Empowering Students: Using Process-Based Feedback to Recognize for a Growth Mindset

We don’t live in silos, wind tunnels, or holes. We are in systems of people, places, and things, which includes interdependent interactions. Often, person with more power engage people with less power. For example, teachers motivate students. Managers motivate employees. Preacher motivate followers. Coaches motivate players on a team. Leaders motivate others. Clearly, we motivate each other. But for those with power, we want to go beyond motivation and empower followers with power (i.e., capacity to influence others and one’s self).  How do we enable people to feel empowered and go above and beyond the call of duty to learn more, care more effectively, and be more productive?

Psychological Empowerment

Geller (2005) adapted Bandura’s theory to discuss the three components of psychological empowerment. As a teacher, consider using the following three questions as guidelines for teaching in classes. For mentors, teachers, and managers, use these as clarifying questions to better understand how to address the students, employees, or mentors concerns. How do you know if someone is empowered? Ask someone:

  1. Can you do it?
  2. Will it work?
  3. Is it worth it?

“Self-efficacy (“I can do it”) is the belief you can organize and perform the procedures needed to achieve a desired goal (Bandura, 1997).  This requires training to develop the skills and abilities to perform task-specific behaviors.

Response-efficacy (“It will work”) explains why a process is useful for achieving a certain mission.  You must believe the intervention will have a desirable impact, and this belief can be acquired through education.

Outcome expectancy (“It’s worth it”) is the belief the consequences of the behaviors you perform are worth the effort required to perform them.  Such outcome-expectancy not only motivates you, but the collective group.  This in turn fuels self-efficacy and response-efficacy (Geller, 2005)“(McCutchen, McCarty, & Tarzia, 2013).


In our prior Preparing the Future Professoriate graduate course, a student agreed with me after my rant on the detrimental use of punitive consequences reactively. He agreed and went on to discuss his use of recognition proactively with an undergraduate student who was doing well in his class. He said something like… “This student came back the next day twice as motivated and excited to share what he had been working on.”

Such interpersonal recognition can increase perceptions of competence, fueling self-motivation (Geller & Veazie, 2009) and enhancing authentic empowerment (Bandura, 1997; Geller, 2005). Let’s recognize people proactively, so we don’t get stuck in reactive situations with pressure to use penalties as an attempt to punish bad behavior.

Recognize Behavior to Develop a Growth Mindset

The process we take to recognize people can lead to a very good or bad belief. Dweck (1986, 2007) demonstrated two fundamentally different beliefs among individuals about their own intelligence: growth mindset and fixed mindset. Individuals with a growth mindset believe intelligence can improve with practice and fixed mindset believe intelligence is static and won’t change.  A growth perspective can be developed if people deliver behavior-based feedback (process-based feedback) in relation to the outcome. If a student scores high on a test, don’t say: you’re so smart (or s/he could develop a fixed mindset). Consider saying: “I saw you scored well on the test, you must have worked very hard and studied long hours” (process focused).

Applying Recognition, Process-Focused Feedback, and Growth Mindset

Should we recognize the process people take?


If so, our “most improved” award should no longer be viewed as meaningless, but rather as a reflection of true growth and development. Should we have more process awards? “Most Hours Worked” Award. Most “Intensely Engaged” Worker Award. It seems process awards more align with our US view of meritocracy than the “everyone gets a trophy” (regardless of effort) philosophy, which reflects a group-outcome reward.


In science, should the process (e.g., methodology and analyses) be rewarded (e.g., in top-tier publications) in lieu of the outcomes (e.g., significant findings)? If someone develops a critical research question, hypothesis, and tests that hypothesis with sound methodology, but finds no significant results, should it be treated the same as paper with significant findings? Why is significance defined by the p-value (outcome) rather than the sound methodology (process)? If the vision is to contribute to science, it seems well-designed studies with results (whether significant or not) contribute equally to moving the field and theories forward.


Perceptions of empowerment and recognition can fuel self-motivation. The process of recognition (i.e., process-based) matters if we truly want to develop a growth mindset among people. The process is important. Should we rethink decisions, thinking, and our systems in light of empowerment, recognition, and process-focused feedback?


Bandura, A.  (1997).  Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control.  New York:W.H. Freeman & Company.

Dweck , C. (1986). Motivational processes affecting learning. American Psychologist, 41, 1040-1048.

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Geller, E.S.(2005).  People-based safety: The source.  Virginia, Beach, VA: Coastal Training          and Technologies Corporation.

Geller, E.S.,& Veazie, R.A.(2009).  The courage factor: Leading people-based culture change. 

Virginia, Beach, VA: Coastal Training and Technologies Corporation.

~ by shanemccarty on April 7, 2013.

One Response to “Empowering Students: Using Process-Based Feedback to Recognize for a Growth Mindset”

  1. Hi Shane,

    Great post and excellent rant!

    I just wanted to comment back to share the leadership perspective. You mention in your post that there is a basic transaction that exists between the boss and his/her employees, a teacher and his/her students, etc. “But for those with power, [some] want to go beyond motivation and empower followers with power (i.e., capacity to influence others and one’s self).” And to go beyond the basics of a relationship and to empower people to do more than they thought possible, that is transformational leadership. Transformational leadership was first defined by James McGregor Burns (a legend in the field) as the leader’s ability to motivate the follower to accomplish more than what the follower planned to accomplish. The theory is also commonly described as the leader helps to raise the follower to higher levels of accomplishment and morality while empowering the follower by understanding their values. This was later expanded on by Bass (1985) as he identified four components of the theory: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration.

    I believe that this is relevant to your argument. I also believe in investing time and resources in people for purposes of empowerment!

    The theory can be further explored in the Peter Northouse text and previewed here: http://books.google.com/books/about/Leadership.html?id=BiqT_CZbBegC

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