You know the type of test I’m talking about. You’re asked a bunch of questions. Then you get a nice coloured chart that describes your character strengths.
While these tests certainly have their place in schools, if they are not used appropriately, they can send Fixed Mindset messages to students.
You see, the problem is not with the tests themselves, but with how schools frame the tests and interpret the results.
Too often, schools imply the results of a personality test are a permanent reflection of who the student is. The student is categorised as a type of person who is suited to a limited number of roles. Consequently, the student believes the type of person they are restricts their choices in life.
The more growth-oriented way to use personality tests is to ensure students recognise the test only measures their current strengths. It is a measure of where they are, not who they are. The results should be used to direct students towards developing the strengths and abilities they need to pursue their choices in life.
The starting point for students should be the growth message of, “What would you like to do in life?”, rather than the fixed message of, “What can you do with your life?” The first question opens a discussion about using the personality test to evaluate their current strengths, and creating a plan to develop any strengths and abilities they need to reach their goals.
The Problem of Mixed Messages
The way personality tests are often used is a perfect example of how many current school practices send mixed Mindset messages to students.
Modern classrooms abound with positive Mindset Movers. The “power of yet” is on the classroom wall. Students are told how, with the right sort of effort, they can develop their talents and abilities. They are given lessons in brain plasticity.
Schools advocate a Growth Mindset. Clearly, they feel that developing a Growth Mindset in students is important and they try to create positive Mindset Movers to achieve this.
But these positive Mindset Movers are at odds with other school practices, such as administering personality tests, which claim to determine character strengths and infer they are permanent traits. Far from developing a Growth Mindset, these practices act as negative Mindset Movers, creating a more Fixed Mindset in students.
As a result, students receive a mix of both positive and negative Mindset Movers, undermining our efforts to create Growth Mindsets in students.
The Solution: Create A Growth Mindset Style Guide
Unfortunately, many teachers are falling victim to the False Mindset.
Teachers intellectually understand what a Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset are. They may even advocate for a Growth Mindset. But their actions may reflect a more fixed view of abilities.
These teachers have often grown up surrounded by Fixed Mindset messages. These have created beliefs and assumptions that guide the teachers’ unconscious bias, leading them to inadvertently create negative Mindset Movers in their classroom.
Changing teachers’ long-held beliefs can be difficult. But we must remember that these teachers are advocates for a Growth Mindset. They don’t intentionally create negative Mindset Movers. They just need help overcoming their unconscious bias and ensuring their actions create more positive Mindset Movers.
This is why a school Growth Mindset Style Guide is such a powerful tool. The purpose of this guide is to outline a set of principles that gently nudge teachers towards creating positive Mindset Movers, especially in those moments when they could inadvertently create negative ones.
For example, a school Growth Mindset Style Guide might contain a statement like this:
Assessment should describe where a child is, not who the child is.
When applied to the personality test, this statement nudges teachers to have a more growth-oriented response to the personality test. They use the test to set the direction for future learning rather than to categorise the student as being a type.
The same personality test that previously created a negative Mindset Mover now acts as a positive Mindset Mover and contributes to the development of a Growth Mindset in the student.
Developing a Growth Mindset Style Guide as a school community is a highly valuable exercise. Not only will it raise awareness of the negative Mindset Movers that might currently prevail in the school, it will also encourage teachers to reflect on their own Mindsets and help nudge them towards creating more positive Mindset Movers in their classrooms.
In my new workshop, “The Growth Mindset Toolkit,” you will begin to develop your own Growth Mindset Style Guide. As we explore the practical tools you can use in your classroom, we talk about the principles that should be included in your school’s Growth Mindset Style Guide.
Join me in a workshop near you.
James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.
James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.
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