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5 Growth Mindset Mistakes Teachers Might be Making

Sticking up a few inspirational posters just doesn’t cut the mustard, say Elizabeth Cronshaw and Gemma Sanchez...

  • 5 Growth Mindset Mistakes Teachers Might be Making

Many schools declare they promote a ‘growth mindset’. However, what we’re noticing more and more is that many schools are only barely scratching the surface of the concept or even, in some cases, magnifying a ‘fixed mindset’ approach to learning without even realising.

Growth mindset isn’t a quick fix or a tick box exercise, concluding with a few staff sessions, PSHE lessons and some inspirational posters. A true growth mindset is much more than this.

It’s a whole culture, where everyone from the caretaker to the headteacher walks the walk and talks the talk day in, day out; at home and at school.

With mental illness on the increase and recent research proving that a growth mindset reduces and prevents symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, it’s imperative that schools who are on this journey get it right.

Here are five common mistakes you might be making.

1 | Starting with the kids

Many schools jump head-first into introducing growth mindset to the children. Instead, it’s vital to first ask staff to reflect on and develop their own mindset. This will have a greater impact on children in the long run. This doesn’t involve simply handing each member of staff a copy of Carol Dweck’s book, either. You must set aside regular time with staff to support them in developing and reflecting on their own mindsets via high-quality CPD. When staff have a deep understanding of the positive and negative roles of mindsets, they can better support each other and their pupils to shift their thinking. As new staff members join, they will need quality time with a coach to help them get up to speed with the concept.

2 | Using meaningless phrases

The words we speak impact massively on the mindsets of both our pupils and our colleagues. In the same way that positivity can breed positivity, negativity can also feed negativity. Telling your class that they can’t do it ‘yet’ doesn’t mean that they will necessarily be able, without a particular focus, to do it tomorrow. They may need a change of strategy or more time practising the skill – children need to be made aware of this. Also, telling pupils and staff that changing their words will change their mindset has its faults. Some argue that this is in fact back to front – it is only when you change your mindset that your words and actions naturally follow. It’s all about action and dedication. Words have little meaning unless you act upon them.

3 | Praising outcomes, not progress

Far too often, we praise children for getting things ‘correct’ or being speedy learners. This doesn’t mean a child has a growth mindset. In fact, it could mean they are not being challenged enough or that they’re rushing for fixed mindset reasons, such as wanting to ‘look smart’.

4 | Either/or approach

There seems to be a misunderstanding that as individuals we are either fixed mindset or growth mindset. We are, in fact, all a mixture of both. We’re all born with a growth mindset, but our life experiences and the environment in which we grow up cause us to develop fixed mindset triggers. Our reaction to and attitude towards challenges, mistakes and feedback determine the progress we make. As we become more familiar with what causes these triggers, we can begin to embrace them and put into place practices and structures that allow us to retrain our brains to become more growth orientated. This journey requires us to be open and honest about what our fixed mindset triggers are, in order to develop a consistent approach in school.

5 | Not involving your community

This includes parents, governors, office staff and lunchtime supervisors. Every single person who works with the children in your school should be given the opportunity to be involved in the development of your growth mindset culture. In fact, they are of huge importance to its success. It’s all about consistency and the children receiving the same message throughout the day, both at school and at home.

Growth mindset isn’t a fad and isn’t going away. It’s been part of our make-up from the time we began to walk this planet. Make a positive change in your school and, more importantly, for yourself, by making sure you’re doing growth mindset the right way.

Elizabeth Cronshaw and Gemma Sanchez are former primary teachers based in Lancashire. They are co-founders of Grow Your Mindset (@growyourmindset) and provide growth mindset training, support and guidance for schools and businesses.

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