Stanford University’s Carol Dweck accepted the Yidan Prize in Hong Kong on Dec. 10. (Courtesy of Carol Dweck)

A multimillion dollar education award launched in China has named one of its first winners: an American. A Stanford University professor was named co-winner  for her groundbreaking research in student motivation and into how to help young people cultivate success — and she took the occasion to call for more “heart” in the learning process.

Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford, recently accepted the Yidan Prize in Hong Kong, where she spoke out in favor of an education process that is counter to the intense, standardized test- and cramming-based school culture in China. In her acceptance speech, she said:

“Let us put that heart-mind back into education. It is critical for educators to know that we cannot nourish the mind without the heart. We cannot expect good learning — joyful and effective learning — to happen in a mind that is disconnected from the heart.”

The prize was started in 2016 by Charles Chen Yidan, co-founder of the technology giant Tencent. Its inaugural awards process had two winners: Dweck for education research, and Vicky Colbert, founder and director of Fundación Escuela Nueva in Colombia, for education development.

The Yidan Prize cited Colbert’s student-centered Escuela Nueva model as empowering teachers and students to transform learning through collaboration and participation, and said her work has improved the quality of rural education in 14 developing countries, affecting more than 5 million children.

Both receive a gold medal and about $3.9 million; half of each winner’s award is for personal use and the other half to fund educational initiatives, though Dweck has requested that her personal portion also be put into a foundation to further educational research. “We have so much to do and a long way to go,” he said in an email.

Dweck, who has researched and taught at Columbia and Harvard universities, and has done extensive writing, is famous for what is known as “the growth mindset,” which applies to students who believe their intelligence can be developed, as opposed to a “fixed mindset,” which is attached to those people who believe that their intelligence cannot be expanded. Students with growth mindsets perform better than the others. Here’s how she described her work in a 2015 piece she wrote for Education Week:

For many years, I secretly worked on my research. I say “secretly” because, once upon a time, researchers simply published their research in professional journals — and there it stayed.

However, my colleagues and I learned things we thought people needed to know. We found that students’ mindsets — how they perceive their abilities  — played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.

So a few years back, I published my book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success to share these discoveries with educators. And many educators have applied the mindset principles in spectacular ways with tremendously gratifying results.

Dweck has written numerous books, including the award-winning “Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development,” and she has written for numerous publications, including The New Yorker, the New York Times and The Washington Post.

In her prize acceptance speech last week, and then later during her visit in Hong Kong, Dweck urged that schools put “heart” back into learning. She said in her speech:

In accepting this medal, I celebrate the philosophy behind the prize — the idea of the “loyal heart” with an unwavering commitment. And I celebrate the very meaning of the heart in Chinese philosophy — the heart as the seat of both emotional and mental life. The heart-mind that allows us to take in, experience, and learn from the world around us.

Let us put that heart-mind back into education. It is critical for educators to know that we cannot nourish the mind without the heart. We cannot expect good learning — joyful and effective learning — to happen in a mind that is disconnected from the heart. And we cannot expect our students to create the world of tomorrow, the world that we hope for, without a heart-mind that connects them to each other, to the larger society, and to the planet as a whole.

The South China Morning Post quoted her as saying:

“Chinese culture is already telling children to work hard. That’s not growth mindset because they’re working hard for the product, not for the growth or the joy of learning.”

Here’s the text of her acceptance speech, provided by Dweck:

Thank you. It is a great honor to receive the Yidan Prize for Educational Research and I accept it on behalf of my extraordinary students and colleagues.  It is their work as much as mine. I also accept it with deep gratitude to my family, and especially my husband David, the most supportive partner I could ever imagine. Everyone should have their David.

My research began in graduate school when I asked a question: Why do some children seek out challenges and cope well with setbacks, while others, with just as much ability, avoid risks and are crushed by failures?

As I embarked on this research, I was astonished to find that some students not only coped with setbacks and failures; they seemed to love them! As we gave 10 year olds problems that were too hard for them, one looked up, rubbed his hands together, and exclaimed: “I love a challenge!” Another said gleefully, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative!” And guess what: Some of them actually solved the problems they weren’t supposed to solve.

They were failing and enjoying it! What was the secret to their joyful, effective learning? I was determined to figure it out and bottle it, so we could give it to all children.

Then, after years of research, we had a breakthrough. We discovered the mindsets—the fixed and growth mindsets. We found that some students thought of their talents, abilities, or intelligence as just fixed traits—you have a certain amount and that’s it. These were the ones who were worried about mistakes and failure, because they could mean your mind is deficient. But others thought of their talents, abilities, or intelligence as qualities they could develop. They were the ones who saw challenges, mistakes, and even failures as the route to learning, to getting smarter.

About 15 years ago, we and other researchers (such as Joshua Aronson and Catherine Good) began to wonder whether we could teach students a growth mindset. And if we could, might this make them more challenge-seeking and resilient– more effective learners? The initial studies were labor-intensive, in-person workshops, and they yielded very promising results. But because of the time and cost involved, they were not scalable.

However, a few years ago, my students and colleagues (Dave Paunesku and David Yeager) had a wild idea. What if we could send out short growth-mindset programs over the internet to a large number of students in schools around the country? The idea that you could administer two short sessions and then hope to have an effect on students’ grades months later was slightly crazy. But it worked! And it worked again in a replication. The effects were modest and were mostly found for the lower achieving students, but this was encouraging.

Based on these results, we then created a new online program and launched an even larger study with a nationally representative sample of over 16,000. These were students making the transition to high school—a time when many get derailed from the math and STEM subjects that may be so essential to their future work. The initial results are just in and we are finding modest, but reliable and meaningful effects: Students, especially those with lower prior performance, chose more challenging math courses and were doing better in school compared to the control group. (What’s more the effects of our online workshop have now been demonstrated by other researchers in Norway and Peru.)

With the funding from the Yidan Prize, we will be able to follow our high school students to find out what happens to them: Who stays with STEM courses, who graduates from high school, who goes to college, who finds meaningful work. It is one thing to know the short-term effects of an intervention, but the longer-term effects are what really count.

But there’s something I haven’t mentioned. How do we create a growth-mindset culture in our classrooms? After all, that’s where the learning takes place. How do we help students thrive on challenges by immersing them in classrooms that are dedicated to their growth and learning? Many educators are looking for the answer and so with the support from the Yidan Prize, my colleagues Stephanie Fryberg and Mary Murphy are working with teachers to create and test a step-by-step growth mindset curriculum, one that guides teachers in how to infuse growth mindset principles into their teaching practices throughout the day.

All of this work is still in its infancy and we have so much to learn. I feel just like the person on the medal — gazing through the open door at all that is left to accomplish, feeling energized and inspired by the mission.

In accepting this medal, I celebrate the philosophy behind the prize — the idea of the “loyal heart” with an unwavering commitment. And I celebrate the very meaning of the heart in Chinese philosophy — the heart as the seat of both emotional and mental life. The heart-mind that allows us to take in, experience, and learn from the world around us.

Let us put that heart-mind back into education. It is critical for educators to know that we cannot nourish the mind without the heart. We cannot expect good learning — joyful and effective learning — to happen in a mind that is disconnected from the heart. And we cannot expect our students to create the world of tomorrow, the world that we hope for, without a heart-mind that connects them to each other, to the larger society, and to the planet as a whole.

Therefore, with this prize, I dedicate myself anew to helping create joyful, effective, and meaningful learning for all the children of the world.