Becoming a ‘Growth Mindset’ school

 GM progress

What is ‘Growth Mindset’?

‘Growth Mindset’ is the idea Professor Carol Dweck (a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University). Dweck has conducted much research into mindsets and has highlighted the difference between a fixed mindset (the belief that intelligence is fixed) and a ‘Growth Mindset’ (the belief that intelligence can grow). It is not a new idea; indeed in the early 1800s, Henry Longfellow prompted readers “to act that each tomorrow finds us farther than today”. This defining theme runs parallel with Carol Dweck’s 2007 milestone publication, Mindset.

The differences Dweck establishes between a fixed mindest and a ‘Growth Mindset’ are well illustrated in this helpful infographic below by Nigel Holmes. For similar pictures have a look at my ‘Growth Mindset’ board on Pinterest which has been shared with staff at my school.

Growth Mindset pic

What’s the science behind ‘Growth Mindset’?

The Khan Academy is a big advocate of ‘Growth Mindset’. They see the brain as a muscle that can be grown in the same way that we can build up muscles when doing weight training.

GM Khan Academy

The first time we try to learn something, or do weight training, it can be really hard. In terms of neurobiology this is because we are making the first connection between neurons across a synapse. If we give up at this stage – as the fixed mindset might encourage us to do – we will never form that neural pathway. Yet, interestingly, as toddlers we persist. Finding new ways around things. Having tantrums as we get frustrated every time we fall over yes, but ultimately succeeding in walking and talking. It is by persisting, repeating and deliberately practicing new skills (or knowledge), that we create a secure pathway in our brains which will allow us to recall and re-use that skill or knowledge.

Establishing a ‘Growth Mindset’ works in just the same way. The first time we challenge our fixed mindset approach to something it’s difficult. Persisting in the fixed mindset strengthens that pathway in our brain and makes it more difficult to challenge. But building and repeating ‘Growth Mindset’ approaches makes them stronger and more powerful too, effectively growing our brain…

Growth Mindset brain

Why are we interested in ‘Growth Mindset’?

There is a great deal of evidence which indicates that both promoting a student ‘Growth Mindset’ and developing learning habits have a very high impact on raising student achievement. According to the Education Endowment Foundation Metacognition Strategies or ‘thinking about thinking’ have a +8 month effect on raising student achievement (i.e. a group of students effectively using metacognition strategies could make 8 months more progress than a similar group of students who are not subject to the same strategies).

Ultimately strategies that promote greater student self-awareness of how they learn best leads to greater self-regulation. If we make an analogy with dieting, it has been suggested that writing down everything we eat can act as an effective weight-loss strategy. This works by promoting greater self-awareness of what is being eaten which leads to a conscious reduction in calories consumed (self-regulation). Applying this rationale to the school environment this ‘Growth Mindset’ approach would allows us a practitioners to develop more confident, capable and enthusiastic learners who:

– Do better in assessments.

– Develop literacy and numeracy skills faster.

– Do better on open-ended problem-solving.

– Transfer their learning better from place to place.

– Are better able to cope with uncertainty.

Are there any success stories regarding ‘Growth Mindset’?

John Tomsett is a strong believer in the power of ‘Growth Mindset’ and his graph below illustrates what can happen to a school which adopts a growth mindset culture enthusiastically over a sustained number of years:

Growth Mindset graph

Chris Hildrew is another ‘Growth Mindset’ advocate and in his blog he uses the example of New Heys School in Liverpool which, when faced with closure, adopted a ‘Growth Mindset’ approach and saw their results rise by 39% in two years.

How do we build and nourish a ‘Growth Mindset’ culture? 

All good buildings need solid foundations to start. For the build to go smoothly a plan has to be followed. Promoting ‘Growth Mindset’ in an educational setting is no different. John Tomsett’s blog is a treasure trove of useful information here. As the Headteacher of a school that has rolled out ‘Growth Mindset’ to ALL staff and students and seen very positive outcomes, his thoughts and ideas are inspiring to all practitioners. I have listed the ‘building plan’ below:

(1) Plan to develop a ‘Growth Mindset’ culture.

(2) Make the development of a ‘Growth Mindset’ culture a whole school priority.

(3) Convince staff and students that intelligence is NOT fixed.

(4) Convince staff of the efficacy of ‘Growth Mindset’: (a) Brains can grow, (b) There is hard data to support this and (c) The whole ‘Growth Mindset’ project is about students working harder.

(5) Convince the students that they can all get better with effort – for many students the mere fact that their futures are not fixed is both revelatory and motivational.

Growth Mindset jigsaw

Chris Hildrew is promoting the following ‘building plan’ at his school:

  • Ensuring all stakeholders – staff, students, governors and parents – have the approach clearly explained.
  • Changing the language of reporting.
  • Using ‘Grow Mindset’ praise.
  • Using formative comments only for assessments (both on student work and in lesson observations).
  • Removing the concept of ‘Gifted and Talented’ and instead identifying ‘high starters’ in curriculum areas.
  • Using peer-to-peer coaching to develop teaching and learning.

Do you have a ‘Growth Mindset’?

So what about you then? What mindset do you have? Why not try this Growth Mindset Questionnaire courtesy of Chew Valley School to find out (I got an average of 4.2 – with a score of 1 being a fixed mindset and a score of 6 being a ‘Growth Mindset’) and I’ll leave you with the thoughts of the musician John Legend:


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