What’s your approach to Growth Mindset?

Teachers and Schools are adopting many different approaches to Growth Mindset. Some of these approaches are more effective than others. 

In this blog, I walk you through the three most common approaches I have seen, from least effective, to the most effective. I then outline how to raise the bar on your work with Growth Mindset by creating a Style Guide and an Authentic Teacher Growth Mindset. 

Your Default Teacher Mindset

Teachers have always influenced students’ Mindset. Every day – in our language, our structures and our pedagogy – we send messages to students that help shape their understandings about their abilities.

The problem is that our messages are often inconsistent. On the one hand, we tell students that if they put in the effort they can improve. On the other, we categorise them as being (or not being) musical, mathematical etc., which tells them they are limited in the areas they can improve. 

We have mixed our Positive Mindset Movers with Negative Mindset Movers and, as a consequence, produced mixed results. 

Catchphrases 

In an effort to create more Positive Mindset Movers for students, many teachers have opted for the quick and easy solution of adopting catchphrases. 

Trying to reduce something as subtle and complex as Mindset into a catchphrase is problematic. These often-parroted phrases invariably oversimplify the message or contain half-truths that can be misleading.

For example, the way Carol Dweck discusses “The Power of Yet” is that it is meant to provide students with a pathway into the future. However, it is too often applied in classrooms as a throwaway line that becomes a hollow promise of future growth, which is soon broken when “not yet” becomes “still not yet”. (See “Beyond Not Yet to What’s Next”)

Similar affirmations like “Believe and you’ll achieve” send a misleading half-truth to students. People who achieve do tend to believe in their abilities. However, simply believing you can achieve isn’t enough. It should be “Believe and you’ll act. Act effectively and you’ll achieve!” It misses the most important part which is about learning to act effectively. 

Rules

An improvement on “catchphrases” is to apply Growth Mindset rules of thumb. Unfortunately, these well-intended rules are often too broad, over generalised or misapplied. 

The problem here lies in what Carol Dweck and Susan MacKay describe as the False Mindset. Teachers who adopt Growth Mindset strategies, without first deeply reflecting on their own Mindset, are prone to misapply these Growth Mindset rules.

For example, the “Praise Effort” rule is unconsciously misapplied, through the teachers own Mindset, to become “Praise struggling students for Effort”. Consequently, students are led to believe that effort is only required for some, which has the effect of reinforcing the Fixed Mindset instead of a Growth Mindset. (See It’s not as simple as Praise Effort and Not all Effort is Created Equal)

In a similar way the rule of “Praise Mistakes” was intended to de-stigmatise mistakes, and accept them as part of the learning process. However, it is often misapplied, and students miss the critical importance of correcting mistakes. (See Getting Mistakes Right ebook)

Growth Mindset Style Guide

In my new Growth Mindset workshop, you will create a Growth Mindset Style Guide for your classroom and school. The Style Guide is designed to create what behavioural psychologists call Nudges. 

The Style Guide is driven by principles that are flexible enough to allow teachers to apply them broadly and accurately in their day-to-day teaching, while at the same time tailoring them their individual contexts. 

Unlike Catchphrases and Rules, the Style Guide does not tell you what to say or do, rather it nudges you towards creating more frequent Positive Mindset Movers. 

For example, the Style Guide might contain a statement about focusing on the “back-story of achievements”. This focuses our attention on how achievements are reached and leads teachers to comment on what the child has done, rather than what they have produced

This applies to all achievements, including those of people we might think of as experts. Recognising the backstory of these people as one of becoming great, rather than being great, helps students understand that all achievements come slowly and prevents the perception of the Greatness Gap that would act as a negative Mindset Mover. 

This “nudge” avoids the glib and vague off-handed “praise effort” while at the same time helping teachers focus on the process of slow incremental growth that leads to all achievements. (See Why is a Growth Mindset so important to Motivation?)

A Growth Mindset style guide helps teachers overcome their own cognitive bias and the False Mindset by nudging them in the direction of creating accurate, positive Mindset Movers, without restricting them to limiting rules and catchphrases. 

Your Authentic Teacher Growth Mindset

At the end of the day, teachers have enough to do without having to think about each word they say, each comment they make, and every interaction they have with students. Teachers want to create consistent and unconscious Positive Mindset Movers in their classrooms. 

This only comes from the robust and enduring personal Growth Mindset of the teacher – the result of personal introspection of their own beliefs, and development of a deep understanding of the true capacity for every student to achieve incredible growth. 

In this way “Change your words, change your Mindset” gets the message exactly back-to-front. It should be “change your Mindset, then watch your words change!” (See Change your Mindset, then change your words)

Do you want to work on your personal Mindset and approach to Growth Mindset at school?

I invite you to join me at my workshop, The Growth Mindset Toolkit.  In this workshop, we focus on changing teacher Mindsets and learn how to develop your own Growth Mindset Style Guide for your classroom and school.

I would love to see you there.

James

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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