When you walk into a school and classroom in the UK, you will now often be struck by how omnipresent Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset messaging is. On classroom displays, in assemblies and, most importantly, in the way that teachers communicate with pupils.  For example ‘I can’t do it Sir!’ to which the teacher replies ‘You can’t do it …yet, Jack!’

So why is this messaging so prevalent now?


Spreading the message

Teachers across the land are being actively encouraged to embrace Dweck’s philosophy that essentially everyone is capable of anything with an open and growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, what we perceive as difficult or impossible becomes difficult or impossible. And this messaging extends to include teachers too. Present a class with a teacher with a fixed mindset (‘I am not a great teacher’,  ‘I will never control this class’ or even worse, ‘That child will never achieve a decent grade or behave themselves’) and with a pupil with a fixed mindset (‘I am no good at Maths’, ‘I will never be any good at Maths’, ‘I can’t concentrate’…) and this naturally leads to stalemate in a classroom – poor relationships, a poor culture for achievement and zero progress.

Growing bodies of research point to the fact that achievement relies as much on outlook and self-belief as on ability.

Dweck’s messaging has really struck a chord in the state sector more recently (despite her ideas being developed in the 1980s which many teachers will be surprised by!). As Professor of Psychology at Standford University, Dweck has become one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation. She believes in the fact that if one person can do something, anyone else can learn to do it. Scientists concur and are learning that people have more capacity for lifelong learning and brain development than they ever thought possible. Take the case of the London Black Cab driver, there is now scientific evidence of brain growth after they have learnt ‘The Knowledge’.


Lessons from the private sector?

Can we learn lessons from the private sector? They seemingly breed highly confident students who often become accomplished professionals at some of the highest echelons of society.

This culture of self-belief and high expectation and a ‘can do’ attitude has formed the bedrock of the private school sector. Many parents cite the fact that sending their child to a private school has more to do with developing them holistically and instilling a core self-belief and confidence in their child than the quality of teaching day to day. But if we can secure high quality teaching whilst also ensuring that we foster a growth mindset in the children, we are giving the next generation the best possible start in life from whichever sector they receive their education!


Mental block in Maths

Jo Boaler, a Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University, has taken Dweck’s philosophy and applied it to the much needed area of Maths (a subject that presents a whole host of challenges for pupils, teachers and school leadership teams). She has pulled together her research to guide teachers and parents to transfer children’s ideas and experiences of maths through a positive growth mindset method which can be viewed in her book Mathematical Mindsets’. For me, the most important message Boaler conveys is that ‘new evidence from brain research tells us that everyone, with the right teaching and messages, can be successful in Maths, and everyone can achieve at the highest levels in school.’ A simple but powerful message that all stakeholders in our children’s education must hold dear!


Sustaining it

Fads and trends come and go in education as we know. But the core messaging and philosophy here is absolutely critical and applies globally to everyone in any field. But these positive mindsets need to be built and constructed from an early age and especially at Primary Level – the critical formative years!

So how can it be sustained? With the growth of technology enhanced education, it needs to permeate through the narratives of the technologies we create and use. Initial teacher education must instil the same mindsets in the teachers of tomorrow and parents need to be informed and educated in how to build the habits of communication that will help develop their child holistically.

Instead of… Try thinking…
I’m not good at this What am I missing
I give up I’ll use a different strategy
It’s good enough Is this really my best work?
I can’t make this any better I can always improve
This is too hard This may take some time
I made a mistake Mistakes help me to learn
I just can’t do this I am going to train my brain
I’ll never be that smart I will learn how to do this
Plan A didn’t work There’s always plan B
My friend can do it I will learn from them


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