What does Growth Mindset mean to me?

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Today saw the launch of our school commitment to Growth Mindset, featuring a wonderful keynote speech from Matthew Syed followed by a selection of workshops run by some talented teachers based around the theme of continual improvement. I will blog about the day and our ongoing experience of developing Growth Mindset over the coming weeks and months.

The following is a transcript of my address to the staff at the beginning of the day, which explores what a Growth Mindset means to me.

This is a fantastic school. You are truly fantastic body of staff.

But each and every day at school all of us fail. I fail in every lesson that I teach. You fail in every lesson that you teach and every lesson that you support. We all fail.

If you doubt this, just take a look at a set of books after a lesson you have just taught, or ask students to recall the details from a lesson the previous week. As Dylan Wiliam says, ‘If you are not failing you are just not paying attention. Because we fail all the time.’

Teaching, it seems to me, will always be inevitably bound up in failure. Our job as teachers is to get better at recognising our failures and develop the ability to learn from them for the future.

I have failed a great deal in my teaching career. There are a myriad of things that I used to do in and believe in, but have subsequently rejected.

  • The belief that thesauruses are valid aids to learning in my subject.
  • The belief that we should teach books that appeal to the students.
  • The belief that English is a skills-based subject and should be taught accordingly.
  • The belief that skills generally can be developed in an abstract way outside of individual subject domains.
  • The belief that a carefully worded explanation will stick in a student’s mind.
  • The belief that there is no value in repeating something once it is mastered.
  • The belief that a correct answer in a lesson means that a concept or skill has been understood.
  • The belief that organising the curriculum into half term units building up to one single assessment is a good thing.
  • The belief that more of something always equates to better.

Yet, for all the frustration of repeatedly going down the wrong path, I embrace every one of my many failures. I embrace them because they have helped me to reach a better understanding of how students learn and how to try and make that learning stick. I am therefore of my use to my students.

Seeing failure as a necessary path to betterment is I think something that many of our students are not very good at. It is a notion that lies at the heart of Growth Mindset – the focus of our work here today and for the months and years to come.

Our students do not embrace failure. They wont take risks. And this manifests itself in many ways – giving up too easily, misbehaving as a form of distraction and playing it safe rather than taking a chance. It is a problem for our brightest and our weakest. Who has had the disheartening experience of seeing students’ heads on desks in exams when there is still plenty of time left?

Now, maybe we don’t provide enough opportunities for our students to get things wrong. There is an argument that with so much high stakes assessment in the education world today, students are simply not allowed to fail. There is an important discussion to be had here, but that is for another day.

So what is Growth Mindset?

In a few minutes our guest speaker, Matthew Syed, will explore in much greater detail and more eloquently than I can the idea of Growth Mindset – what it means and how we can begin to foster it amongst ourselves and our students.

For me, Growth Mindset is about recognising (or rather deeply absorbing) the fact that we will can all improve: that it our responsibility to get better and that we must encourage and model this mindset amongst our students.

For example, I would like to see our students get better at failing and using their failures and the subsequent feedback from them as a means of improving. I want them to see that there is always room for more improvement: for it to be normal to think that there is never any end point to personal development.

I would like to see our students be able to delay their gratification. To learn that the real reward of education lies at the end of a long journey of hard work and application.

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I would like to see our students battle against learned helplessness. To take responsibility for their lives and to make sure they are as accountable for their development as we are as their teachers.

I would like to see our students get better at conceptual thinking. To be able to talk about and solve problems when the answer is not immediately in front of them, and to see the connections between their different subject domains which is, for me, the sign of genuine, authentic learning.

I would like to see our students strive for excellence. For each and every task that they complete or piece of work that they submit to be their very best effort. For us and them to never settle for second rate.

These are some of the things that I think are embodied within the idea of Growth Mindset.

After Matthew’s Keynote address you will go to a series of workshops put together by a number of the many dedicated and inspirational teachers at our school.

Much of what is in these sessions is underpinned by cutting edge educational theory and research. You will hear some interesting ideas, some new perspectives and hopefully gain some practical approaches that you can apply to your own practice. All of these workshops feed into the idea of Growth Mindset in some way.

This afternoon you then will review the new school feedback policy, which is a document that attempts to articulate some important aspects of the Growth Mindset philosophy. It starts to take the abstract and make it real.

Let me be clear: today is not simply about sharing a bunch of ideas that I, or anyone else, think you should immediately implement in all your lessons starting this Wednesday.

There is no silver bullet.

And to try and absorb the intellectual underpinning of these sessions, or to put into practice all that you see today simply wouldn’t work. I know for a fact that all the workshop leaders have spent hours and hours honing their sessions in readiness for today, and I think they would all agree with me that what they are sharing is only the tip of the iceberg.

Everything that we do to enhance our teaching comes with an opportunity cost. We are all such busy people, so to do something new or something different means that something else has to be sacrificed. Today is an opportunity to step outside the maelstrom of everyday teaching and to reflect deeply on where we are as a school and where we would like to head.

The price is that we are out of our lessons, so I think this means we have a bit of a moral obligation to make this time really count. To make sure it makes a difference.

I guess what I am ultimately hoping you will all take from today is a sense of what is possible. To understand the potential that we all have as teachers, no matter how long in the tooth we are, or how many such INSET talks we have sat through in the past.

As Hattie says, ‘Know thy impact’. To which I would add, look to make it stronger.

Our school really is a fantastic school, but it could and can be even better. But only, if we know how to make it better and we are given the time and opportunity to make that happen.

Today is the first step in that process. I believe that this is just the start of something big.

I have had my say; the rest is over to you.

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