I'm currently reading Mindset, by Carol S Dweck (soon to be appearing at the Scottish Learning Festival!). In a nutshell, her thesis is this:
Everyone has one of two basic mindsets.  If you have the fixed mindset, you believe that your talents and abilities are set in stone - either you have them or you don't.  You must prove yourself over and over, trying to look smart and talented at all costs.  This is the path of stagnation.  If you have a growth mindset, however, you know that talents can be developed at that great abilities are built over time.  This is the path of opportunity and success.

This makes a lot of sense to me.  I have inevitably been wondering about the mindsets of those around me, and about my own mindset.  It would be indiscreet to try to judge others here, so I'll do a bit of navel gazing!

I most definitely grew up with the fixed mindset.  I caught it from my Mum (notice that those with the fixed mindset tend to look outside themselves for things to blame!).  She constantly told me how clever I was. Not how hard I was trying, but how clever I was. And she still does, bless her.

Fixed mindset people tend to shun hard work, because it exposes them to the risk of failing without the get-out clause of "well I didn't really try very hard anyway."  In their world-view, such a failure demonstrates an intrinsic weakness in themselves, rather than just a temporary setback.

I can see clearly how the fixed mindset let me down at various stages in my education.  I applied to Cambridge to study maths, but when they gave me an offer which I doubted I would be able to achieve, I turned down the offer rather than accepting the challenge.  And when I was told by a tutor at Edinburgh University that I was doing well but would have to work harder in final year in order to achieve a first class honours degree, I chose to relax and "settle" for a  2:1 (not that the 2:1 came easily, but I consciously chose not to do the work required to be in with a chance of a first).

I can also see how one's mindset can change.

At school I was a very low achiever in PE - a report card comment said (and I quote verbatim) "Tries hard but achieves little success" (the fact that I remember that after 30 years says something about how it made me feel, by the way).  But I clearly remember the one time that I enjoyed PE .  We had an 8 week block of circuit training, in which we kept records of timings and monitored progress.  I saw myself improve, and was delighted.  For a brief moment I had a growth mindset towards PE.  But then we went back to high jump, and the usual raised eyebrows from the PE teacher as I failed to reach the lowest height setting of the bar.

I think teaching changed my mindset for good.  I came into teaching thinking that I could change education, and pretty soon discovered that I wasn't even a very good teacher!  I was left with a stark choice - quit, or start working as hard as I could to master the craft of teaching.  For once, I rose to the challenge, and here I am 18 years later.  I don't have to work as hard now as I did in those first few years, but I am acutely aware of the fact that my competence as a teacher has little to do with innate ability and a lot to do with hard work, perseverance and a willingness to learn from my mistakes (which continue to happen on a daily basis!).

I have not finished Mindset, and have not begun to reflect in any depth upon the extent to which my classroom practice fosters either the fixed or the growth mindsets.  But I shall endeavour to undertake that reflection in the growth mindset.


  1. I discovered Dweck's ideas during one of our in-service days last year. Really interesting stuff!

    My current MEd project is based on her ideas and I'm in the middle of writing this up right now. I made a little prezi a few weeks ago to share my progress with my peers at Uni http://prezi.com/42926/

  2. Cool! I'll be coming to you for advice as I seek to use this stuff in the classroom :-)

  3. Interesting, and honest, post, Robert. Every accomplished person writing about their field of expertise mentions "hard work" as an important ingredient - usually the one which outweighs all others. Whether it feels like hard work or absorption is perhaps another question of mindset.

  4. Hi, I'm delighted to have discovered your fascinating blog. I have decided to start my own today. I would be most obliged if you could take a wee peak at it for me. I'm trying to generate some traffic, but not really sure how. Was wondering if you could tell me how you got started etc?

    Many thanks,

  5. Glad you like it! If you post the address of your blog I'd be delighted to have a look. You can start on edublogs.org if you haven't found somewhere yet.

  6. Hi - thanks!

    I'm at...


    Not really got much on it as of yet. One proper post - which isn't very insightful, but I hope to include items which will be of interest to other teachers over the coming weeks.


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