The PTS Guide to Growth Mindset - Part 4 - Overcoming Barriers

Growth Mindset Barriers

How to Implement Growth Mindset in Primary School Part 4: Overcoming Barriers

In part four of our Growth Mindset series, created by mindset expert, Ross McWilliam, we take a look at growth mindset barriers. We will cover:

  • Pupils who have difficulty initially accessing growth mindset and those who need more support as they encounter barriers to learning
  • A possible solution of building a confident mindset from which a growth mindset can be grown
  • Strategies for pupils, teachers and parents.


Having delivered mindset training for a few years now, I have seen and recorded fabulous progress in many schools. Yet amidst this progress, there will always be pockets of conscious and sub-conscious resistance. This could range from a pupil’s self-perception i.e. ‘I am no good at Maths’, ‘I’m not as quick to answer as the others’, ‘I need to practise this over and over again before I get it’. This resistance could also be manifested subconsciously i.e. learned helplessness, where over time they have developed negative or fixed mindset traits. Pupils may also use attribution theory i.e. that it was out of their control, or that they have poor role models resulting in lower, or no, aspiration. These are all barriers to developing growth mindset.

To counteract these inherent negative behaviours and limiting beliefs, a pre-growth mindset approach may be necessary to build up their belief in their own abilities, and that they can achieve success. These pupils need to accept that this learning journey may take time, i.e. success not yet.

From the pupil’s perspective, the acquisition of a confident mindset is paramount to being able to access a growth mindset. The ability to believe in themselves, to demonstrate resilience to keep going, to value their own opinions, counterbalance these against others, to be able to put their hands up to answer or even ask a question, are all crucial facets of a confident mindset. Having seen first-hand this lack of self-belief and worth in pupils, I devised an acronym that identified 5 aspects to achieving a confident mindset:

CUPPA = Challenge, Uniqueness, Positivity, Perception, Action


This involves seeing learning as a challenge. Rather than talk about a problem or issue, talk about a challenge, as this can be interpreted subconsciously that it is possible, rather than talking about a problem or issue, which may be seen as a more permanent subconscious barrier. In fact, some pupils who have developed a fabulous confident mindset can be a little disappointed when the challenge is too easy! This is where the key component of resilience is introduced via role models and real scenarios in the classroom and life.

Classic traditional role models may be Norm Larson and WD40, Edison and the lightbulb, Richard Branson and business ventures and failures, and JK Rowling and book rejections. More contemporary role models could be Jelle and gaming, Zoella and Alfie with blogging, F2 and football rejection and success. These and other examples can be found on my YouTube channel here.


This is how we see and value ourselves. One of the first things to do is to focus on achievements and qualities, rather than appearance. Appearance is important, i.e. to be well dressed and well groomed, but in my opinion, it should never outweigh personal qualities and achievements, as these are difficult to lose once achieved and will last a lifetime. A good starting place is completing a shield and/or a wall.

Growth Mindset - personal coat of arms

A good tip is to ask a friend or teacher to complete some of your spaces in the shield or wall as this acts as confirmation – this process can be a very powerful tool in developing belief and momentum.


A key quality of developing a confident mindset is to be able to see the positives in every situation. This links into resilience, as an initial negative situation may ultimately yield positive outcomes. Asking pupils to find role models who encountered negativity and turned it into a positive is a great starting exercise, i.e. Alvin Law, Dick and Rick Hoyt, Mia Hamm.

I talk about the Chimp Paradox, which was introduced by Dr Steve Peters. He explains how we all have a chimp which is always looking for the negative in everything and is at its strongest at night when we are sleeping in bed. To counteract this, I ask pupils to complete a simple Today Result and Tomorrow Promise. This involves the child writing down in a diary the good things that happened that day i.e. the teacher praised me, I completed my homework, I helped my parents (Today Result) and one promise they are going to do tomorrow, i.e. help my parents around the house, support other pupils in my class, ask questions when I am unsure (Tomorrow Promise).


This is perhaps the key area of the confident mindset. How we interpret our world and the actions of others can contribute to either a confident or insecure mindset. Three people can see the same incident but each could have different interpretations. Just being aware of this phenomenon may be the trigger to start developing a more realistic perception. This awareness may be the start of smarter confidence, where the pupil recognises the impact of themselves on others, along with recognising the needs of others.


For a confident mindset to be achieved there must be an element of action, i.e. implementation of ideas, thoughts and feelings. However, when pupils demonstrate action by putting their hand up in class, making a presentation or leading a group, they may well receive negative feedback. This is where FAIL is important…FIRST ATTEMPT IN LEARNING.


The classroom environment must help to break down growth mindset barriers. By this, I mean that feedback, either verbal or non-verbal, must be fair, consistent and accurate. For example, if the teacher puts up with or ignores negative ‘sniping’ by fellow pupils in response to an action or words of another pupil, then this is tantamount to condoning this negative ‘sniping.’

Within the classroom setting, teachers need to plan out and deliver the necessary steps to developing a growth mindset. If this process happens too quickly, disengagement or ineffective learning may be the outcome and barriers will be formed. One method of classroom delivery to start growth mindset is outlined by Brock and Hundley in The Growth Mindset Coach (2016) page 31:

  • Preflection
  • How we learn
  • Mistakes of self and others
  • Video examples
  • Comic strip examples
  • T Chart
  • Think, pair, share about how a challenge was solved

Laying the Foundations

Essentially, teachers need to discover where pupils are in their understanding of their potential and help them to develop the five growth mindset concepts of effort, resilience, guidance, feedback and challenge. Then they should focus on how learning occurs, and highlight how mistakes and errors may well be necessary for progress. Pupils can then take this information and create cartoon strips and T charts. Finally, knowledge and how breakthroughs were made can be shared in the classroom.

Equally, it may be that you break down personal growth mindset barriers and negative perceptions of self by introducing the concept of Be The Best Version Of Me. Each child should not compare with others, but try to be better today than they were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than they are today. This means that they only compare with themselves. A barrier to gaining a growth mindset is lack of feedback. Therefore, to eliminate this barrier, measures and scaling need to be made before, during and after set periods of time. This could be tested by measures such as the Brock and Hundley Questionnaire below:

Growth Mindset Questionnaire


Parental support is where the triangle of success between pupils and teachers is formed. I have heard many parents and carers say that they are doing all they can to help. Yet I often find out that this just comprises of being positive, with no tangible support that makes the pupil accountable. To counteract this barrier to support, Jackie Beere (2016) puts a useful set of questions together which helps parents support their children:

Growth Mindset: Parent Questions

Beyond these questions, parents should work with teachers to create a set of metacognition grids to evaluate effort, resilience and thinking strategies. These grids (taken from the CUPPA book Series) are a simple, yet effective way for pupils to document their endeavours.

Growth Mindset - Self-Reflection Effort Grade
Growth Mindset - Self-Reflection Questions


Beere, Jackie (2016) Grow Your Mindset Change Your Life: Crown House Publishing, Camarthan, Wales.

Brock, Annie and Hundley, Heather (2016) The Growth Mindset Coach: Ulysses Press, Berkeley, California, USA.

McWilliam, Ross (2017) The Amazing Journey of CUPPA: RMW Associates, Preston, UK.

For further information and practical strategies:

PERTS Project for Education Research That Scales (Carol Dweck) – Mindset Kits

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