This post is part of our series of articles focusing on the mental health of young people – marking Children’s Mental Health Week 2016. It is taken from Jackie Beere’s essay in SSAT’s Mind the Gap publication.
If we want a school that nurtures a growth mindset in every classroom, what are the essential strategies required?
1 – Classroom teaching that celebrates the struggles, processes and strategies inherent in learning
Teaching which encourages children to thrive on the challenge to make progress, even when it’s hard and scary. Teachers who have high expectations of every pupil, challenging them to grow their brains by developing strategies to overcome mistakes and bounce back from failure by:
- giving ‘tough love’ feedback on pupils’ work, highlighting specifically what is needed for improvement and making sure they act on it
- reflecting on and discussing the learning journey and the learning strategies employed that could be used next time
- doing more of what they find the hardest to make sure they improve through ‘purposeful practice’
- creating an atmosphere of unconditional support for each other’s progress in the classroom so that peer learning can occur and peer assessment is critical yet supportive
- rewarding and praising effort, not just outcome – recent research has confirmed that over-praising average work can be detrimental to pupil progress
- encouraging pupils to take responsibility and ownership of their development as a learner.
2 – Effective teaching, research and evaluation
A school that learns from its own mistakes and rigorously self-evaluates at all levels will get no surprises from Ofsted visits. All teachers and teaching assistants should be involved in mini research projects evaluating what is and isn’t working in the classroom, from seating plans to revision classes, questioning techniques to behaviour regimes.
This research would include asking students, teachers, teaching assistants and parents: ‘How are we doing?’ ‘How do we know?’ What else can we try?’ – and sharing this on a regular basis with staff. In this way staff can develop a language for learning to share with pupils.
3 – Train teachers and TAs to model growth mindset themselves by being the best learners in the class
Encourage this with performance management that rewards teacher growth and development. Use lesson observation as a learning opportunity rather than a judgement tool and encourage more frequent peer observation.
The research projects should create learning forums that everyone can be involved in so that all teachers are constantly adapting their practice and learning from each other. Peer coaching is a highly effective tool for supporting this practice.
4 – Have a vision for excellence in academic achievement alongside personal development – and involve the whole community
Demonstrate this with a website that has downloadable revision sessions, extra-curricular activities, learning forums, student blogs and lesson videos, international Skype debates, mindset workshops and anything else that holds up a mirror to your eclectic offer.
Invite parents to join lessons and run regular workshops for them on emotional intelligence and ‘how to support your child as a learner’ that encourage the growth mindset at home.
5 – Teach children (and staff) about how their brain works, what anxiety is and how to channel stress to make it useful
Show staff and pupils how to manage their thinking and why CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) works. Teach strategies for self-management and metacognition through off-timetable days and programmes within PSHE to complement the growth mindset culture of the classroom.
Have additional sessions for those with extra needs. A child who lacks empathy will benefit from direct instruction on seeing another point of view.
6 – Develop a full and engaging extra-curricular programme beyond the regular sports and clubs
Insist that all children take part in events that really challenge them to move out of their comfort zones, for example:
- sports challenges where we really celebrate winners and losers
- ‘Strictly dancing’ events for those that can’t dance
- challenging projects such as rocket building or creating a school garden
- business enterprise challenges where children set up their own companies
- ensuring that every child takes part in volunteer or charity work in the community
- interviewing for and appointing a student Ofsted team to inspect the school and report back to staff
- provide a variety of performance opportunities, from pantomime to Shakespeare, so that every child can be involved
- create a reward system for effort and persistence in the above programmes.
7 – Every teacher or TA needs to model standard English and ensure that reading, writing and communication skills are continually improving
Literacy across the curriculum is now an expectation in every school. Communication skills are the key to high achievement and self-confidence.
If children can communicate their feelings, they are less likely to suffer in silence when anxious and stressed, which can add to those negative emotions. For too many children, school isn’t a place where they develop confidence as speakers and writers.
Putting literacy and communication skills at the heart of the school growth mindset culture should mean that every child can blog, debate, present, pitch, coach, discuss and indeed teach on a regular basis in the classroom and in a more public arena.
Developing their public speaking skills – even if they find it as scary as I did for many years – builds confidence and flexibility. School productions are often a catalyst for children finding their voice, so it should be the mission of every school to provide such opportunities for performance.
It is ironic that when we try to protect children from tough experiences such as getting it wrong, coming last or failing an exam, what we actually do is make them more vulnerable to anxiety. When we struggle, and celebrate it, we develop strategies for coping that immunise us against future challenges and build our resilience.
Our schools need to have a relentless determination to achieve outstanding progress in fulfilling a child’s academic potential. The most powerful and productive way to do this is to empower every child, from the most able and privileged to the most disadvantaged, to be the most resilient, determined learner they can be.