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Where’s your head at?

on July 7, 2013

This week has been somewhat crazy.

We have started our new timetable, so new groups to get to know etc, and then on Tuesday morning, we got The Call.  Panic stations all round, and of course I’m chosen for a joint SLT observation with the group I know the least as I’ve only seen them 3 times….

Glossing over the stress of those couple of days, and the delightful student who decided to refuse to work purely because there was an inspector in the room (yay…) I then had a bit of an epiphany on Friday.

I’d been booked on a course, along with the Head of English, that we were to then summarise and train the rest of the staff on in September.  I’d been really looking forward to it, but it was odd not to be in when we got our feedback after the visit!  There’ll be a lot of catching up to do on Monday…

The course was entitled ‘Mindsets’, and the speakers were Dr Barry Hymer, and Professor Carol Dweck.  Odds are that you’ve heard of Dweck’s work before – I certainly had.   I’ve been on a course by Hymer before, and found it tremendously inspiring, so the expectations of this course were very high!

Basically, the summary is this:

There are two types of mindset.  Fixed, and Growth.

In a fixed mindset, you believe that intelligence is something you either have or don’t have.  There’s no changing it.  You are valued by your intelligence, and failure is something you should avoid/hide at all costs.  The key to everything is to always look clever. You worry about what others will think of you if you fail.

In a growth mindset, you believe that challenges/struggles make you smarter.  The brain has been shown to ‘grow’ or develop new connections, the more you learn, so if you put in the effort, you can do anything (eventually).  A key word is ‘yet’.  I can’t do that ….yet.  Effort is the key to everything.  Learn at all costs.  Success will follow, but that’s not the most important part.

Fixed mindset athletes are usually the ones considered ‘naturals’.  They don’t have to try hard, as they are told they are great, and a natural, and so feel like if they are seen to have to try, they must not be a natural at all!  They tend to give up once the challenge begins, because all of a sudden, they face not being the best, and can’t take the inherent criticism that brings.  They lose all confidence, and would rather quit than take a chance of failing.

Growth mindset athletes tend to start further down the pack.  They believe that if they put in the time and effort, and study and train hard, they can keep getting better.  They know success comes from their hard work, and so they see new challenges as opportunities to learn from people who are currently better than them.  They are your world-class athletes as adults, because they have just kept slogging away, challenging themselves, getting better and better.

This applies to our learners too.  Studies have shown that parents who praise intelligence in their children cause their children to adopt a fixed mindset.  The children feel as though they are valued when they are seen to be smart, so avoid anything that would make them look stupid.  Outcome is the key.  They’ll stick to what they know, because they know they can be good at it.

Parents who praise effort/process create growth mindset children.  These children continue their love of learning, and know that FAIL stands for First Attempt In Learning.   Quitters never win, and winners never quit.

How many students can you categorise right now from your classes.  (How many colleagues…?!)

When faced with a challenging problem, a handful of my learners will crack on with great relish – “I love a challenge Miss!”  They will try many strategies, and will not rest until they’ve got there.  They have no problem asking for support or hints, because this carries no implications of failure for them, they are simply part of the process of learning.

The rest will sit looking fearfully at the problem, before entering into procrastination phase.  Pencils to sharpen, can’t find my ruler, need the toilet, MUST copy down the L.O. immediately…. etc.    They will not ask for help, because if they ask, other students will clearly think they are stupid, or a boffin for trying.   They will jump on any offer of simpler work, because they can be ‘successful’ at it.

The good news?  Growth mindsets can be taught.  Check out for details of the programme they used with students to teach them how the brain develops, and that they CAN get smarter, if they simply try.   To find out more, read Carol Dweck’s brilliant book ‘Mindsets’.

My challenge?  To get the school on board.  We both felt this was a really great way to go for our students, as their aspirations are generally low (they don’t think they can be anything great, so why try…), but also for our staff, as for some, their expectations of our students are not high enough.

The plan:

SLT first.  Explain and train.  Get them using language associated with growth mindsets, where process, not outcome is the thing we value.

Staff next.  We have a whole training day in September to get them on board.  I’m currently leaning towards ‘taking the school to A&E’, explaining it stands for Aspirations and Expectations.  Putting them in learners’ shoes to see which mindset they hold most.   We’ll probably start with the questionnaire here: then summarise the results in the training session.

Small pilot group of students / one year group next?  Not sure   ….yet  😉

Maybe picking out the Negative Leaders among the students to be first to be trained, as that could have a massive impact.  Maybe creating a lesson or two to be delivered as part of PSD/PSHE/Science across the school, starting with one year group at a time.

I’ll be blogging my journey, along with the impact it’s having.


(Without having known all this, the approach I’ve been taking this year with the department has been very much along these lines – expect more, and they’ll live up to it.  The students are starting to believe that it’s possible, especially having gone from 47% A-C last year, to a predicted 62% this year.   We’ve set an internal target this year of 75%, and have started to look at HOW we teach each group according to the expectations of their results, rather than their starting point making us feel like we should ‘dumb it down’.)

Fingers crossed, and I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime – try to think tomorrow about the language you use with your students, or even your own children.  Are you praising outcome or process?  What messages are you sending – is it better to look smart and be right, or to struggle, maybe even fail, but to LEARN while doing so…..?


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