When the going gets tough….



Recorded in 1985, before half of our teachers were born, Ocean’s hit record used a phrase that most involved in education have probably used, in some form or other, to encourage resilience, thinking in ‘cans and not cant’s and so on. Trying your best and not giving up easily ‘when the going gets tough’ [although some may see it as a sensible option and knowing your limits] has tended to be seen as a desirable characteristic for students to possess and a worthwhile life-skill.

Over the last couple of years in the UK the Growth Mind-Set movement/body of research has begun to increase in popularity amongst school leaders and teachers and we first mentioned GMS a year ago and began to drip-feed ideas to our staff and students. The September inset 2013 gave a brief synopsis of Carol Dweck’s ‘Mindset’ ideas that I’d read and pinched the diagram below from, although I’d actually enjoyed the more sporty ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed which pushed purposeful practice to achieve excellence. From the basic left hand side notion of the GMS student, as a pose to the fixed mind set characteristics shown on the right of the diagrams, it’s quite obvious to see why many schools would favour highlighting the GMS characteristics of their students as desirable ones. They seem, on the surface, to be an up-dated version of ‘when the going gets tough’ and the self and peer critique aspects of assessment for learning. The books and research goes deeper and I’ve discussed in other blogs aspects of the validity of using praise as feedback and there is a constant stream of evidence that Professor Dweck is able to use to demonstrate the success of her theory and the numbers attending her inset seems to have grown tenfold. I’m not an educational research expert and aren’t able to comment on the validity of the research. There are dissenting voices and my health warning to our staff is to consider carefully the power of some of the phrase associated with GMS and to be sensitive in how they are used with individual students. This isn’t a different approach than we would expect for all teaching strategies-our young people are complicated individuals and we need to know their personal situations-expecting someone to accept criticism, to be happy for others and so on; isn’t always possible for them [or us!] BUT at this particular time in our school’s life, much of what is good and positive about developing a growth mind-set, should be helpful, relevant and supportive in helping our students [and adults] become stronger and better learners.

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I began to share GMS ideas throughout the autumn term of 2013 and linked it with ‘marginal gains’, the tactic made very public by the Olympic cycling team’s concentration on improving small aspects of their performance, based on data, to help them to make big improvements [and win gold!] Some teachers really went for the idea and planned great marginal gains wheels and when I interviewed the students in their learning walks, they were incredibly positive about, and could give examples, of the impact that using the marginal gains approach had had on difficult bits of their learning.

I’ve explained some of our development of learning skills in a previous blog http://blog.meolscophighschool.co.uk/?p=872

They weren’t as clear on some of the aspects of growth mind set, although a whole school survey and some staff pushing the ideas meant that most I interviewed had some idea and as this was a seed sowing year; that was fine and pleasing. Some other schools/teachers were generously beginning to share their ideas via twitter and blogs and we joined the ‘Excellence in Schools Growth Network’ so we could be part of this exciting collaborative venture with like-minded colleagues. I have listed some of the great ideas I’ve shared with our staff below-there are so many and so many people willing to share ideas and work that will have taken ages to plan-thank you and apologies to all the brilliant ideas I will have missed!

http://lorraineabbott.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/under-starters-orders-growth-mindset-at-the-start-of-a-new-academic-year/ Great practical ideas from Lorraine –check it out!

http://t.co/tTzFB04ZvG Chis Hildrew-lots of great ideas and a must read for all schools who are interested in GMS. All of Chris’s blogs are worth reading-very practical, great links and always generous of spirit.

http://t.co/olCr4dZY4X Peter Jones-corridor of excellence-creative ideas par excellence and many schools, I would imagine, are copying Pete and Shaun’s corridors of excellence and GMS displays and welcome.

http://classteaching.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/celebrating-excellence/ Shaun Alison. 3 blogs full of ideas to support any school wanting to see a whole school approach towards GMS superbly delivered and as with the other blogs; a captivating read.



http://johntomsett.com/2013/10/20/this-much-i-know-about-developing-a-dweck-inspired-growth-mindset-culture/ another must read and another school who feel that GMS should permeate everything they do-should we change our school vision and motto to reflect our current ethos?

http://t.co/idUGbsVaC7 what is a mind-set classroom? From Matt Bromley is a really useful read for teachers wondering how they can introduce GMS practically into their everyday teaching. A great accompanying visual image of Matt’s thinking below.


Using a tactic I had used before when introducing our school competencies [6Cs], I decided to push GMS with our new year 7’s, introducing the idea to our parents via the school bulletin, our September information evening and this blog. Each year 7 learning tutor has a set of discussion resources aimed at each of the GMS areas that they can use in form time.

Expect Excellence

Thrive on Feedback

Be resilient and overcome obstacles

I need to work hard and practice hard to succeed

Be inspired by the success of others

Support and encourage each other


We will begin with Expect Excellence a.s.a.p.

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Each GMS characteristic will be supported by many other resources and assemblies and we have a set of posters around school that complement the tutor discussion. These are the ones that accompany the Expect Excellence strand. [There are 60 plus!]

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We used our own year 7 [year 8 now] students to put with quotes I had gathered [or made up!] rather than using celebrities/famous people-we do use clips and quotes from them too-I just thought that this would make more of an impact. Of course, as year 7 develop their thoughts, it will be their faces and their own GMS thoughts that will be on the posters and displays so that they have ownership of the initiative.

Each week I have asked that learning tutors and subject teachers ask their students to think about their GMS learning that week.


There are plenty of other similar ideas and I liked Chris Hildrew’s flow chart.


Another of my favourites, for assembly or form is Carol Webb’s http://buff.ly/1zxgIaF GMS movie to the tune of ‘Kung Fu Fighting’!

I also like Pete Jackson’s planner https://twitter.com/PeteJackson32 Lots for us to think about and borrow.


GMS ideas will still be used with the older students this year and forms part of our ‘Great Learner’ skills which support the retention and development of subject specific knowledge and skills. They mirror our bronze, silver and gold assessment and individual student target focus. You can spot the GMS strands in the overall scheme [page 1 below] and these are broken down for classroom discussion into separate strands which can be discussed when appropriate with the students. I’ve included a few examples of the feedback and supporting others elements.

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There will be a whole series of stickers, stampers, certificates and awards to engage and motivate the students and as I’ve emphasised in so many posts, it is absolutely vital that the adults in the school also adopt GMS characteristics and that SLT are the leading protagonists and modellers of GMS behaviour! When the original ‘tough got going’ it was far more of an individual response than the collaborative approach that GMS asks of both students and adults. The rigorous and critical self-evaluation and honest professional peer critique expected in our lesson study, development of IRIS cameras to observe our own lessons and the support that colleagues give to each other so that all are successful [as we are asking our students to model] changes the lyrics slightly-“When the learning going gets tough-all of Meols Cop get going and learn together” Doesn’t quite flow the same but you know what I mean!

Our professional portfolio formalises the rhetoric and makes the GMS model a required set of attributes for teaching staff here. http://blog.meolscophighschool.co.uk/?p=722 In the wider world of schools and education, at this weekend’s ResearchEd event in London, leading researchers and school leaders/teachers met to discuss the role of research in schools. I’ve explained before that it’s an area that our school must become involved in-we absolutely need to know which learning strategies have a proven track record of success to help us support our students in the best way possible, we need to learn from the very best and find out what they are doing successfully and as senior leaders, we have to equip our staff with the knowledge to use research themselves to support their professional development. This can be frightening for students, staff and leaders! Looking honestly at your own practice, accepting criticism, having to be critical of colleagues and so on-scary! Leaders have to make it happen though and if you have time to skim through the 2 weekend presentations below, you will see the same GMS traits that I’ve discussed throughout this blog-could be another inset session activity!

http://t.co/JsR2HfJI1A David Weston [TDA/NTEN] How do you develop the world’s best teachers?

http://t.co/JsR2HfJI1A Philippa Cordingley [CUREE] What makes exceptional schools exceptional?

Who wouldn’t want their school to be exceptional and have the world’s best teachers working there/teaching their children? Engaging all at Meols Cop with the ‘Growth Mind-Set’ model is, I believe, another huge step in the right learning direction for our school.


2 thoughts on “When the going gets tough….

  1. Pingback: Growth Mindset? | mrbenney

  2. Pingback: Growth Mind Set-a year on-are we opening and growing our minds? | Meols Cop High School

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