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School opened this fall with students learning in a variety of settings and under multiple conditions. Some settings are long familiar to educators and students. Others have emerged in recent months in response to the need to maintain safe and sustainable distances and reduce exposure to the virus. Yet, regardless of the location and setting in which education occurs, we want to be certain that students learn and succeed.


Of course, educators will rely mostly on the strategies and techniques they have known to be effective in the past. Some will continue to produce expected results. Others will fall short when applied in a virtual/hybrid setting or another novel context.


Yet, there is new research published this past June by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that holds the potential to lift the performance of students across physical settings and disciplines without regard to past performance. The construct, known as strategic mindset, draws on what we already know about metacognition—thinking about and being aware of our thinking—and applies these skills in strategic ways.


The team of researchers, including Carol Dweck of Growth Mindset fame, demonstrated that learners who employed a strategic mindset were significantly better able to solve problems, reach goals, and improve performance over those who might rely on intelligence, persistence, or experience alone. Equally important, a strategic mindset appears to be effective across a variety of applications and life functions.


The construct involves people asking themselves questions about their work, learning, problem solving and other challenges to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Questions such as “Is there another way to do this better?” “How else can I do this?” and “What can I do to help myself?” can build consciousness about the challenge or goal and open new paths and strategies to achieve success.


The research demonstrated the effectiveness of employing a strategic mindset across diverse endeavors such as professional, education, health, and fitness goals. In fact, the researchers documented significant differences in performance even when results were controlled for intelligence.


Even more important, researchers demonstrated that a strategic mindset can be taught. In fact, positive effects were demonstrated with as little “priming” as having participants read about the construct and how it can be applied to learning and goal attainment.

If you are curious about the application of a strategic mindset and whether you have one, the team of researchers developed a questionnaire you can take to find out. Rate yourself on the following statements using a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (all the time):

When you are stuck on something, how often do you ask yourself: “What are things I can do to help myself?”

1        ‚2        ƒ3        „4        …5

Whenever you feel like you are not making progress, how often do you ask yourself: “Is there a better way of doing this?”

1        ‚2        ƒ3        „4        …5

Whenever you feel frustrated with something, how often do you ask yourself: “How can I do this better?”

1        ‚2        ƒ3        „4        …5

In moments when you feel challenged, how often do you ask yourself: “What are things I can do to make myself better at this?”

1        ‚2        ƒ3        „4        …5

When you are struggling with something, how often do you ask yourself: “What can I do to help myself?”

1        ‚2        ƒ3        „4        …5

Whenever something feels difficult, how often do you ask yourself: “What can I do to get better at this?”

1        ‚2        ƒ3        „4        …5

The higher you score, the more likely you are to have a strategic mindset. If you want to improve, make it a habit to ask yourself these questions whenever you face a challenge, engage in a difficult task, or want to achieve a goal.

The biggest benefit: Regardless of the learning context within which your students find themselves, using these questions to focus their attention can make a difference. With practice, students will soon develop additional learning and progress strategies that lead to improved learning and better goal attainment.



Chen, P., Powers, J. T., Katragadda, K. R., Cohen, G. L., and Dweck, C. S. (2020) A strategic mindset: An orientation toward strategic behavior during goal pursuit. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(25), 14066-14072. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2002529117

Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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