April 2016


  • Making your voice heard
    Teacher shortages and funding pressures are undermining schools’ efforts to give every child the chance of a truly outstanding education. ASCL is determined to make the government listen, says Malcolm Trobe. More
  • Stem the tide
    School and college leaders need to take the initiative and accept collective responsibility for the recruitment and retention of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers before it’s too late, says Sir Michael Griffiths. More
  • Bridging the gap
    The Careers & Enterprise Company is bringing schools and businesses together to get young people work-ready before they embark on the job search, says its Chief Executive Officer Claudia Harris. More
  • A clear view
    The vision for a self-improving system has made great strides in the last 12 months but there is much more still to do, as ASCL President Allan Foulds explains. More
  • We're in this together
    ASCL Director of Policy Leora Cruddas looks at the different roles played by inspection and peer review in a self-improving system and examines three peer review models. More
  • Growing gains
    The concept of the ‘growth mindset’ is helping school leaders to rethink how both staff and pupils approach learning in their schools. More
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The concept of the ‘growth mindset’ is helping school leaders to rethink how both staff and pupils approach learning in their schools.

Growing gains

Case study 1: Churchill Academy and Sixth Form, North Somerset

Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, California, USA has spent many years researching ‘mindsets’ and has established an opposition between a fixed mindset (the belief that intelligence is fixed) and a growth mindset (the belief that intelligence can grow).

Her approach was sparked by her own experience of education, as described in her book Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential (2006):

“Even as a child, I was focused on being smart but the fixed mindset was really stamped in by Mrs Wilson, my sixth grade teacher… She believed that people’s IQ scores told the whole story of who they were. We were seated around the room in IQ order, and only the highest-IQ students could be trusted to carry the flag, clap the erasers, or take a note to the principal… She was creating a mindset in which everyone in the class had one consuming goal – look smart, don’t look dumb. Who cared about or enjoyed learning when our whole being was at stake every time she gave us a test or called on us in class?”

Dweck observes that people with a growth mindset embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find inspiration in the success of others. As a result, they avoid the fixed mindset that can trap them into an early plateau and cause them to fall short of their unknowable potential.

These are exactly the attitudes I want to build in learners – and staff.

Having a growth mindset does not mean you will succeed at everything. In painting, simply having a growth mindset will not make me Picasso; in running, it will not make me Usain Bolt. But it will make me better at painting and running than I am now and that is why I adopt the approach.

As a deputy head at Chew Valley School, Bristol, I was concerned that students were increasingly lacking in confidence in their own ability to learn. We feared that this would lead to a slowdown of academic progress, often manifesting as a lack of effort or a ‘can’t do’ attitude: ‘I can’t do maths.’ In other words, a classic fixed mindset. It had to change.

Developing a growth mindset culture

Following a successful pilot study in science, we ran a training session for all staff, teaching and non-teaching, where we explained the principles of growth mindset and why we were keen to adopt it. The response was overwhelming and so we began the process of redeveloping the whole-school culture to reflect a growth mindset. It included emphasising to students why the growth mindset attributes – embracing challenges, seeing effort as the path to mastery, learning from critique and the success of others – help develop intelligence by growing and developing neural pathways. Struggle is essential for learning. The students who were saying, “I can’t do maths” would have to add a simple growth mindset tag word . . . ‘yet’.

We also worked hard to develop growth mindsets in staff. I am a strong believer in Dylan Wiliam’s declaration (a leader in the development of formative assessment), “Every teacher needs to improve – not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.” To this end we introduced teaching and learning teams led by practising teachers, working on six aspects of pedagogy throughout the year. We also made sure that the students knew that all teachers were working hard to develop a growth mindset to ensure that the quality of teaching young people received continued to be excellent and improving.

The final piece of the jigsaw was explaining our approach to parents. We put on information evenings for families to outline Dweck’s theories and explain how they could support our work at home through praising strategies and effort and rewarding struggle and resilience. Again, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

I am now head of Churchill Academy and Sixth Form in North Somerset. A growth mindset culture has become one of my core values as a school leader and I have already begun developing it in my new role. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that changing a culture involves tackling the fundamentals – the way we think about ourselves and our learning. It involves looking at every aspect of the school experience with fresh eyes and creating the best conditions for learning. Moreover, it’s an ongoing process.

Case study 2: Rushey Mead Academy, Leicester

When I was appointed as head, I started to search for an idea around which the whole school community could unite, one that was simple yet powerful, had universal applicability but went beyond worthiness and cliché and was rooted in research.

Through Twitter, I started to hear about the work of Carol Dweck. Reading her work, the ideas chimed with my thinking and observations of students and adults that I had come across in my career. The more I read, the more I knew it was the idea to embrace, as it resonated on so many levels and had relevance to all: teachers, support staff, students, school leaders and parents.

As the start of term neared, the weight of getting right that first address to staff began to grow. I duly prepared a presentation with well-chosen quotations and clips of Dweck. I tried to keep it measured and low key, as I did not want to overstate the case and risk alienating staff. I introduced my word for the coming year – ‘yet’ – a word so apt in a school and imbued with optimism and ideas of perseverance.

I knew I had made the right choice when one of our teachers said it gave a label to everything she had thought before and that now there was name for it. So, instinctively, many great teachers have been promoting a growth mindset but now we have a theory and a body of evidence to really draw on.

Next, through assemblies, I introduced our students to Dweck’s work. I told students how she was a professor at Stanford University in the US and how we are all capable of growing and learning through embracing hard work and feedback. Our students enjoy being challenged and engaging with key ideas and big thinkers. One student stopped me in the corridor a week later to say that he had searched for her name online, watched some videos and really appreciated being introduced to her work.

We have done further work in tutor times, through displays and, most powerfully, through our language and feedback to students. In tutor times, students have rehearsed scenarios where they would possibly give up if they were finding the work too difficult or where they would possibly reject feedback from a peer or a teacher. Students have been shown how they can take on a growth mindset instead and keep on with the difficult work as it will produce learning and that feedback, if embraced and acted upon, can lead to improvements. We have also talked about the importance of failing and learning from mistakes and making new mistakes in order to learn.

For me, the ideas of Carol Dweck give me sustenance as a leader in a furiously evolving educational landscape: it makes me confident enough to say that I don’t always have all the answers, that I am constantly learning and that we are not there yet.

Becoming a Growth Mindset School

14 June in London

Chris Hildrew is leading an ASCL PD course based on the work of Carol Dweck that growth mindsets have the power to transform learning in schools. Participants will:

  • gain an understanding of mindsets
  • develop strategies for introducing mindsets to staff, students, parents and governors
  • learn what a growth mindset looks like in practice
  • acquire specific tools for developing a growth mindset in schools
  • be able to plan for the implementation of a growth mindset strategy See online for more details or to book a place www.ascl.org.uk/growthmind

GROWTH MINDSET: Rushey Mead Academy pupils enjoy being challenged and engaging with key ideas and big thinkers

Chris Hildrew is Headteacher at Churchill Academy and Sixth Form, North Somerset

Rita Hindocha is Principal at Rushey Mead Academy, Leicester