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Shareday Friday – What does ‘Growth Mindset’ look like in schools?

‘Mindset’ is the new buzzword in education. I’m not going to explain what mindset is in this blog so if you need a refresher about Mindset then check out these articles:
Why Mindset is important for teachers and schools,

What Russian tennis tells us about talent and
Expert in a year.

But, what does a ‘Growth Mindset’ look like in schools?

When you are thinking about developing mindset in your classroom or your school the first important point is that it is about creating a climate. Developing a growth mindset in students helps in developing resilience and creating independent learners. In a world where we are educating children for jobs that don’t yet exist, educating children to work with technologies that have not yet been created, we have a duty to create adaptable individuals who have a capacity for learning.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

In order to develop climate everybody needs to be on board. The first part of developing a growth mindset then is to include as many people as possible in the project. If you genuinely want to be working on developing a growth mindset culture in school then there is going to be work to do with teachers, assistants, dinner ladies, governors, parent helpers – anybody involved with the school. If everybody is working with the same purpose when they interact with the students then we begin to create the culture in which growth mindset can thrive. Let’s take a look at practical ways adults can support the development of a growth mindset in schools.

Five behaviours of adults working to develop a growth mindset culture in schools

1. Intelligence isn’t fixed.
All of the adults in school need to buy into this idea that intelligence is something that we can develop and learn. The students need to see that we believe that intelligence isn’t fixed because  ultimately, that is what we need the students to understand.
I heard of one headteacher who illustrated this each year by starting his first assembly each September by introducing his own planned learning goal for the year. One year he stood in front of the school and unwrapped a package delivered over the Internet. Inside was a gleaming saxophone which he then proceeded to put together whilst explaining how he had always wanted to learn to play the saxophone. His first attempts produced only a discordant drone. He had cheerfully set himself up to fail in front of the whole school. His final assembly that academic year was his demonstration of what daily practice could produce as he stood before his school and played a selection of pieces on his saxophone. Is there a better way of demonstrating that you as an adult buy into the notion that “intelligence isn’t fixed”.

2. Plan lessons with multiple routes
I’m not talking about differentiation here, or even learning styles, but genuine choice. How can you open up your lessons so that students can explore? The phrase “low threshold, high ceiling” should be the lesson planning mantra. We need everybody engaged from the first minute but there shouldn’t be a cap on the learning. How can you make sure that children can go beyond your expectations with their learning?

3. Students need to be involved in self-assessment and in choosing their own targets
I have recently seen some fantastic examples of this taking place in classrooms. Students peer marking, identifying positive points and suggesting ideas for development. This is then followed by the student that produced the work responding to the marking. Students need their own targets but they need to know what they are trying to achieve.
I was interviewing last week and during an interview the candidate asked “Do you WAGOLL at your school?” I imagined myself walking down the corridor quickly and thought that maybe some days it did look like a waggle as I tried not to be seen breaking the “no running in the corridors” rule. When I asked her to clarify she introduced me to “What A Good One Looks Like” as a whole school initiative. Do the students always know what they are trying to achieve? In her school they did as students even asked cover teachers to “WAGOLL” and students expected to be shown what they were intending to achieve. What a simple but easily applied idea to ensure students are involved in directing their own learning.

4. Praise effort, not outcomes
The culture in education has become very focused on outcomes. I think this is a worldwide toxin that has crept into the education system. I never knew levels when I was at school (which is a reflection of my age rather than the way teachers worked) but I do recall regular commentary on effort and learning. Celebrating the achievement of a level, percentage or target focuses on the fixed mindset. It implies that we have reached a destination and also serves to reinforce the concept of a fixed intelligence. Celebrating the effort has the opposite effect. It lifts pupils to realise that with effort they can improve which is the core purpose of creating a climate of growth mindset in schools. Take a look at this video to understand the effect of praise on developing a growth mindset.

5. Have a growth mindset with regard to your own teaching
Do you consider your own teaching skills to be fixed? Are you the expert in a subject area in the school? How can you step out of your comfort zone and be a reflective teacher constantly searching for ways to improve? One way to encourage a growth mindset in respect to teaching in schools is to use peer observations. As in point three above, teachers need to be involved in setting their own targets for improvement. But, teachers also need to know “what a good one looks like”. Is your climate in school such that teachers can walk in and out of each others classrooms gathering ideas for how to improve? If not, how can you set about creating that type of atmosphere in the school?

There are many other ways in which schools can move towards creating a climate that supports development of growth mindsets in their students but the above ideas are important first steps.

Below is a reading list of books that explore growth mindset. As well as providing a clear explanation of the mindset theory they also provide inspiration as to how mindset can be applied in schools.

Top 5 reads if you want to create a climate for growth mindset in your school

1. Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential by Carol Dweck
This one really is the “how to” on mindset. It is easy to read and essential for any schools considering a mindset approach.

2. Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools by Mary Cay Ricci
This book takes the work of Carol Dweck and explains practical ideas for using that in the classsroom.

3. Growth Mindset Pocketbook by Barry Hymer
A quick overview of growth mindset in an easy-to-read small format book. Ideal for lending to colleagues who need an overview of mindset in an accessible form.

4. Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by Matthew Syed
A look at growth mindset in action.

5. The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown by Daniel Coyle
Exploring the idea that with the right amount of practice anybody can excel.

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