Harder. Better. Stronger. Smarter?

I have a confession to make.

I’ve been reading a book.

During term time?

I know.

Is it book five of the Game of Thrones you ask?

No.  It has something to do with teaching.

Oh.  Precisely.  No spoilers please.

Ah ah ah - don't say a word!
Ah ah ah – don’t say a word!

Yes it’s true , somehow, through snatched moments, here there and everywhere I’ve started my way through the legendary Carol Dweck’s “Mindset”.

Carol's Dweck's Growth Mindset theory
Carol’s Dweck’s Growth Mindset theory

Clearly I can’t make my way through a whole book in one blog post so for now I want to float an idea past you.  Can student’s get smarter?

Before we do that – quick bit of self assessment – green pens everyone!  Which of the following do you think best summarises you?

1  “According to my experience a student’s achievements mostly remain constant in the course of a year.”

2  “If I know a student’s intelligence I can predict their school career quite well.”

3  “As a teacher I have no influence on a student’s intellectual ability.”

OK, so onto Mindset.  The fundamental premise of the book is that your outlook on life takes one of two mindsets – fixed or growth.

The initial blossomings of the idea;

a good summary of the points;

and a colourful animation of what it all means;

Naturally, the book has been the subject of a lot of teacher talk.  It speaks of an opportunity; an opportunity to engage students that we can’t normally reach;  to enthuse students that aren’t motivated; to transform an educational system that doesn’t just favour the academically minded but that is accessible to everyone.

All for the price of a an encouraging word (praise effort not achievement), a soupçon of self belief (you can’t do it… …yet) and fact that intelligence can be affected through hard work and effort (becoming is better than being).

It is an incredibly seductive idea.

So much so that some schools are adopting this ‘growth mindset’ as a school ethos, here


and here


Is there something to this?  Is it all too easy to be drawn in to the latest ‘fad’ (see Co-operative Learning, Brain Gym, Flipped Classrooms, Child Driven Education, Discovery Learning, Learning styles, <insert your favourite here>) in the hope that it will transform the classroom into an Aladdin’s cave of wonder and discovery?  We just want to do the best job we can so it’s only natural to be excited by new shiny ideas.  Especially if they’re backed up by rigorous research which most of them aren’t.

Curiously, a colleague told me earlier last week that a school has now employed a head of research.  What a great idea.  Someone to actually take charge of testing teaching systems and strategies for their effectiveness.


I digress.

I think I’ll be talking about Growth Mindset again very soon.  I’ll also be checking in on the progress of these brave schools that are embracing what is essentially an ethos of belief in their students.  Labelling students is something we do without even thinking.

“When children are labelled, they have a tendency to fall head first into everything that label represents.”

Jane Elliot, Primary school teacher

Which leads me to the three statements at the start.  Did you identify with any of them?  If you did it’s indicative of Carols Dweck’s Fixed Mindset and not the favourable Growth Mindset.  A dirty trick I know but if we think we can endow our children with something as powerful as self belief then we need to make sure we share that.

Think of your most challenging student.  Could you teach them that effort is the path to mastery?  Could you teach resilience?  Could you teach them to be inspired by others? To learn from criticism?  Would it make a difference?

What do you think?

Does Colchester Academy need a Teaching and Learning blog?

Good question.
This is, without a doubt, the hardest job in the world.
It is, however, not without it’s rewards.  
No one does this with money on their mind – “We do it for the love…”.  
There’s a strange economy at play as a teacher; we’re happy to exchange 1000’s mins of exquisite anguish for 1 min of joy, elation, success (insert synonym).  I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.
There is so much to consider when we look at what a teacher’s roles and responsibilities are that you’d have to be some sort of super human to get it all right, all of the time.
Wow you can see inside my head!
Wow you can see inside my head!
So by virtue of this argument; we are only human, aren’t we?  If you scrutinised every lesson you taught today couldn’t they be improved upon? If we can accept that we’re not a perfect teacher then we automatically find ourselves constantly in ‘need of improvement’ and I would argue that this is a good thing.  Maybe there is no such a thing as a perfect teacher.  It’s like the Holy Grail though, just the suggestion that it could exist inspires people .
They named the dogma Indiana!
They named the dogma Indiana!
If teacher ‘perfection’ is out there we won’t find it by doing the same thing, day in, day out.  Change is always a wrench from the comfortable and familiar and frankly, it’s hard.  It’s much harder if you do it on your own though and so much more fun if we do it together.
If we accept that none of us are perfect then all of us can improve – no one is spared.  If we’re all in need of improving then anything we can do that makes us better practitioners is a boon.  We are all this together aren’t we?
Go Wildcats!
Go Wildcats!
Nothing changes in a vacuum.  We need stimulus for change to occur (I teach Science you see).  The more stimuli we have, the more potential there is for change to occur.  So it’s entirely possible that the more conversations we have about teaching and learning, the better our teaching and learning will become.  And so… we come to the blog.
Time for a cheesy analogy.  We’re in a new building.  These are the blueprints the architects drew up for what has become our school.  Our new home.
The vision
The vision


I can see your house from here!
I can see your house from here!
This blog is only one of many strategies and initiatives that are in place as a blueprint for building excellent Teaching and Learning.  We’re all different; some of us are great at assessment, some of us excel at questioning, some of our behaviour management is exceptional. What makes for an excellent teacher though is someone who is willing to scrutinise their practice, willing to make changes to how they do things, willing to share their good practice in exchange for other’s.
One of the challenges is just admitting that actually, “I could have done a better job of that lesson”.  Maybe “I could tinker with the way I asked that question”.  I would argue that engaging with your own personal development is one of the signs that you are an outstanding practitioner.  It shouts loud and clear to all around that “It’s OK to be OK, but I do want to be better.”
I digress.
The reason for this post is pure and simple.
“Hello.  We’re here.”
What is the blog for?  It’s a place for us to discuss Teaching and Learning.  I will try to blog once a week.  I would hope that people read it.  I would actively encourage you to get involved and comment on the blog.  Sign up.  It’s dead easy.  I would go so far as to say that when you feel brave enough, you should consider writing a blog entry with something you might like to discuss.
It isn’t the staff room.  This is a public forum.  Anyone in the world can read this blog and the comments that are made.  I’ve staked my word on this being the best way to run something like this.  Open.  We’re all professionals.  Let’s leave it at that.
So let’s discuss something.  Watch the vid.  Let me know what you think.