Why we all need to adopt a growth mindset this year



This blog focuses on my art teaching experience. I have been lucky enough to help extend others love for art and art making through my art classes, art events and workshops. They say that those that can’t do, teach. I disagree. Teaching art is a great way to improve your focus and momentum.

Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” He was right. Teaching art to others helps you crystallise your concepts and translate your directions. This blog is part of my translation. It will highlight the joys and frustrations I encounter in teaching art to others. I hope it offers insights for why I am so passionate about integrating art and creativity into everyone’s lives. Art Education can teach us all how to see, comprehend and create in new and exciting ways. This blog is my stand for Art Education. Being creative matters. It is the place where fresh ideas and innovations grow. It teaches us to experiment and trust ourselves. Adding more art and creativity into your life will always count, sometimes we just need a little help getting started!


Growing your mindset

The beginning of a new year can provide many opportunities to branch out more creatively. There are countless articles professing the benefits of developing the creative side of your brain, but if we don’t start off with a good attitude, then it can all turn into an exercise of negativity and worthlessness.

My teaching experience has highlighted one area that every art student needs to practice in order for them to enjoy the art making process. It’ always predicts the speed in which I can help bring a student’s potential to the surface. It is one thing that every single artist has to work on every day. It’s why others seem so successful and it’s why some artists end up quitting. It requires dedicated focus and repetition. I believe it can be one of your most important tools in your artbox. You can’t buy it or hire it. It can be your worst and best friend, and it requires constant attention.

It’s your mindset. It’s the view you adopt of yourself. This view has to be cultivated. As you get older you have the ability to look back and understand where you may have adopted some negative attitudes. But for a young student, they will be developing those attitudes and mindsets right now, from the experiences they have at school, with their friends and family and in your art class.

As a teacher I feel a great responsibility to nurture a growth mindset in all my students. Helping students understand that ability can change illustrates the potential a growth mindset can offer. Giving them the choice to decide on how they feel about their art making and how they a let others make them feel about art is empowering. Perhaps, as an artist, I am a little over sensitive to ‘Negative Nellies’. Art is full of them. We’ve all met them. I spent many hours in my Adult art classes trying to convince adults that they were better than that teacher who told them they had no talent when they were eight. That they are still giving that teacher permission to bully them in their head, and steal the joy out of creating.

And that makes my blood boil. For all the students I have met my heart breaks every time I hear a tale that the student was called ‘talentless, hopeless and ungifted’.  I am still hearing them. And, that any teacher would inflict there own personal opinions on any creation a student made in terms of ‘I hate it’ blows my mind. I expect that all teachers would go into a class with a growth mindset. Sadly I have been proved wrong on many accounts. Having a fixed mindset, a structured way to success in the arts is an oxymoron. If history in the arts has told us one thing, it’s that those most misunderstood have bucket loads of creativity. From Einstein being told he would never amount to much, the Beatles being told they had no future in the music industry, to Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basket ball team and Walt Disney being fired for ‘lacking imagination’. What was the making of them was their dedication and ability to stay focussed, despite the criticism.  Determination wins every time. It makes you smarter and stronger.

What worries me most is that these wonderful, left of centre creative types might actually start believing some of those folks with a fixed mindset. Someone who adopted a ‘growth mindset’ was entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn. He was very aware of the affect others mindset can have on your own with the quote

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

As an adult we get to choose the mindsets we hang around, but as a child it’s not so easy. For students, they look up to teachers and parents as mentors. Getting their approval is really important. Our job as educators, whether you are a teacher or parent, is to nurture growth both mentally and physically and offer opportunities to learn and understand. Isn’t it our job to make sure our students  learn to see the world as a wondrous place full of opportunity, creativity and growth?

I am not alone in professing the benefits of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. These two forms of classification on mindset stem from the book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’

Written 2007 by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. Built from decades of research on achievement and success, it is based on the simple idea that a growth mindset makes all the difference. It outlines the fixed mindset. Those that believe intelligence or talent fixed traits. These people spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success – without effort. Dweck’s  studies challenge this. With a growth mindset, you believe that your abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

In praise of practice

If we are to take some tips on developing a growth mindset from Carol Dweck we understand that brains and talent don’t bring success. If anything they can stand in the way of it. Teaching a growth mindset improve grades and motivation. It is proven to be responsible for increased productivity in the areas of education, business and sports. It enhances relationships, self-esteem and accomplishment. And that all sounds like a pretty nice life to me!

Here’s a list of 25 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset from the book

1. Acknowledge and embrace imperfections.
2. View challenges as opportunities.
3. Try different learning tactics.
4. Follow the research on brain plasticity.
5. Replace the word “failing” with the word “learning.”
6. Stop seeking approval
7. Value the process over the end result.
8. Cultivate a sense of purpose.
9. Celebrate growth with others.
10. Emphasise growth over speed.
11. Reward actions, not traits.
12. Redefine “genius.”
13. Portray criticism as positive.
14. Dissassociate improvement from failure.
15. Provide regular opportunities for reflection.
16. Place effort before talent.
17. Highlight the relationship between learning and “brain training.”
18. Cultivate grit.
19. Abandon the image.
20. Use the word “yet.”
21. Learn from other people’s mistakes.
22. Make a new goal for every goal accomplished.
23. Take risks in the company of others.
24. Think realistically about time and effort.
25. Take ownership over your attitude.

> Click here for more details on the list

The ‘growth mindset’ in action

This above list all makes sense to most educators, but no matter what age you are it takes effort. We all start off with a growth mindset. The moral to almost every kid’s movie is that it is more important to try than be the best. Dedication and effort will rise to the surface in the end.

Here’s some great snippets to illustrate this:
Grit & Growth Mindset in Cartoon Characters


To wrap up this arts education article I’d like to leave you with some pretty impressive humans that believe building a growth mindset anywhere is possible … that providing a space to do that for anyone, for everyone, is one of the most valuable gifts you can give.

The Clowns Helping Refugee Children To Laugh Through Play | Amazing Humans

Ash and his team of clowns, musicians and dancers are ‘play specialists’ who work with children in refugee camps across Europe. The aim is to allow the kids “to feel good, feel daft, and feel playful”.

‘Our futures are the dreams we have as kids turned into reality’


PS. If you would like to give your kids a helping hand on the growth mindset front here’s a great little journal I found that may help. I am not at all aligned with this but I think it’s important to help highlight great people doing great things. 


Here’s a super list to start off thinking with a growth mindset by Silvia Duckworth.


Special thanks to all the amazing students I have had the pleasure to teach along the way. I am a better artist and teacher for having met you!
Creativity Counts is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on www.kristineballard.com 
© Kristine Ballard 2018.