Bringing It

Bringing It #112: The Link Between Student Thriving and Faculty Thriving: Growth Mindset and the Student Experience Project

October 11, 2023

Dear friends,

As readers of Bringing It know, we often showcase examples of the kind of integrative innovation that our work on the Paradigm Project aims to advance.  This issue focuses on one such exemplar: The Student Experience Project (SEP). The SEP is a national collaborative of six universities that works to support equitable student success through evidenced-based practices that enhance student belonging. Interestingly one key thread of the SEP is its Faculty Core Collaborative, a faculty community of practice that stresses the importance of teachers themselves moving beyond a deficit mindset in their view of their students.  SEP participants told us that the success of their work depends on instructors changing not just their practices, but their minds.

SEP’s approach to equity-minded student support begins with an array of evidence-supported practices that contribute to students’ sense of belonging, identity, and safety in the classroom—ranging from student-centered policies around flexible deadlines to de-stigmatizing moments of academic difficulty.  One core strategy is a sequence of short, pulse student surveys during the semester, so that instructors can receive real-time feedback on students’ sense of belonging, disaggregated by student identity, as well as specific resources to address any problems.

SEP draws on the influential work of psychologist Carol Dweck on “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. Students may have fixed mindsets about their capacities, inhibiting their capacity to learn and explore. Yet faculty themselves may come to class with similarly fixed mindsets—about their students, the limits of their role as instructors, and their capacity to teach this new generation of students.  Dr. Denise Bartell, who led the University of Toledo’s SEP team, approached the project with research on mindset from the Gateway to Phoenix Success Program she had led at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. Along with Caroline Boswell, she discovered,  “If you have a faculty member who was equity oriented, but still expressed more of a deficit mindset, the student outcomes [measured in grades, retention, and sense of belonging] were actually worse than for students who didn’t participate in the program at all.” A teacher with a deficit mindset, Bartell said, “actually did harm.” 

Faculty participation in the SEP, including access to student voices about their experience, had a significant impact on their own mindset.  They could see the influence of these new practices not only on individual students, but also on the classroom community. “An individual growth mindset is not enough,” says Krysti Ryan, SEP partner. Creating a culture of growth is essential to co-created, adaptable classrooms.  Indeed, it was important for faculty to follow up with authentic changes in the learning environment, so that students themselves could see their feedback actively shaping the classroom culture.  “Particularly for students from minoritized backgrounds who tend to get surveyed up the wazoo, they can give their opinions over and over and not see things change,” says SEP partner Samantha Levine. The fact that faculty reacted in real time to the data they’re receiving and committed to altering their practices and/or syllabi mid-semester, proved that they were taking the feedback seriously.

Perhaps the most unexpected benefit of the SEP’s innovative model is that—beyond improving student success and instructional effectiveness—it led to faculty community building.  In faculty communities of practice such as the Equity Champions at the University of Toledo, there were opportunities to connect across “disciplinary fiefdoms” as Professor Christopher Patrick Martin put it, in “an inclusive model of leadership [that] empowered folks to want to do more.”  Also, SEP practices, “…create a model for implementing DEI initiatives,” said Dr. Jerry Daday, who is working on creating similar faculty communities of practice at his own campus. “Creating communities to come together and do the work is the only way to get to sustainable change,” said Denise Bartell. “We want to empower faculty to be agents of change in their institution and in the field, not just in the classroom.” 

The Student Experience Project offers a powerful model for integrating student belonging, equity-minded teaching, support for academic success, faculty development, and faculty community-building.  This is just the sort of innovation—creative, integrative, multi-institutional—that can offer models of systemic change.  Nor is it the only effort to use ‘mindset theory’ to catalyze such change in higher ed.  The CUNY Innovative Teaching Academy hosts a series of workshops, and has done significant work in building curriculum for faculty development of a growth mindset. The University of North Texas has an impressive digital library linking faculty development, pedagogy, and growth mindset, especially in its impact on retention.  And James Madison University—one of our “Emerging Model” partners in the Paradigm Project—has charged a task force to implement institution-wide innovations to make a “changemaker mindset” a core element of the JMU student experience.

Thanks so much to Denise Bartell, Sam Levine, Dave Paunesku, Krysti Ryan, Christopher Patrick Martin, and Jerry Daday for their insight and advice in sharing this story.

News and Events:

  The AAC&U Conference on Global Learning is taking place on October 12-14th in Washington DC and is themed around Meeting Global Challenges. This conference will bring students, educators, administrators, community members, and policymakers together to discuss centering global learning across many curricular spheres and how to find forward-thinking ways to address global communities in higher education. Follow these links for more information about the event programming and registration

  The Imagining America National Gathering will be held October 20-22nd in Providence, Rhode Island. Themed “Radical Reckoning: Invoking the Elements for Collective Change,” this conference features conversations and presentations on creative projects and pedagogy, community partnerships, and so much more. This event will also be taking place concurrently with our friend and Paradigm Working Group member Adam Bush’s inauguration as the president of College UnboundWe send him our congratulations! 

  Recently, David and a few of our Emerging Models colleagues attended the IMPACT! Summit at Oberlin College. Led by our friend Thom Dawkins, the summit highlighted key community partners and research projects. David remarked, “I was inspired to attend Oberlin College’s Summit, which kicked off the year’s activities for the college’s Bonner Center. The Community Projects were exciting and so was the passion and thoughtfulness of the students. The Bonner Center is a part of the engaged liberal arts that is serving as an engine of engaged, integrative innovative education at Oberlin. I’m excited to learn from Oberlin, the students, the community partners, and the projects they pursue this year.”

Oberlin Impact Summit with students, staff and community leaders hosted by the Oberlin Bonner Center, Sept. 30, 2023.

With thanks for you all and all you do,

David, Gianna, Gillian, Kate, Paul, and Todd

Bringing Theory to Practice
Elon University