Fixed Mindset Painting

I am a HUGE proponent of Carol Dweck’s work around cultivating a growth mindset in schools. School cultures can benefit from a focused effort on this for students and adults. I have a growth mindset in many areas of my life.  I am a lover of learning and I know there are always ways to grow.  However, when it comes to one specific area in my life (dating back to my middle school years), I have a fixed mindset.


Since seventh grade, and a negative year-long experience in art class, I have believed that I have NO TALENT when it comes to art.  A teacher not only demonstrated that through her actions, but she basically said that to me too.  For a student who tolerated school, but loved learning, this was heartbreaking.  I have carried around the belief that I am awful at all things artistic and creative ever since that time.

Over the last few years, thanks to growth mindset and adult coloring and technology and writing, I have taken creativity out of my fixed mindset box.  I know that I am creative and I have a lot more room to grow in that fun area.  But it wasn’t until last week that I saw a glimmer of possibility for my artistic abilities.

My friend and I went to a painting class.  She actually gifted me this experience months ago, but this month was the first time we both had a free afternoon on a day when the class was painting a picture we both actually liked.  This was such a fun experience for me!  Since then, I’ve been reflecting on what elements helped me be successful and what chipped away at my fixed mindset.


The teacher’s sample that we were to emulate


When we arrived, I picked out seats for us near the back of the class, and then quickly realized the benefits of sitting right up front by the teacher.  By sitting in the front, we had a good view of the teacher modeling each step of the process as well as a sample finished product (see above!).  It was good to see our intended outcome as well as each phase along the way.

Modeling and Scaffolding

As mentioned above, the teacher modeled each step of the process for us.  It was overwhelming to look at the completed sample at the beginning of class.  I couldn’t imagine how I would ever do anything similar.  But the teacher gave clear instructions as well as modifications, while also encouraging us to make our piece unique in any way we felt comfortable.  She never took away the scaffolds in this lesson (which was good for someone like me!), but now that I’ve experienced one class, I believe I could rely on the scaffolds a little less in the next class.

Praise & Feedback

Throughout the class, both the teacher and her assistant walked around the room providing us with praise for the work we were doing.  At first, I thought it was generic, almost condescending praise.  But when the teacher noticed I chose to paint one building a different color than her model, I realized she was truly getting to know my work as an individual and I appreciated the positive feedback.  Both instructors were also willing to provide constructive feedback to anyone who wanted additional support.


Even without partaking in the wine at this wine and palette class, my friend and I spent a lot of time laughing during class- laughing at ourselves, at the class as a whole, and just finding humor in the entire experience, which made 4 hours fly by!

Open-ended expectations

While we all signed up to paint a specific picture, the teacher and her assistant were very encouraging about our final product being whatever we wanted.  They encourage us to experiment with colors and shapes and differentiated based on student requests.  Two of the women sitting next to us painted their buildings teal with a bright purple background, which as you can see in the model above, is nothing like the original color palette.  As a rule follower just discovering some creativity, I stuck to the teachers’ model most of the time, but I enjoyed the encouragement to think outside of that box.

All of these elements make me reflect on a typical classroom.  Do we provide students with a choice of where to sit?  Do we model and scaffold when appropriate (I actual think we over scaffold too much!)? Do we provide students with praise and constructive feedback throughout the learning day?  Do we hear laughter in our classrooms?  Do we provide opportunities for learning with open-ended expectations?

If my middle school art classes had included more of these elements, I might have avoided 20 years of a fixed mindset when it comes to art.

Below is a video of my experience! Click to view it in Flipagram!


About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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5 Responses to Fixed Mindset Painting

  1. Pingback: Learning | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

  2. Pingback: Breaking Out of the Boxes | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

  3. Pingback: A Year of Blogging – 2016 | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

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