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Teaching Excellence Program

Academic Tenacity

Date: 1:00pm - 1:45pm PDT April 16 Location: J.R. Howard Hall 302

J.R. Howard Hall 302

What is academic tenacity? In their white paper entitled, Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long-Term Learning, Professors Carol Dweck, Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen (2014) define academic tenacity as “the mindsets and skills that allow students to: (1) look beyond short-term concerns to longer-term or higher-order goals, and (2) withstand challenges and setbacks to persevere toward these goals.” According to these authors, academically tenacious students: 

  • Belong academically and socially
  • See school as relevant to their future
  • Work hard and can postpone immediate pleasures
  • Are not derailed by intellectual or social difficulties
  • Seek out challenges
  • Remain engaged over the long haul 

What role can faculty play in helping our students develop academic tenacity? Decades of research by Professor Dweck and colleagues on psychological mindsets suggests that viewing intelligence and ability as malleable (something that can grow with time, effort, and learning) leads to better academic outcomes than viewing intelligence and ability as fixed (something you have or you don’t). And perhaps even more striking, professors’ own beliefs about psychological mindsets have a direct effect on their students.

In a recent study, Indiana University professor Elizabeth Canning and colleagues found that “STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes.” Why? In part, it appears that professors who endorse fixed mindsets are “more likely to judge a student as having low ability based on a single test performance and to use unhelpful pedagogical practices, like encouraging students to drop difficult courses,” whereas professors who endorse growth mindsets communicate that “ability is malleable and can be developed through persistence, good strategies, and quality mentoring.” The authors conclude that “investing resources in faculty mindset interventions could help professors understand the impact of their beliefs on students’ motivation and performance and help them create growth mindset cultures in their classes at little to no cost” (Canning et al., 2019).

Here are some questions to consider:
  • How would you characterize your own view of intelligence and ability? That is, do you have more of a fixed or a growth mindset? 
  • Have you made efforts to encourage growth mindsets in your students? If so, how effective were these efforts?
  • What techniques can we use to cultivate growth mindsets in ourselves, our colleagues, and our students? 

All TEP Pedagogy Lunches last about an hour and meet in the conference room in JR Howard Hall 302 (unless stated otherwise). You are welcome to bring your own lunch. Coffee, tea, and cookies are provided.  Although an RSVP is not required, a rough headcount would be helpful. If you plan to attend the TEP lunch, please RSVP below or email

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