I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about developing a Dweck-inspired Growth Mindset culture.
What follows is much of what I said at #TLT13 on 19 October 2013. There may well be a video of my talk available soon.
How did you find out that the only way to be good at something is to work hard at it? I didn’t need to read Gladwell or Syed, for me it was Jack Nicklaus and Joe Strummer.
The blisters on my hands and my permanently misaligned shoulders were/are testimony to my determination as a youth to be the best golfer in the world. Conversely, my complete failure to play guitar like Joe Strummer is down to my lack of Strummer-like effort – if I put in my 10,000 hours even I, with my incredibly limited aptitude, could get past Yankee Doodle Dandy, the acme of my guitar playing career. In everything I’ve ever done I have made the most of my modicum of ability by working really hard!
I want to work in a school where industry and commitment are seen as virtues by every member of the school community. Hardly remarkable, I know, but the opposite notion – getting rich quick with the minimum of effort – has plagued the human race for a long time. Go see Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist if you don’t believe me; I saw Sam Mendes’ production at The RSC in the early ’90s and Sir Epicure Mammon was dressed in a banker’s pin-striped suit. Jonson’s play is the best explanation of why people still buy lottery tickets, even though if you buy a ticket on the Monday you’ve more chance of dying by the Saturday draw than winning the thing!
How do you systematically transform your school so that a Growth Mindset attitude runs through it likes the words in a stick of seaside rock? Carol Dweck was asked this at about 10.50 am on 4 June 2013 at the Metropolitan Hotel in Leeds and she didn’t really have an answer. Her theory is spot on; the challenge for school leaders is to make real what Dweck (convincingly) theorises about attitudinal culture in schools.
I assume that you know what Dweck’s Growth Mindset is all about. If you don’t, have a peek at this video of the Dweck-Queen herself explaining its essence.
Tom Bennett’s summary is pretty good too: Dweck’s research falls into the category of most of the best of our research into education, in that it merely ends up confirming the eternal truths of the classroom: turn up, work hard, study, do well; work harder, do better; believe you can improve and you probably will, believe that you can’t and see what happens.
You could also read Dweck’s book. You cannot begin to think about developing a Growth Mindset in your school unless you have read the book and understand what the Dweck-Queen is proclaiming.
My blog on Failure might help. The Jordan Nike advert is awesome and I never tire of watching it.
You can plan to idevelop a Growth Mindset culture. We have a Junior Leadership Team which has a single focus – to lead on Growth Mindset.
Make the development of a Growth Mindset culture a whole school priority. For the next three years we are focused on Growth Mindset and teacher-coaching and nowt else!
You have to leap the cognitive hurdle first: convince your staff and then the students that intelligence is not fixed. It should be easy, shouldn’t it? If intelligence is fixed we may as well all give up now!
Convince the staff of the efficacy of growth mindset. When you convince the staff, do three things. Explain that brains can grow (the neuroscience bit), use hard data to show it works and emphasise to them that the whole project is about students working harder – the latter is a real winner! I think we are all tired of students’ learned helplessness.
Convincing the students that they can all get better with effort hinges upon a really good explanation of the neuroscience. For many of our students the mere fact that their futures are not fixed is both revelatory and motivational.
Keep it simple. Boil your approach down to something tangible for staff which is low cost and high impact. All 112 teachers at Huntington have one Growth Mindset strategy for this half-term: whenever any student mutters the phrase, “I can’t do this…” the teacher says, “…yet.” Dweck herself explains why this is so effective:
Work smarter, not harder is an unhelpful mantra. It suggests there is a short cut to success. As an alternative, how about Working harder makes me smarter, our strapline for the next half-term?
Get a hard data baseline. We used Dweck’s own questionnaire for our students and for our staff we developed our own; one of the JLT grew up in a family where the single mantra was, There is no such thing as failure, just success and learning – mum and dad helped with the questionnaire. When shown to her, Dweck said the questionnaire was, Nice…really nice, so as far as we are concerned it’s Dweck-endorsed!
Once you know about Growth Mindset your mind will have already changed. Don’t entitle the questionnaires Growth Mindset Questionnaire or you’ll get a Cosmo magazine style response. And of course there’s always the Hawthorne effect which will skew your results if you are unnecessarily transparent about what the questionnaire is measuring.
Dominic Cummings is unfairly dismissive of the Syed/Gladwell stance when he says, Various books have promoted the idea that people require the same amount of practice regardless of talent and that “10,000” hours is a sort of magic number – put in those hours and you too can be great, don’t worry about your genes. What we are saying at Huntington is something more subtle – if you work hard then you can improve significantly, whatever your starting point. I will never be Jimi Hendrix, but if I really stuck at it I could improve my guitar playing considerably. To be fair to Cummings, his recently traduced treatise on the importance of genetics in children’s academic careers is slightly more nuanced than the media have led us to believe.
Gifted and Talented is such a dreadful label. We had a moment of illumination very recently; we asked ourselves, Why do we need such a label on our set lists? And the answer is, of course, to help us ensure our expectations of those particular students are appropriately high. Therefore, they are High Starters: on our set lists we will have HS7, HS10 and HS12 for those students starting the Key Stage with high academic scores. If those High Starters don’t work hard they won’t make the most of their aptitudes and if you weren’t a High Starter at the start of the Key Stage you can be by the time you start the next one.
Once you start to think hard about what Dweck says you begin to question everything about what you do as a school leader. If Dweck is right – and in my personal experience I think she is – then setting students grades as targets is deeply flawed. The Subject Leaders of our two most successful A levels, the ones which are about to explode out the top of the ALPs thermometer and make an awful mess, both fessed up to me this autumn that they don’t look at students’ targets, they don’t consciously differentiate, they just teach to A* standard all of the time to all of the students. Go figure…
Plan the implementation of Growth Mindset for your specific school. I have provided our materials for you to peruse below, but you need to think hard about what will work best at your school in your context. You cannot launch Growth Mindset twice, so plan hard before launching. And if you are looking for materials to assist you as you develop your growth mindset strategy, our Junior Leadership Team has a Growth Mindset blog which they are just about to launch which you may find helpful.
If you tell a student he is gifted it will likely have a detrimental effect on his commitment. If he is told he is gifted he will be less likely to work hard at something because, by definition, if he has to work at something, he is no longer naturally gifted – he’s a worker like all the lesser mortals in his class…