Growing young minds, plus a few adult ones! A journey through growth mindset.

In September a senior leader at my school returned from a day of CPD giddy with excitement. Her words came in a cacophony of enthusiasm, explaining the ideas that she had encountered the day before through a torrent of breathless excitement. Something about positivity, developing intelligence, growing minds and taking charge of learning. These all seemed things that should be happening in every classroom and across every school.

She went on to explain the theory behind the new Growth mindset ideas. For those who have not come across the Growth Mindset work of Dweck, it is based around the idea that there are two possible mindsets for a learner to adopt.

1. Fixed mindset: Where the learner believes that intelligence and skills are inbuilt in all of us and cannot be changed.

2. Growth Mindset: Where the learner believes intelligence and skills are not innate, but in fact can be ‘grown’ through hard work and perseverance.

The premise that children tend to make more progress when they regard intelligence and other abilities not as fixed traits, but rather as skills that can be improved through effort and resilience, surely cannot be one that shocks the world of teaching. What we are basically saying is that when children believe they can get better at something, they try harder and in some cases work smarter. This is a very basic psychological premise which has been adapted by Carol Dweck over a number of years. I believe Dweck originally used the terms ‘entity view’ and ‘incremental view’ in her first version of ‘self theory’, to describe the mindset states. Recently she has re-branded her ideas to the catchier ‘Growth Mindset’, something which is far more palatable to the layperson. This is probably why her ideas have been taken on by so many teachers and schools during the last year. The popularity of her Growth mindset and what it can offer our learners has spread quickly across the country through peer discussions and social media interaction, as well as via various professional documents and courses.

As you can tell, my initial enthusiasm for this growth mindset work was minimal. I felt that this was something that a school should strive towards as a very minimum goal through their ethos and vision………

Some days passed and every now and then I caught a discussion between colleagues about Growth Mindset and the growing enthusiasm among my peers began to intrigue me. Had I missed something in this new idea? I began to research myself. After some reading and youtube browsing (After all youtube was practically made for CPD! That and videos of cats in wellies or dogs stuck in jumpers) I came to the conclusion that I had not missed anything and I could return to my work of spreadsheets and Assessing without levels. Just as I began to leave the Growth Mindset behind, a phrase I had heard a few days previously sprang to the front of my mind, “Like father, like son”. It occurred to me that this widespread phrase was something that I had often heard, but never really contemplated. It essentially demonstrates the acceptance of innate or genetic skills/intelligence and that this idea could potentially zap the enthusiasm of any child wanting to learn a knew skill or ‘grow their brain’. I began searching my brain to see if this saying was a one off and I developed a list of many positive statements which suggest a fixed/innate ability. How often have we heard someone talk of “God given talent”, “Naturally gifted”, “Football brain”, “Green fingered” or “Born to play”. We have even developed stereotypes of whole nations who we perceive to have an innate ability in one area of academia, sport etc. It doesn’t stop there unfortunately, I also came up with a list of negative phrases that act to limit the perceived chance of improvement for a learner. Sayings such as “Two left feet”, “tone deaf”, “Not a natural sportsman” or “Not a maths person” have all been recently given to me as a reason or excuse for a perceived failure in some form or another.

My musings and following discussions had piqued my interest and so when our colleague threw herself into a full Ladycross launch of growth mindset I was beginning to share her excitement.

Growing older minds

The Ladycross Growth Mindset was first launched to staff. It’s obviously essential that the staff in school fully invest in any initiative and an interactive, at times tear jerking, staff meeting was planned and delivered by our Growth Mindset guru. We completed a questionnaire and discovered which mindset we were ourselves, discussed the key points of Growth Mindset and then watched a video which I always dread, as I cannot hold back the tears when I watch it! It is Derek Redmond’s famous Olympic struggle in 1992.

I excused myself from the follow up discussion as I fought back my tears, it happens EVERY TIME! Quite inconvenient during assemblies!

And so the staff were on board, excited and enthused by Derek and his growth mindset. We were prepared to launch our Growth Mindset in school. We did try to contact various celebrities who had shown their own Growth Mindset but to no avail and so we launched ourselves across school. Every class developed their own display with our mindset characters ‘really hard ratty’ (fixed) and ‘work at it wiz’ (growth). From here the children were introduced to the concept and to our absolute delight they immediately took to it. When you walk through school you will now hear “don’t be a really hard Ratty” or “don’t give up, be a work at it wiz!”.

The children’s resilience and determination has visibly increased during lessons. Children who, prior to their introduction to Growth Mindset, would give up when challenged and disengage, now embrace the challenge. We are even finding that children will take on extra challenge themselves, not fearing the failure which sometimes comes with stretching your limits. I have even been involved in discussions with children who relish the failure which comes before the inevitable success to follow. The children now often have the opportunity to choose their own level of challenge during a session. It is fascinating to see the challenge children set themselves. Children who the teacher would have probably chosen a easier challenge for, now choose a more difficult challenge and often succeed, growing their brain by that much more each lesson.

The school now has brain ambassadors who are taking Growth Mindset to our local community. The local Cooperative store and library are both involved and get regular visits from our ambassadors. The children are also set weekly Growth mindset challenges which involve activities to take part in with their families. We are inundated by Twitter and email based photos from families getting involved together.

I leave you with a discussion I had with a child.

  • Me: I heard you fell and bumped your head at break time.
  • Child: Yes
  • Me: is there anything Important in there
  • Child: Yes! My new neurones from maths!!

We now look forward to seeing the results of this refreshing mindset approach to learning.