skip to main content

Growth mindset and building character traits

Short articles
Authors: Rebecca Vukovic
Growth mindset and building character traits

Growth Mindset is a school of thought developed by psychologist Carol Dweck that suggests a person’s intelligence and ability are not fixed; and that with effort, dedication and resilience, their skills can be grown and improved.

At Kilvington Grammar in Melbourne’s south-east, Growth Mindset is embedded throughout the school – in lessons, extra-curricular opportunities, student-teacher interactions and within the learning intentions for lessons themselves.

Deputy Principal Davina McClure says that the staff at Kilvington understand how important it is to teach students that a Growth Mindset, underpinned by effort and resilience, is essential for accomplishment in learning.

‘Staff at Kilvington are committed to using consistent Growth Mindset language and formative instruction that focuses students to apply effort and persistence to achieve their personal best. This is embedded in our learning culture, as students are encouraged to persevere with deep thinking while not shying away from the unknown or difficult,’ she says.

The Kilvington Character Initiative

In 2016, Kilvington Grammar formally launched Character Initiative – a program which reinforces the school’s Growth Mindset philosophy through the focus on a character trait each semester. To date, some of the traits students have focused on are persistence, grit, resilience, adaptability, courage and curiosity.

‘The Kilvington Character Initiative is a framework of programs, events and activities that are embedded into our curriculum and co-curriculum programs that explicitly focuses on developing specific character traits in our students,’ McClure explains. ‘The selection of a character trait per semester is one part of the program. These traits are selected in the previous year. Staff and students have input into what the two character traits for the following year will be.’

There are also several programs that run as part of the Character Initiative. In Prep to Year 6, students participate in GEM (gratitude, empathy and mindfulness) time each day. This includes maintaining a gratitude journal and discussing kindness as a group.

In Years 7 to 10, students have four dedicated days per year where they participate in community service, peer support and peer meditation. They can also take part in a program called Shut the Duck Up which teaches students to challenge negative self-talk and behaviour, and build strategies to enable performance under pressure.

The Mpower Girls program in Years 7 to 10 explores how girls relate to one another including the issues of bullying and cliques, how to be assertive and how to have empathy for each other. And the Revved up program works with students to help them identify personal triggers for anxiety or anger and how to more effectively manage reactions and responses.

In Year 9, students participate in a Power of Year 9 program and attend a week-long Character Conference.

Measuring the impact

McClure says that growth in learning and character development is celebrated in the classrooms at Kilvington, but measuring character development is an ongoing challenge.

‘It is an ongoing process and we are at the embryonic stages of developing metrics around measuring character in the classroom. However, existing research demonstrates there is a correlation between character and academic performance,’ she says.

The research she refers to is The Role of a Good Character in 12-Year-Old School Children: Do Character Strengths Matter in the Classroom? (Weber & Ruch, 2012).

McClure also says that teachers at Kilvington are able to acknowledge and celebrate Growth Mindset through feedback. ‘Teachers use explicit language that recognises and models this,’ she adds.

Earlier this year the school also implemented a new Continuous Online Reporting System, where assessment and reporting comments are no longer addressed to the parent. Instead, the parent reads direct and formative learning feedback, from the teacher to the student, and that shapes and indicates personalised areas for growth.

‘We introduced the student-centric approach in early 2018 as part of the implementation of a new learning management system,’ McClure says.  ‘It is early days, but we believe that timely formative feedback directly to the student encourages them to reflect on and invest in the learning advice that is given as they continue to apply effort to their learning.’


Weber, M., & Ruch, W. (2012). The role of a good character in 12-year-old school children: Do character strengths matter in the classroom?. Child Indicators Research, 5 (2), 317-334.

How do you encourage students to adopt a Growth Mindset by continually building on their skills using effort, dedication and resilience?

Kilvington Grammar decided to focus on the character traits of persistence, grit, resilience, adaptability, courage and curiosity. Consider the character traits you’d choose to focus on with your students. Which would you pick and why?

Michael 19 September 2018

Thanks for this article. It sounds positive; I did think though that effort and persistence were underpinned by mindset, not the reverse as you put it. I think it’s an important distinction. I also ask what you do to cultivate teacher mindsets.

Ang 25 September 2018

Well, i suppose I shouldn’t write this, but… Do people in developing countries, or did the youth of the 1930’s need to develop a Growth Mindset?  These ideas seem like old fashioned remedies for the mentality that has developed since the 60’s in affluent hedonistic materialistic Western societies, where you don’t have to try much or care much in your pleasure bubble. Where people interested in learning are defined as un-cool nerds, and knowledge is a frightening threat. Your parents are like that, and you are like that. Shops are open till midnight 7 days a week, and you are anxious, because no matter how many status items you buy, you feel empty and manipulated, dumb.

Jen 27 September 2018

Great to focus on the explicit teaching of dispositions .. character traits but a lot of different “programs” going on!  Re growth mindset it’s so important that students learn to adopt a growth mindset when learning is “challenging” not learn that it is an enduring “stable” trait. Sometimes we need a growth mindset and on other occasions having a fixed mindset can serve us well. All depends on the context.

Leave a comment

Skip to the top of the content.