Yet Another Post About Growth Mindset

We want to promote growth mindsets in the North Berwick High School community. If you haven't heard of growth mindsets, this video by Carol Dweck (who developed the concept) explains it well. Here's how I picture the virtuous cycle of beliefs in a growth-mindset relationship between a student and her teacher:

Image by IntelFreePress

Mindset is not magic, as Nick Rose explains so clearly here. Effective learning relies on us getting many other things right: curriculum structures; excellent course and lesson plans; strong positive relationships with students and parents; teachers with sound content knowledge, high expectations and excellent pedagogical skills; communities that value learning... the list could fill a book. But it is clear from the research that growth mindset interventions do have the potential to make a positive difference. I believe that psychologically informed approaches to school improvement will gain traction in the coming years, and that growth mindset interventions will come to be seen as one strand of broader work on nurturing students to develop positive concepts of themselves as learners. Looking back, our growth mindset programmes will  probably appear clumsy and crude. But we have to start somewhere!

I have been interested in growth mindsets since 2009 when I read Carol Dweck's book, and have written about the concept several times:

Everyone and their dog are interested in growth mindset just now, of course, so why bother writing a blog post?  Well I want to make clear exactly what we are aiming for, and the trap that we want to avoid, which looks like success but definitely isn't.

Success will look like the above picture. Students might say:
"My teachers believe that I can become more intelligent if I make the right kind of effort. They don't really talk about growth mindset -  I can just tell by the way they speak that they have faith in my capacity to improve. My teachers celebrate my mistakes and failures, and I enjoy being given really challenging tasks."
We will have gone badly astray if any students says this:
"My teachers keep going on about how I should have a growth mindset.  The fact that I give up apparently proves that I have a fixed mindset, and that's bad. So not only am I rubbish at school; I also have a fixed mindset - just another thing that's wrong with me."
So for students, we want to have brief sessions to teach them about neuroplasticity and the concept of growth-mindset.  These sessions will emphasise the fact that mindsets can change, and that we can have different mindsets in different fields of knowledge. The aim is for students to know intellectually that they can change their intelligence through deliberate practice. But they will not necessarily believe this deeply until they experience some success as a result of holding it to be true.  This was my experience, as described in the two posts from 2012 above: the students really changed how they felt about themselves as learners of maths only after they passed the second test. It was that concrete experience of success that validated for them all my talk about how they could become better mathematicians through practice. This point is made in an excellent post on the Evidence into Practice blog.

For staff, we will similarly give them an overview of the topic, including evidence from research on the potential impact on learning of changes in mindset.  We will then provide staff with some ways of communicating with students that would demonstrate a growth mindset towards them. In other words, we will say to teachers "please think about your own beliefs in the light of the facts we have given you. Do you have a growth mindset about the potential of your students? If you already have such an attitude, or can develop one, here are some ways of communicating that belief to the students. Failing that (and it may be very difficult for teachers to change their beliefs if they have deeply entrenched fixed-mindset attitudes), fake it 'til you make it by using the ways of communicating we are suggesting!"

I have been promoting with staff for several years the benefits of having a growth mindset about ourselves as learning professionals, and have shown them Dylan Wiliam's "Every Teacher Can Improve" video on several occasions. Our Professional Learning Communities programme is predicated upon this attitude.

For parents, we will run evening sessions, supported by the excellent resources at Mindset Kit. The aim will be for parents to understand how we think about learning as a community, and to encourage them to communicate with their children in ways that nurture a growth mindset. This is sensitive territory, but I can talk from experience about how I changed the way I spoke to my son after reading Mindset by Dweck.

We are not interested in plastering our school in motivational posters about growth mindsets. We want growth mindsets to be apparent in the all the myriad conversations that take place between students, parents and teachers every day in our community.

We will evaluate our efforts through attitudinal surveys of students.  Whilst we clearly seek to improve learning, we will measure changes in mindset as a proxy. The evidence of a positive link between mindset and learning is so strong that I feel comfortable doing so.

If you are thinking about nurturing growth mindsets in your school community, you may also find the following links useful:


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