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Growth mindset – teachers first

Corinne SettleThis article is written by Corinne Settle, SSAT senior education lead. It originally appeared on her own blog.

One morning, my five-year-old son says “I CAN’T write”. He looks at me and I look back. He rolls his eyes and says “yet”. He then starts to use his phonics to work out the spelling of the next word he wants to write.

As a teacher and parent, I am determined that my son will have a ‘growth mindset’. I desperately want him to believe that effort is key to success and that he can do anything he wishes in this world. So ‘yet’ has become an important word.

Just a few hours later, the world ends when a cup of milk gets knocked across the table. My son loses it completely and a full tantrum ensues. I recall the expression ‘don’t cry over spilt milk’, but this was not tears, this was DEFCON 1.

I take a deep breath and ask how we fix the problem. We clean up the milk together and all is well within a matter of minutes. But, I begin to think, why on earth does he react that way, it really is ridiculous and over the top.

I am embarrassed to say, but within that same hour, the answer came at me loud and clear. I was chatting to my son who stood in the doorway of the kitchen as I took dinner out of the oven. Being the distracted mum, I went to put the dish down on the side and quite simply missed. The food flew across the kitchen floor and I cringe as I write this, but this was not DEFCON 1, it was DEFCON 1+.

War was not imminent; it was in full flow in my kitchen and of course not from my son… from me. After about 30 seconds of crashing and banging, I looked at my son and stopped dead in my tracks… that is where he learnt it. If you have read Dr Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: how you can fulfil your potential or are of the right era, I had just pulled a great John McEnroe.

This incident has been a real catalyst in my learning and understanding of how we, as teachers (and parents) can promote growth mindset in our learners.

I have seen many documents out there giving examples of growth mindset language when talking to students and writing reports.

I have watched compelling short videos that demonstrate the impact of praising effort over intelligence on test scores. I visited many schools with growth mindset displays in classrooms with ways to change your thinking from fixed to growth mindset.

For example, ‘this is too hard’ to ‘this may take a bit of time and effort’. These are all steps to support our students to shift their thinking in the right direction.

This leads me to the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’. We are role models to children, regardless of what our specific role is. They learn from what we do as well as what we say. ‘Yet’ is not enough if they watch us give up easily and react badly when a problem arises.

For some reason I think back to problems with ICT and the internet in lessons at this point. Therefore, if we are to effectively promote growth mindset to our learners, we need to recognise and understand our own mindset first.

I am now beginning to understand that my mindset changes depending on the situation I am in, how tired I feel and who is around me at the time. My mindset self-awareness is increasing and I’m beginning to make changes to my behaviour.

Household and classroom catastrophes are now greeted with the question ‘how can I fix this?’ However, don’t get me wrong, if I am tired, there still needs to be a DEFCON alert at the ready, but not in front of my son.

I have always held the belief that if I believe in my students they will also believe in themselves. No matter their target or current grade. For me growth mindset is an extension of this, but for me to do this effectively I need to understand my own mindset first.

Growth mindset needs to begin with teachers first, then students. If effort is the key to success, we need to focus on where it will have the most impact.


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