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Challenging Your Mindset

Deficit Mindset ImageThe University of Tennessee helps each scholar maximize their individual strengths and understand how their strengths contribute to their academic dreams, career paths, and personal well-being. A deficit mindset impedes our scholars’ success by limiting their potential. To enhance our scholars’ success, we encourage the shift from a deficit to a strengths-based mindset.

Conceptual Framework

Increase Deficit Mindset Decrease Deficit Mindset

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Decrease Retention Increase in Retention

Deficit Mindset This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Image3a-300x102.jpgStrengths-Based Mindset
Unintentionally imposes
barriers to our scholars’ success because of our high levels of expertise
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Image3b-300x58.jpgDoes not blame the scholar
or their background
for equity gaps
Makes assumptions that a
scholar who is underperforming is lazy, unmotivated, or underprepared for college
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Image3b-300x58.jpgAsks you to avoid assuming
that under preparation, lack
of interest, or lack of effort
are the most likely causes of
academic struggle
Oversimplifies the complexities of scholars’ learning This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Image3b-300x58.jpg Engages all scholars
with the same intellectual
curiosity we apply to
complex problems

A strengths-based mindset means…

We believe that all scholars can learn at high levels. We share this message often and consistently.

We challenge every scholar intellectually. We believe high expectations are attainable.

We will provide the structures necessary for every scholar to reach their potential.


A strengths-based mindset and approach clearly defines our high expectations of scholars and broadens opportunities for all scholars. Scholars should know we expect the very best of them and that they are capable of demonstrating their excellence. It is important to use language that promotes excellence and clarity.

TermStrengths-Based Alternative
Improve, SupportEnhance, Enrich
TutorsLearning Consultants
IncreaseSharpen, Hone, Perfect
HelpFacilitate, Benefit

Click here for a PDF version of the Challenging your Mindset handout.