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?


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