UKEdmag: Challenging Mindsets

Tips to encourage a Growth Mindset culture within your school

Advocating a ‘Growth Mindset’ among our pupils seems a sensible strategy in schools, as we encourage pupils to strive to overcome the learning challenges that they face each day as they enter a plethora of challenging lessons. The Growth Mindset mantra has become embedded in the language of many school leaders and teachers as they recognise that a Fixed Mindset can hold learning and progress back, potentially obstructing individual achievements.

This is an extract of an article first published in the September 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine. You can order your free printed copy of the magazine (paying for P&P only) by clicking here to our, or read the magazine freely online by clicking here.

[pullquote]It is what a school does that is key, so a growth mindset is not about words, it’s about the actions and strategies within a school that needs to be challenged if you are going to have a truly growth mindset culture.[/pullquote]

All this is very well, and many teachers and leaders are buying into the concept, investing time and resources to understand the philosophy behind Growth Mindsets. But what do you do if you are working within a school culture where many practices are embedded in routines which are often excused by a “we’ve always done it like this” attitude when challenged.

Arguably, challenging the Fixed Mindsets of students can be easier to manage. In the main, they are open to new ideas; they are keen to learn new ways; they are keen to try out new things; it is easy to support students who get stuck in a rut. Enter the staffroom though and you could be faced with the complete opposite, with colleagues who are well and truly stuck in a Fixed Mindset, thank you very much, being happy to come and go without little willingness to improve or challenge their own teaching – and woe betides if you accidently pour yourself a coffee using their treasured mug!

This is where the Mindset concept in schools can fail, with the Mindset architect, Carol Dweck¹, stressing that the idea should not be used as a ‘feel good thing’ and challenged that ‘It’s a learning thing’. This is true, but the outcome will be low due to the fact that most adults working within schools, and those influencing students outside the school setting have a fixed mindset, continuing to treat students accordingly. Speaking at the Annual Visible Learning Conference in Texas, John Hattie asserted that this will continue to stay low unless we change our practices in the classroom.

Hattie contended that practices in schools help embed a fixed mindset in pupils: we put students in ability groups; scoring them on tests that help to label them; place them in ‘intervention’ groups, and so on, which all helps feed the fixed mindset. It is what a school does that is key, so a growth mindset is not about words, it’s about the actions and strategies within a school that needs to be challenged if you are going to have a truly growth mindset culture.

The challenge is to fully understand the Mindset theory fully and to embark on a whole-school culture change journey, adopting the idea as a strategy which all can buy in to. As Dweck argued, “Sheer effort isn’t the ultimate value – it’s about learning and improvement”, and this needs to be embraced by everyone within the school community: pupils; parents; teaching assistants, teachers; leaders, and; governors!

Here are our tips to encourage a Growth Mindset culture within your school:

  1. READ THE THEORY BEHIND THE CONCEPT: Too many people advocate the Mindset theory, but have not fully read the research. Read Dweck’s book (It’s not rocket science, and really is an easy read) to get to grips with the ideas behind it, and think how the ideas could be implemented in your school. Encourage others to read it, and pass the book around your colleagues!
  2. CHALLENGE THE FIXED MINDSET – Forgive us if we portray Fixed Mindset individuals in a negative way – it’s easy to do and we must not quick to demonise those with a Fixed Mindset. It will take time for these individuals to move away from their corner. Encourage, challenge and highlight the positives outcomes that this could achieve for pupils. It is within everyone’s best interest – few can argue against this!
  3. TAKE OWNERSHIP OF THE CONCEPT – Yes, you. No-one should take charge of the mindset concept. Your mindset is your mindset. It’s not management talk, it’s a theory which you can take charge of.
  4. EXAMINE PRACTICES AND STRATEGIES THAT LABEL OR DEFINE – Examine the impact that various strategies, practices or interventions could be having on the individuals. The whole school culture needs to be scrutinised, with anything that encourages a fixed mindset in need of being questioned.
  5. REMEMBER THAT MISPLACED EFFORT PRAISE IS EITHER INEFFECTIVE, OR EVEN HARMFUL – As Dweck¹ reminded us, “Sheer effort isn’t the ultimate value – it’s about learning and improvement, so don’t use growth mindset as a feel good thing, it’s a learning thing!
  6. SHARE THE IDEA – Whenever possible, share the Mindset strategy to all stakeholders. You cannot, and should not, enforce Growth Mindset onto individuals. It is up to them to make that decision, and it’s a personal decision.

We have heard a lot of talk about the growth mindset idea, but we need to understand that our actions may be counterproductive to putting it all into action. Arguably, it is more important that adults working in schools have a growth mindset more than students, as it is their actions that can have such a dramatic impact on learning attitudes. Actions speak louder than words, and if we are to believe that growth mindsets are important for our pupils, then we need demonstrate actions to make it happen.


¹ Carol Dweck was speaking at the Festival of Education, 2015.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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