies, and what they do when they get stuck. What has made this strategy especially appealing is that students see others just like themselves (Bandura, 1997) tackling problems similar to those they have experienced and understand that, with effort, they can become positive deviants themselves.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy : the exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.

Pascale, R., Sternin, J., & Sternin, M. (2010). The power of positive deviance: How unlikely innovators solve the world’s toughest problems. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.