You might have heard us throw around the term ‘growth mindset’ a fair bit on our social media platforms, so we thought we’d share a little bit more on what it is and why it’s one of School of Hard Knocks’ most important guiding principles.


Mindset is a simple idea discovered by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. She established two main categories of approach to growth and learning: fixed mindset and growth mindset, which SOHK espouses and teaches.

A fixed mindset assumes that everything is stable, that nothing can change and therefore there is no point in making an effort to change anything. This may be useful if the fixed belief relates to positive elements of a person (e.g. I am a confident, intelligent person), though remaining in a fixed position on these things can be equally damaging. Remaining in a fixed, positive mindset does not allow the person to acknowledge the work that they have made to be confident and seemingly intelligent.

With a growth mindset, the assumption is that things are always changing and that every skill is acquired, nurtured and developed. Here the individual acknowledges the choice they have in everything they do and the responsibility they have for their own individual situation. Within this mindset, most things are possible with hard work and effective, deliberate practice.

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset

Being unemployed or falling behind at school has been shown to erode confidence and motivation. There is often therefore, a negative approach to trying new things, which is ultimately rooted in fear. When you combine the effects of something like unemployment with a fixed mindset, the outcomes are significant. Sometimes it can be incredibly challenging for participants to recognise and face the root of their fears head on; that’s where SOHK can begin to help - by challenging individuals’ ingrained negative core beliefs and mindsets.

At School of Hard Knocks we challenge fixed mindsets from the very outset in our one-to-one and group sessions. One-to-one mentoring allows us to do this in a more comfortable and less confrontational space; we can enable participants to develop an awareness of where they are holding themselves back by having a fixed view of something, for example, a participant may be intent on getting a certain qualification before they apply for any jobs. Through deliberate and measured questioning, SOHK helps participants on both Adult Courses and Schools Programmes examine whether their perception is really reality, or whether they’ve adopted a particular view so that they have a justification for not taking action.

Within group work, SOHK focuses on what participants can do about their situation. We actively encourage a growth mindset in terms of how individuals perceive themselves and their circumstances, and quickly challenge any statement made which is fixed, negative and unhelpful. This means, that rather than viewing themselves as being stuck unemployed and it being beyond their control, adult participants come to understand job-seeking as a skill that they can learn.

Essentially, adopting a growth mindset is all about recognising negative thought patterns and reframing the way you look at things. For some, this may seem simple, however the vast majority of our participants have faced extremely difficult situations in life. If some of these situations are not examined, they can easily lead to a fixed mindset that can result in deeply ingrained negative core beliefs. Individuals can begin to blame themselves or others, become bitter in character and carry past trauma into present circumstances. Our course facilitators help participants to begin to see their situation with new eyes and to encourage them to avoid the tendency to act with anger, despair or resentment. Instead, we support them and enable them to adopt a growth mindset so that they are able to see the strengths and character qualities that are gained from such difficult experiences - perseverance, tenacity, inner strength, compassion, empathy, perspective, determination.

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