Fostering Metacognition in Faculty: A Growth Mindset Approach

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

The reflexive quality of institutional assessment requires that leaders challenge themselves and their faculty to interrogate assumptions, to think about how they are thinking and why. This presentation will outline practical techniques aimed at helping faculty develop their own metacognitive practice using a growth mindset model of engagement.  


Carrie Wandler is an Associate Professor and University Program Director for General Education & Psychology at Colorado Technical University. Over the past fifteen years, she has taught composition as well as a wide variety of literature courses at traditional brick and mortar universities, Boston University and Harvard University, as well as through various online learning platforms. She earned her B.A. in English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and completed her M.A. in Literature at Boston University. She recently completed her Ed.D. in Postsecondary Education from Argosy University. Her learning-centered approach to instruction and design emphasizes techniques aimed at getting students empowered by the power and possibility of their own thought.

Extended Abstract

Growth mindset, the idea that ability is fluid and can be improved throughout the course of one’s lifetime, is a concept that has gained increasing attention as institutions seek to understand and negotiate the barriers learners returning to higher education face. Student engagement approaches that utilize growth mindset challenge students to interrogate their assumptions about their own abilities. These perceived limitations cause students to regard themselves as complacent in the learning process and prone to failure. Students who are afraid to fail become afraid to try, thus making them less likely to venture out of their comfort zones. Growth mindset provides students with a way out of this cycle of learned helplessness by empowering students to seek out educational challenges as a means of expanding the boundaries of what they can learn and achieve. What is most remarkable about the incorporation of growth mindset into higher education, however, is the foundational role metacognition plays in reframing the individual’s relationship to her/himself as well as to the overall learning process. There is tremendous power in understanding how our mindsets limits our ability to learn and in realizing that these mindsets are largely of our own making. Although the use of growth mindset as a tool to increase student engagement and success is gaining momentum in various corners of higher education, the application of these principles to the training and development of faculty has largely remained unexplored.  

As institutions face an every-increasing need for innovative solutions to long-standing problems, the need to develop faculty capable of embracing new ways of thinking, and thinking about thinking, is more important than ever. Although this paradigm shift is important, it certainly is not easy. The position faculty occupy within higher education depends, to a large extent, on the adoption of a fixed mindset in relation to their discipline and to their students.  Institutions at every level know the challenges of balancing a desire for faculty to remain active in the current scholarship in their field with the need to ensure that the content brought into the classroom is appropriate to meet the particular programmatic needs of the students they teach day-to-day. While growth in faculty knowledge of the discipline is encouraged, it is understood that it must take a backseat to the prescribed curriculum when it comes to students. In a similar vein, faculty interactions with students are predicated on a power structure whereby they derive their authority from being the expert, from being the source of knowledge, from being “right.” Many institutions are, of course, moving away from the “sage on the stage” approach in favor of  more dynamic models of teaching and learning. However, no matter how dynamic the model is, it always relies on the faculty as the primary source of information, even if that information is fodder for conversation, refutation, and/or reflection. Inherent in the position of faculty is this double-bind, the desire to grow in knowledge met with the necessity of remaining, in some sense, constant in practice.  Is it any wonder, then, that faculty feel that growth mindset is something that applies to students but has very little to do with them?


The solution seems simple enough. If institutions desire more innovative and forwarding-thinking faculty members, they must provide an environment where these traits are fostered and developed. Grow mindset is foundational to precipitating this change. Leaders must work to promotes changes in faculty culture so that departments become spaces where new ideas and ways of thinking are welcome. This often requires the reprioritization of strategic goals to focus less on the relative success or failure of particular small-scale initiatives and more on the insight gained in the process. If faculty are given room to interrogate their assumptions about their practice and to engage in iterative reflection about what they are doing and why, they become equipped to develop informed strategies that integrate practice and results. By making metacognitive practice an integral part of faculty expectations, leaders are able to free faculty from the fixed mindset mentality that limits their perspective.  Harnessing the power of metacognition allows faculty to continue to grow as educators by framing metacognitive practice as part of their own narrative of personal and professional progress, the ongoing story of “getting better” that education, at its best, can be.


In this conference presentation, Dr. Carrie Wandler will provide an overivew of how growth mindset works and why it is important for faculty to develop metacognitive practices. She will lead an activity that explores how and why resistance to metacognition exists at the faculty level. Dr. Wandler will end by showcasing a series of techniques that leaders at every level can use to foster metacognition, making them better able to interrogate assumptions and seek out innovative solutions to long-standing obstacles.

Learning Outcomes:

·       Participants will be able to:

o   describe how metacognitive practices facilitate institutional change.

o   apply techniques to foster metacognition at the faculty level.

o   build reflective exercises into the preparation of accreditation documents to help faculty members better articulate the philosophy that informs their practice.

o   use growth mindset as a guiding principle to engage faculty in strategic planning and implementation.