A Boundary-Busting, Leader-Liberating Growth Mindset


McKenzie L2L 300x300By Walter McKenzie

Recently, 200 outstanding educators came together in Washington, D.C., to take part in ASCD’s 8th annual Leader to Leader (L2L) conference. Attended by leaders of ASCD’s affiliates, connected communities, professional interest communities, student chapters, and Emerging Leaders program, the conference focused on growth mindset. Mindset is a concept developed by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, based on her research on achievement and success. But what is it? As the best and brightest of ASCD’s leaders came together to explore the concept, they defined growth mindset as a concept that allows them to be

  • Generative—create new possibilities
  • Unbounded—act without limits
  • Risk takers—try new approaches without knowing the outcome
  • Divergent problem solvers—seek multiple paths
  • Networked—make meaningful connections
  • Collaborative—find strength in common purpose
  • Value creators—determine new ways to serve educators
  • Capacity builders—develop the ways and means to deliver new value
  • Tenacious—refuse to think in terms of failure
  • Resilient—never give up
  • Gritty—personify persistence
  • Lifelong learners—gain new insights, whether successful or not

In a fixed mindset, people perceive their intelligence and capabilities as innate and unchangeable traits they rely on to make or break their success. A fixed mindset is a limiting view of human potential that is reflected in psychometric and achievement test scores. A fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove oneself over and over again. A growth mindset, on the other hand, creates a climate within oneself where it is OK to test ideas, make mistakes, and learn from them. We do not need to have all the answers; we simply need to be open to opportunities, challenges, and input from others as new information continues to present itself to us.

McKenzie L2L Growth Mindset 2Why is growth mindset so popular? It allows us to see how we get stuck in our thinking when we continue to work in our comfort zone. We accept our circumstances as is and seek repeats of past successes. We depend on traditional sources of ideas and resources because they are familiar and insulate us from our fear of failure. Think of human potential as a pie. If we believe we have only one pie, we will focus on getting our share, because there’s only so much to go around. But what if there are many pies? Sure, some pies get burnt, and sometimes we run out of ingredients. But there are always new chances to make new pies. There are infinite pie possibilities! This is the essence of growth mindset. March 14 may be recognized as Pi Day, but at L2L, every day was pie day.

McKenzie L2L Growth Mindset 6Setting the tone for the weekend, ASCD Executive Director Deb Delisle spoke to participants on Friday, sharing her vision for moving ASCD forward and strengthening its influence. “It takes courage to be a visionary leader who carries kids in your heart,” she shared. “Do not get transformation and tinkering confused! We need a transformation in education!” Her inspiring remarks were followed those of by Pam Moran, the superintendent of Albemarle County (Va.) Pubic Schools (ACPS), and Ira Socol, the educational technology and innovation team lead for ACPS, who together pushed the thinking of everyone in attendance. “Get rid of behavioral manuals; put in place engagement manuals,” they said. With regard to educators, they encouraged participants to “focus on teachers as pedagogical entrepreneurs and value those who challenge the norms.” It was a resounding proclamation of a boundary-busting, leader-liberating growth mindset, hitting participants where they live and work.

As a result of their L2L work, participants came to the following conclusions:

  • A growth mindset is a commitment to what’s working; it is not just moving from new thing to new thing.
  • A growth mindset challenges all-or-nothing-at-all thinking.
  • A growth mindset and a fixed mindset are not mutually exclusive.
  • Using the term “growth mindset” is not going to promote growth; educators need to live it and allow kids to live it as well.
  • Risk taking requires reflection after the fact to debrief and internalize lessons learned.
  • If you aim low, you achieve low.
  • A growth mindset requires the capacity to grow and serve.
  • A growth mindset helps to build and sustain “yes leadership.”
  • Veteran educators can go to novice educators for “reverse mentoring.”
  • We have to look at the policies and procedures that can influence a growth mindset.
  • A growth mindset is integral to implementing the whole child approach to education with fidelity.
  • When you allow students to take charge of their learning, you take risks every day.

McKenzie L2L Growth Mindset 5At the conclusion of the conference, participants formed Mindset Mentor relationships—from small pairings to groupings of 10 or more—that were committed to supporting one another in growing personally and professionally during the coming year. At the closing on Saturday, I asked the participants to pledge their commitment to serve as catalysts for one another’s growth. I asked them, “When we convene again next year and you have grown through your mentor relationships, what will it look like? What will you see? What will we notice?” Only time will tell. In the meantime, one thing is certain; everyone left L2L with new energy, new ideas, and a new perspective on the work ahead.

Were you unable to attend L2L? No worries. You can join us in our commitment to learn and grow and have major influence on education from wherever you are and in whatever role you play. There is no fixed location where you can have this experience. And that, my friends, is as growth mindset as it gets.


Walter McKenzie is a lifelong learner, teacher, leader, and connector. He is currently senior director of constituent programs at ASCD and previously served 25 years in public education as a classroom teacher, instructional technology coordinator, director of technology, and assistant superintendent for information services. He is internationally known for his work on multiple intelligences and technology and has published various books and articles on the subject.