Saturday, 28 March 2015

Growing Mindsets organically

What we're doing – and NOT doing – as we move towards becoming a growth mindset school

As a SLT and within our Teaching & Learning group we have unanimously agreed that growth mindset is an important way forward for us and our students. We have taken on board the theory behind mindsets and many of us have read the book 'Mindsets' by Prof Carol Dweck. Growth Mindset has been written into our School Development Plan as a core aim over the next 3 years. 

However, the spectres of Learning Styles and Brain Gym loom menacingly, and we are all-too-aware of the dangers of jumping aboard the Next-Big-Thing charabanc and taking everyone hurtling off towards a place that ultimately zaps our time and energy with no impact or gain for our students or for our staff. Been there, done that. So we have always been acutely aware of the need to do things well: thoroughly, steadily and with lasting effect. I will share what we've learned, what we've done and what we're going to do. I hope it's useful.

So far this year, then:

  • One member of SLT (me) has been given overall responsibility for its implementation and I'm working with another AHT, Tess (@Flickers4Eva), to build it via the Teaching & Learning group.
  • One middle leader, Simon (@economysir), is writing his masters about its implementation and using action research to feed into the school’s work on mindsets.
  • Our Straight-to-Teach trainee, Andy (@80Morrison), is writing a research project about GM, working with Simon and contributing to the action research project.
  • We have visited Huntington School in York and spent a fantastically useful day with @JohnTomsett and his extremely generous staff, learning how growth mindset has been part of their school development for the past 3 years. We wrote a detailed report about what we learned and presented it to SLT and the T&L group. This part of the process was invaluable as we were able to see where Huntington is now, three years down the line, and what they have done in order to achieve this.
  • Students have all taken the GM questionnaire and initial scores entered onto SIMs.
  • We’ve included information and tips about growth mindset in our student planners, which we design and print in-school. This has meant we can guide staff towards these sections as and when we want to introduce aspects of growth mindset as the year has gone on.
It’s vital at this stage to consider one’s own school. Every school is unique: it has its own history, ethos and context. It was important for us to discuss and consider what we felt would and would not work back at Christopher Whitehead. There are certain types of students that we feel could really do with some support into becoming more growth mindset; some schools will recognise these students, others will find they have different priority students. For us, we feel we need to address two main types of students:

  • our Pupil Premium students, who can lack self-esteem and faith that they can improve. They statistically are likely to be in middle to lower ability sets and, unfortunately, are more likely to be moved down sets and then stay down, despite their academic ability. With less support at home, we might be tempted to lower our expectations rather than raise them. We're hoping that a growth mindset focus will benefit both them and their teachers. Dweck's focus on improvement through effort, and intelligence NOT being fixed is essential for these students' school experience.
  • The other main group are our highest ability students: fantastically motivated students who want to please; who try their very best and also find any kind of failure potentially devastating. We have an increasing number of of our high achievers finding life very difficult at times of stress and sometimes having melt-downs. As we move towards linear courses and a build-up to high-stakes exam periods, we need to safeguard the well-being of these students by making them more resilient as early as we can; teaching them that failure is part of learning. Dweck's work is absolutely key to us tackling this: these students are clear examples of a fixed mindset. 

We highly recommend talking to a variety of staff at this point, if you are considering adopting growth mindset. Our presentation and subsequent discussion at the T&L group proved to be the key to our next steps.

GM has been a key theme of our T&L meetings this year and those staff that attend T&L. Our T&L group meets on average twice per half term and consists of one rep from every department plus anyone else interested. This gives us give us a wide range of voices from all subject areas and levels of experience.

Teaching & Learning Group discussions/findings

This academic year, we had focused on growth mindset as one thread of our discussions and practice. We had read a number of blogposts (@JohnTomsett and @chrishildrew in particular), viewed some videos and many of us had read the book Mindsets. Discussion was also key, in answering questions, exploring doubts and also considering counter-arguments.

@ecomonysir later presented on his own view of it and why it is forming the basis of his Masters study this year. He has been running a study on a set of students who took the growth mindset questionnaire and had returned low scores. They fitted one of the profiles of some of our focus students at CWLC: bright, able and fixed mindset. His research involved he and @80Morrison meeting with the students weekly to talk through their learning experiences in the week; observing the students in lessons, conducting interviews with individuals and also interviewing many of their teachers. @economysir will continue to feed back as the year continues and he will share his findings in the summer, which will in turn inform some more of our strategies with students that fit this profile.

As a group we agreed unanimously that growth mindset was definitely something that we can a) all agree as being important b) would like to share with colleagues across school c) would now like to learn more about how we can build growth mindset thinking and teaching into our practice. We discussed the pitfalls of introducing initiatives whole-school and discussed how we could learn from past experiences in using what went well and avoiding what didn’t work/what didn’t resonate.

From discussions in groups, we came up with the following points:

What to avoid
  • Don’t impose
  • No big ‘jazz hands’ launch heralding growth mindset as the Next Big Thing

What to do
  • Sustain SLT support and belief: prove growth mindset has longevity and can be sustained by key people championing it
  • ‘Drip feed’ at first – read up on it; find resources you like; trial its use; experiment with activities, language, thinking in your classes /Learning Mentor groups and gradually spread the word
  • However, a whole-school session to bring our thinking together later this year would be useful. By that time we would have some of our own evidence (Simon’s pilot and our own trials) to feedback. How it is introduced and who shares it will be important: we would like staff from the T&L group to help in this process.
  • Give practical hands-on advice about how to use in classrooms, in LM groups, in assemblies, across school and in our own CPD
  • Make resources easy to access on the staff Shared Area and easy to use
  • Make it realistic, considering middle leaders’ and teachers’ workloads, i.e. small, marginal gains, ‘instead of’ rather than ‘in addition to’
  • Evidence and research to show how it will benefit staff, students, parents and the school (What’s in it for us?)
  • Share with parents and invite them to come on board: suggestion that we share using the same format as we introduced our new reporting system on parents’ evenings as that worked well.

Plans for the rest of this year:

  • We are designing and printing our own staff planners this year, as well as the student ones we do already. This means we can include key growth mindset information in there that staff can regularly access and refer to.
  • @economysir will continue his pilot and feed back to us in the summer.
  • He has also begun an action research project with a number of volunteers from the T&L group who would like to try some more overt strategies in their teaching. The findings of this pilot will be fascinating and allow us to share with all staff at a later date, with findings that focus on our own students and within our own context.
  • ‘Drip-feed’ into whole staff meetings, focusing at first on the language of growth mindset. At our first staff meeting back after Easter, we have been given a slot to share some ideas with staff: our initial thinking will be to share the excellent video here and then focus on the language of growth mindset in our lessons.
  • The Head has generously bought 10 more copies of Mindsets for our staff T&L library (thanks Neil!) so now we can encourage as many staff as possible to read the theory and not just tap into soundbites or surface understanding.
  • We have a bank of posters and infographics available via T&L group, encouraging the principles of GM thinking, for staff to choose and put up in their classrooms.
  • We will use the new T&L area of the school website to share growth mindset thinking with other interested staff and also parents. We'd really like to involve them and share our ideas and thinking as soon as possible.

Two strategies that have had a particularly big impact so far are:

  • This growth mindset language poster (adapted from a number of sources found on Pinterest, originally though from 'Mindsets'). One of our Directors of Studies (Head of House) has had this printed onto large stickers and given one to every student in her house and stuck into their planners. She's also run an assembly on it. We'll include this as part of everyone's planner next academic year now.

  • Monsters University! Watching this film with my kids just before Christmas, it struck me that this film is the ultimate tale in growth and fixed mindset thinking. So in the last week before we broke up, with both my top Year 10 English classes (which contained many of the students from @economysir's research project), we watched Monsters University together then they applied growth mindset thinking to a reading of the movie. The subsequent work was fantastic and showed an excellent understanding by the students. Here is a short excerpt of one review.


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