Education in the Health Professions

: 2022  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 80--83

Promoting growth mindset in occupational therapy education

Chelsey Edwards 
 Department of Occupational Therapy, Huntington University, Peoria, Arizona, United States

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Chelsey Edwards
Department of Occupational Therapy, Huntington University, Peoria, Arizona
United States


Occupational therapy education has seen an increase in rigor and scholarly expectations throughout the years as many programs transition to the doctoral level. Because of this, students continue to struggle with a fixed mindset of their perceived academic abilities. Increasing growth mindset in graduate occupational therapy students is described and further discussed in this article in order to facilitate the development of academically and emotionally prepared occupational therapy practitioners. Growth mindset examples are further described in congruence with the literature on student self-reports of what impacts their perceived ability of intelligence.

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Edwards C. Promoting growth mindset in occupational therapy education.Educ Health Prof 2022;5:80-83

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Edwards C. Promoting growth mindset in occupational therapy education. Educ Health Prof [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 5 ];5:80-83
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The concept of growth mindset has been around for over a decade; however, it has been gaining popularity in the mainstream research in the past few years. Increased interest in the concept of growth mindset has made waves in the academic community, at the primary, secondary, and postsecondary education levels. Educational institutions have launched initiatives and training that encourage teachers and students to have a flexible growth mindset, but a little research has been effective in showing how to successfully cultivate a growth mindset in a fixed academic setting. Elementary-level students are learning more about growth mindset than those in the past; however, the young to middle-aged adult occupational therapy students who are coming into graduate-level programs were often raised with the ideas of a fixed mindset of their academic abilities.

Students are often shocked by the pressures of intense and rigorous graduate-level expectations, especially in the occupational therapy education. According to Dweck (2006),[1] mindset can be categorized by the prevalence in three ways: growth mindset (40% of the population), fixed mindset (40% of the population), and mixed mindset (20% of the population). When considering the pressures these students face, in conjunction with the prevalence of both fixed and mixed mindsets, it is no surprise that students in graduate programs often feel vanquished.

 What Is Growth Mindset?

Psychologist and scholar, Dr. Carol Dweck first coined the concept of “growth mindset” as a result of her decades’ worth of research, which was then popularized in her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Growth mindset is defined as a “mindset” in which the individual believes that their abilities can be continuously developed.[1] A growth mindset is in direct contrast to a “fixed” mindset, one in which the individual believes their abilities are static.

Students who place value on effort often demonstrate a growth mindset[2]; however, Dweck (2016)[3] cautions about praising effort without outcomes as unproductive effort becomes meaningless. It is valuable to praise the effort, but it is more significant to praise the learning and progress while placing higher importance on the processes in which the learning and progress was obtained.[3] Dweck (2008)[4] states, “in my research in collaboration with my graduate students, we have shown that what students believe about their brains—whether they see their intelligence as something that’s fixed or something that can grow and change—has profound effects on their motivation, learning, and school achievement.” Growth mindset then is not about being naturally intelligent, it is about accepting challenges, learning from mistakes, and persevering in the face of obstacles in order to grow and obtain further understanding.

 Why Is Growth Mindset Important?

Research has shown that having a growth mindset makes a difference when it comes to academic achievements at all levels. The link between the growth mindset and motivation for academic success has been well reported in the literature.[5],[6] Research has shown that those who demonstrate a fixed mindset are often more concerned with looking intelligent that they often avoid difficult learning experiences for the fear of looking foolish.[7] In congruence, students who presented with fixed mindsets were more focused on unhealthy competition with peers, proving their competence, and were noted to avoid making mistakes.[8]

Additional research has shown the benefit of having a growth mindset at both the primary/secondary and higher education levels. At the primary/secondary level, Andersen and Neilsen (2016)[9] discovered that children whose parents presented with fixed mindsets had lower reading scores than those whose parents promoted a growth mindset, even after controlling for socioeconomic status. At the higher education level, Cavanagh et al. (2018)[10] discovered that a combination of trust in the instructor and a growth mindset was positively correlated with a commitment to active learning in college-level coursework. This information indicates that having a growth mindset is important at all levels of education as students who perform under a fixed mindset are at an increased risk for maladaptive and counterproductive learning patterns.[11] These poor learning patterns can then further complicate the success of graduate-level occupational therapy students as they navigate the increased rigor and scholastic demands of the learning process, leading to poor performance, lower self-esteem, decreased confidence, and poor retention.

Another argument for promoting a growth mindset is that the concept is valid across varying socioeconomic levels. Claro et al. (2016)[12] found that students who came from a lower-income family were less likely to demonstrate a growth mindset mentality; however, those that did were actually significantly less likely to succumb to the detrimental effects of poverty in regard to academic accomplishments. As graduate students come from all socioeconomic status levels, these results are promising as they provide insight into ways to address the impact of poverty on the educational achievement. As the profession of occupational therapy attempts to diversify their student body and work force, this concept becomes even more important in today’s society. Poverty has long been a barrier to graduate-level education[13] and cultivating a growth mindset approach to education has the potential to address the impact of poverty in higher education.

 Can Growth Mindset Be Improved?

Despite a plethora of research on the importance of growth mindset in educational settings, there is still a disconnect in how one can either shift toward a growth mindset or improve their mindset skills. Studies done on the growth mindset have reported positive outcomes when it came to student engagement and outcomes when enrolled in the growth mindset workshops.[14],[15] Additional research has shown that the growth mindset can be improved through a variety of educational interventions. O’Rourke et al. (2014)[16] found that by using a motivation system, they were able to facilitate a growth mindset through incentivizing effort, strategy, and progress. In congruence, Rege et al. (2020)[17] describes the importance of going beyond giving grades and rewarding challenge-seeking behaviors instead, thus increasing a growth mindset.

 Application to Occupational Therapy Education

When looking at this from an occupational therapy student lens, the improvement of growth mindset skills is imperative. Dweck (2009)[18] reports that individuals that foster a growth mindset have a better attitude toward practice and learning, are able to accept constructive criticism, and deal with setbacks, all of which help increase performance. Within occupational therapy education, the ability to learn and practice with a positive attitude and accept constructive criticism while dealing with setbacks will help students’ tenacity with coursework, fieldwork, and graduate-level projects. It is the goal of educators to help assist students on increasing and improving their growth mindset.

Continued research is needed in regard to the growth mindset and occupational therapy education. Students who are able to view their intelligence as malleable versus fixed will undoubtedly have more enriching experiences throughout graduate-level training. When encouraging a growth mindset perspective, students are able to develop a growth-oriented approach to learning and begin to see the classroom experiences as beneficial to their development.[19] In addition, Limeri et al. (2020)[20] report that students tend to shift toward a fixed mindset in higher-level education. This was reportedly even more pronounced for students who demonstrated persistent difficulty in a course. Because fixed mindsets become even more pronounced with an increased difficulty, it is imperative that occupational therapy educators work with their students on increasing the growth mindset.

Zeeb et al. (2020)[21] further investigated the effects of mindset intervention and its impact on student performance in the secondary education. They reported on the importance of teachers creating a classroom culture that is supportive of growth mindset ideals. Additionally, they were able to determine a positive and stable effect on growth mindset improvements 6 months postintervention, which adds to the argument that the growth mindset can be improved and should be a targeted intervention for academics.

When creating classroom environments that are congruent with a growth mindset approach, Zeeb et al. (2020)[21] recommend that activities are supportive of volition, focus on student self-beliefs, and are implemented in conjunction with an educational training in mindset. The goal is that the growth mindset instruction will persist with the instructor after the training and translate into their teaching. In occupational therapy education, these opportunities exist when considering the five factors that Limeri et al. (2020)[20] described as student reports of what attributes to their views of intelligence: academic experiences, observing peers, deducing logically, taking societal cues, and formal learning.

 Cultivating Growth Mindset

[Table 1] describes activities that occupational therapy educators can utilize to facilitate a growth mindset environment through the principles outlined in Limeri et al. (2020).[20]{Table 1}


In addition to utilizing teaching and learning strategies that facilitate a growth mindset approach to learning, it should also be considered a priority at the administrative level. Implementing policies that cultivate a growth mindset in graduate students can ultimately impact admission rates, student well-being, and retention. Factors that contribute to increased rivalry, such as class rankings, traditional letter grading systems, and the competition for preferred spots or appointments create environments in which students become distracted, frustrated, and further solidify a fixed mindset of academic abilities when the results of such competition are unfavorable.

Administration should consider implementing policy that cultivates the growth mindset in classroom settings. Strategies could include a transition to pass/fail grading, random assignment of clinical spots and/or clinical opportunities, and decreasing out of class assignments. By increasing opportunities for active, hands-on learning, and decreasing stressful and unnecessary homework assignments that encourage class rankings and solitary work, administration is able to cultivate the growth mindset.


The growth mindset has made significant gains in terms of scholarship since its origins. Despite this, research is still needed to determine which types of activities and interventions are most successful for increasing and/or transitioning toward a growth mindset. Occupational therapy and other healthcare professions have to maintain a high level of rigor, so caution should be heeded to not decrease the academic growth of future healthcare professionals. Some amounts of competition can be healthy, but it should not be the only focus of an academic program. Healthcare educators need to consider better ways to go about these competencies in a way that empowers students’ ongoing personal and professional growth and helps cultivate a growth mindset.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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