Growth mind set-not just for Xmas! Beyond the posters and assemblies.


Helen’s MFL mind-set brain reminded me to consider how far we have begun to embed growth mind set into our lessons and whole school thinking. Alex Quigley, from Huntington School at York warned in his blog of the dangers of a superficial approach towards GM as the latest fad. A few quick assemblies and creative posters dotted around and we are now a growth mind set school-I don’t think so!

Alex does describe his school as a GM school and you can see that they have worked hard to inculcate GM into as many areas of school as possible. This isn’t really our aim at present-we certainly can see the benefits of GM but I’m not sure that it is of more importance than some other aspects of our philosophy-perhaps our community, over the next couple of years will conclude that it should be the key component of our vision-it’s early days yet!

I do believe that it is important for us to support the development of GM [early term blogs shared our beginnings] by sharing how some colleagues and faculties have moved quickly since September to stress the importance of GM with their students, to actively promote GM in lessons and of equal importance, to seek examples of how individual teachers and SLT have adopted a GM of their own towards their [and the school’s] professional development. Stephen Tierney, in his post below, makes the crucial point that a school cannot just talk about GM with its students-the staff have to develop GM too and SLT have to create a GM culture which encourages our teachers [and all staff] to want to become the best teacher that they can.

“I need to believe that I can improve and accept resilience, grit and hard work, over time, is required to become a better and in time a great teacher.

When teachers are working within a whole school Growth Mindset culture, which is multi-faceted, they are far more likely to be successful in making marginal gains in teaching practice.  These gains contribute to the overall professional capital of the organisation.

“The literature provides a challenge to the much quoted claim that teachers typically improve over their first 3-5 years and then plateau. Teachers working in schools with more supportive professional environments continued to improve significantly after three years, while teachers in the least supportive schools actually declined in their effectiveness.“

Coe et al (2014) p.5

Stephen also writes that; “part of a Growth Mindset is believing that students can reach even higher levels of attainment.  Our job is then to work out how.  Redefining our expectations of students and ourselves is a part of this process.”

Are we showing signs of delivering and modelling GM for both our staff and students? A few examples from the last 2 weeks illustrate, what I hope are indicators of a growing trend.

Clair and I observed Jen with her year 10 maths lower ability set and in a brief discussion as we waited for the class, Jen  explained that when she began with us, 5 years ago, she wouldn’t have attempted a lesson that involved risks for an observation but now without the pressure of grades and our developmental approach plus her positive experience with lesson study, she felt confident of trying something different to see if it would work in front of us [we could help too both in the lesson and with constructive feedback] Thus we were seeing a teacher actively growing her mind-set in a quest to become better at her craft-taking on something that might fail and the students being encouraged to improve their resilience and mind set towards difficult maths questions. Jen has deliberately chosen as one of her appraisal targets practical research into the difficulties KS2 L4 students seem to have in making good progression to support her own professional development, student learning and her faculty colleagues, as subject leader-leadership mind-set-leaders should be seen to take on ‘big’ issues and not shy away from them!

Context of lesson

Students have completed 3 lessons on reading and constructing pie charts. The SOW covers a variety of data topics that I feel the students may already be able to tackle without full instructions. This lesson is a discovery into what students can handle whilst tackling confidence levels. I need students to build resilience in student mind-set to continue to the very end of the test paper and believe they can answer the trickier questions.

Is there an area of their learning/your teaching that you have found to be challenging!? [

Not giving up – students follow instructions, answer questions well in lesson, and complete tasks less complex. When they’re faced with harder questions I hear ‘I don’t know what to do’.

Getting your skates on! Which is the biggest anticipated risk/chance of failure you have planned to take in the lesson? How can we help?

TASK 1 – I anticipate that Question 5 and 6 students will circle as a 5(would usually skip), if a student is able to answer the question already I will change to lead learners.

TASK 2 – Students may struggle to come up with their own methods to collect data. I can show a demonstration to help hint. This task is to ensure students understand a frequency table and so that they can apply their previous knowledge and understanding of the mean.

TASK 3 – Lead learners may struggle themselves! They may need to discuss the answers with the group.

The maths faculty have been pushing a ‘can do’ mind-set in maths with parents and students at our year 7 and 8 parental information evenings and I was keen to see this in classroom action.


Jen handed the students a set of questions and they had to number [1-5] the degree of difficulty they thought each would be to answer. They are often put off by big words and lots of numbers-aren’t we all! By working together, using maths leaders, thinking positively and equipping them with the necessary skills and belief; the class began to answer questions that previously seemed too hard.



The students don’t just acquire a mind –set of being resilient, mistake using, critique seeking, appreciators of other’s success, I can do anything, challenge busting all round good guys-nor do we as teachers and leaders. In the 3 appraisal observation I’ve just had the pleasure of watching, it became apparent that the teachers really knew their learners needs, strengths and weaknesses and explicitly were pushing the growth mind set buttons that they know from their professional assessment, individual students need. Nudging them along with appropriate marginal gains so that some of the aspirational targets we want them to achieve are attainable with; support, confidence building, knowledge acquiring and appropriate intervention-with this in place, we can begin to lay real foundations for successful growth mind-set. These examples are from Jen, Martin and Colin and show their thought process in working out [and believing] that their students CAN achieve higher and better in their class.

A – A struggles with questions with multiple steps involved. Paired with X to follow a structure for his answers

B – Does struggle with ‘I just can’t do it’ but when he understand he’s fine. He can make mistakes on his X tables so we ensure we practice this in all topics.

C– confident mathematician when he can do it. C can make mathematical links quicker but will give up if he struggles and produce minimal work. Will lead group well. Strength in NUMBER.

D – Has good algebra skills and logical thinking. He can miss steps out in calculations and doesn’t present finding clearly.

E – good grasp with number skills and structured answers. E has strong skills in showing all steps required in mathematical answers.

F – Is able to follow mathematical processes well however I will ensure that he is on the correct path when he is lead learner and this will help with his confidence.

A is sat at the front of lessons. He is almost always fully engaged in History and currently I am using strategies to get him to consider an answer before giving it such as consulting with a peer. In longer writing work he has the opportunity to use IT facilities. In today’s work he will be given a sentence structure to help in his paragraph

B is sat on his own table to aid concentration by limiting distraction from others. With his dyslexia I have used key terms as well as key word spelling tests focussing on basics such as capital letters and key words including America, Prohibition and Flappers. Today he will be given the writing structure to help guide him as well as key terms

C is given a range of support especially in exam style Q’s. I give him structures and frames to help scaffold an appropriate response and also provide written instructions in case he hasn’t processed the task requirements. Spelling tests and key words are emphasised and I encourage students to ask if unsure. Today he will be given a writing structure and key terms for his exam style question

X– lacks confidence and sometimes finds it difficult articulating what she want to say in classroom discussions. The Business Frisbee has helped develop her confidence as she can’t shy away and is more involved in classroom discussions and has supported other in questioning sessions.

Y– I have completed lots of intervention with Y to improve his literacy skills. He has responded very well to the PIC ruler as this has helped him to pick the relevant points form the case study and use these to expand his answers. I have also helped support Y with dealing with difficult situations through a lunch time programme called ‘New Horizons’. This has helped him deal with difficult situations in the classroom more positively

Martin also took on a challenge in his observation lesson for Greg and myself, in 1] trying to teach the Causes of the Wall St Crash [I would have avoided this!!] and 2] focusing on the links between the causal factors that the students [especially the lower ability] usually miss in their exam answers.

Is there an area of their learning/your teaching that you have found to be challenging!? [

With lower ability students, I am looking to not rely on writing as a form of expressing an opinion- These students can write and frequently produce good written work but are also very good at expressing opinions verbally. My challenge this year is striking a balance between the two within the time frame of a 2 year course rather than 3 year course.

Getting your skates on! Which is the biggest anticipated risk/chance of failure you have planned to take in the lesson? How can we help?

The biggest anticipated risk is that students will not be able to link the causes together- This requires students to take their thinking to a higher level than previous 6 markers.

To build student confidence into a ‘can do’ mentality when faced with ‘linking’ Martin provided differentiated resources so that the students were equipped with the necessary knowledge to enable them to discuss the topic confidently-without this, speaking and listening for anyone is difficult and they would give up or be inaccurate.

04 05 06

What I really liked was seeing Martin, in his effort to develop his own practice even further, adapt what had already proved a successful strategy so that it became an even better one-this was a risk but with the aid of chocolate rewards worked well!


The physical links [causal web] made with tape and then explained works really well as shown in a previous lesson, however Martin improved this by providing RAG cards to allow the students to use the green card to write links that they felt were really strong and would meet with Sir’s approval, amber for quite strong and red for slightly ‘iffy’ ones. Martin rewarded them with gold chocolate coins-the winning group took all! Great to see the teacher reflecting and wanting to produce an even better learning experience.


In our feedback session Martin told me that this was the most comfortable and relaxed he had felt in an observation [he has been teaching 3 years and has performed twice for Ofsted-subject/whole school] and enjoyed taking the risks. His confidence grew with a super court scene/silent debate he taught for Helen and myself last year and without the nonsense of grades that encourage playing it safe, he wanted to teach how he wants to teach! So all colleagues should and we have to continue to create a culture of teacher mind-set that allows you all to want to improve AND try out ideas-when better to do that than in an observation with extra hands there to help and peer critique honestly and professionally on your agreed criteria.

I was delighted that Martin asked if I could cover Greg, our NQT historian, to allow him to observe too [did he really need to show an ID card to get in our Reward’s Evening!] and all of our NQTs have quickly realised that they are encouraged to try, fail, observe others, reflect and build their own mind-set-not just teach it to year 7 tutor groups with my ppts! I was equally delighted, after observing Rachael [NQT+1] with Sarah [subject leader] teach poetry to year 9 to hear Sarah immediately invite Rachael to observe her teaching poetry the next day. A supportive environment, is crucial to our continuing growth mind-set as teachers.

Since I taught Colin everything he knows about Hitler’s Rise to Power many years ago, he always wanted to be a teacher here and here he is! He really does have a growth mind set and is currently studying at Edge Hill for his MA and we have some great feedback sessions when I have to try really hard to set him a little marginal gain to satisfy his desire to deliver an even better lesson next time. We have worked on student self-questioning, peer verification using google docs [I have the ideas-he has the technological know-how!] and his latest idea was to move away ever so slightly from the business studies computers [this was difficult!] and he has introduced his Business Frisbee. The students write their own exam assessment questions-1 each-offer one to the class and then the Frisbee is passed or skimmed round to students who have to offer the next part of the answer/mark scheme. This is to engage everyone in a key activity that Colin wanted to improve as part of his own development and also to develop the confidence levels of the quieter students. His explanation of the activity is here;

The aim of the Business Frisbee is to firstly develop students own questioning skills. So, the first rule of being in charge of the Frisbee is that their role is to not catch a Business Buddy out, but instead to challenge them and use hints and tips if necessary to try and help them to answer the question the best they can!  This Frisbee is used alongside a student’s google docs question and the flexible 6 and 8 marker schemes. The Frisbee holder asks a questions about the first mark from the mark scheme.  The person answers this and then they become the Frisbee holder and then asks the peer a question about the second mark, and so on. This is carried on until they reach the end of the mark scheme. Because students don’t know if they’re going to be asked next, they tend to engage better than one person doing a 6 marker for a long period themselves (which was an action point from last lesson obs) This has really helped this group as they can be very quiet during Q&A sessions and this has helped ensure all students can contribute as opposed to one person dominating or other being too passive in discussions.

The massive emphasis in business studies is of support for each other and the celebration of each other’s success-an important but perhaps the least easy aspect of GM for both students and adults to grasp. The success of Business Buddies relies on the honesty of student feedback and the desire to really help another student succeed.

I have been running back and to between lessons to drop in on the science lesson studies running concurrently with my other observations. I’ve explained in other blogs how well our lesson study has taken off and the professional development involved, as Stephen Tierney alludes to in his blog, really does show GM in action with the teachers being prepared to look deeply at a weaker aspect of their own practice so that they can improve together and with the right enquiry question, they can equip the students with the skills to grow in confidence to develop their own mind-set around key learning barriers. The scientists have targeted Ever 6 revision and rather than expecting revision to happen at home, are working out which revision methods can work best with the biggest impact on learning [and test scores!] for our year 10 students. Whilst the focus student trios are Ever 6 the rest of the classes will obviously benefit from the classroom research. The students often don’t revise or give up when the questions get tough-we have to help them develop a stronger GM by equipping them with the tools to taste success and want more of it!

Adele and Katrina in performing arts decided that their lesson study would focus on moving beyond the G.C.S.E. requirements to offer some higher level A/S or A level type learning for their students in addition to their G.C.S.E skills and knowledge. I was keen to embrace this cracking GM idea to reach for the aspirational stars for both students and the dynamic duo! This does involve all concerned asking some searching questions of their own teaching and learning-both ladies visited 3 other schools/colleges to search for ideas and to reflect on their own practice and the students were challenged too as they were pushed to tackle some quite difficult concepts. Katrina and I observed Adele teaching year 10 about modulations and we loved this very personal plenary that Adele used!


My final lesson study of the week [just 5 minutes ago!] saw Andrew and Hannah pose the enquiry question-‘Can I motivate high ability boys to want to succeed on a daily basis?’ They are concerned that some of our highest ability lads [and 10 set 1] seem to go through the motions of learning, prefer to be left to get on with it, don’t like any interaction/communication and look like they’re miserable and not enjoying their English and geography! We had a really interesting feedback session and came to the conclusion that sometimes as teachers we have to have the mind-set to change our tactics. Hannah, especially is a high octane, 100 mph teacher who I love to watch-I would have engaged with her style immediately as a student but she is worried that she gives them her usual stuff and although they work hard and do what is required, they don’t smile much! Sometimes we have to accept that our classes are very different and change ourselves-we have to deliver what is best for our students and not always what we think is great teaching. Hannah said, “I won’t deliver great teaching if they won’t interact'” “Are they learning though?” I replied. “What are  their books and assessments showing you?” They will change the focus of the lesson study to looking at their own teaching after Xmas to develop a different style that is more suitable for these particular students-great teachers learn to do this [even though they find it uncomfortable with their personal philosophy] with experience and a strong mind-set. Learning is hard work and not always fun for both students and teachers.

During a discussion with maths Jen, I mentioned marking in maths-“what’s wrong with it!” she asked. It’s a natural riposte but the point I was making is that we need to be constantly re-evaluating our practice in every aspect of what we are doing. Is STAR marking working best in maths, is everybody using it the same and is it having an impact-can you prove it, what has the book monitoring shown-you know the questions! As a whole school mind-set we have to believe that we are never good enough and constantly want to be that little bit better-it is hard on a deep and dark December to keep this resilience and grit up but we simply have to! By sharing ideas and supporting each other it becomes easier for ourselves and for our students-GM begins in the staff-room! My maths colleagues were listening and thus a simple piece of mind-set was born. In maths lessons the students are always being asked to take on challenging problem solving sums. I explained my thoughts to colleagues when I emailed round some of Beth’s year 7 and 9 challenge sums. After Clair’s observation, Jen, Clair and I were talking about the challenge questions that happen in maths lessons-above and beyond the other normal maths! I suggested using different colours to make them stand out [they already use purple for student response] so treated them to some nice new pens! You can see early answers from Beth and the year 7 quote. With regards to GM the use of the bright colour is encouraging the students to say-bring on challenging questions and we’ll answer in a highly visible colour-no hiding from them-challenge us! That’s the theory anyway!


Some teachers mock the use of coloured pens but we are dealing with children! Beth sent this comment with her photos; Year 7’s love them: “Can we answer a problem so we can use the nice pens” Of course you can!


One of the attributes I look for in our GM teachers is the ability to share but also that difficult skill of having people take your idea and adapt or change it! Mmm- for the common good! Helen F shared her NQT magic moments with her account of how she had been using dot marking as a form of fast feedback. The MFL faculty have been taken with her idea and have now all worked together to extend it. Marion sent me the new versions which can be used in MFL and PSD and demonstrate the desire to be constantly searching for something that can make us professionally more effective [in this case at marking] and share our ideas internally [and externally on our blog] I really like this and hope that it helps the students too to self and peer critique in DIRT more effectively. Again this equips them with the self-evaluative tools that makes the development of GM that little bit easier.

11 12

As a whole school and as a leadership team how far should we take growth mind–set and do we have a future vision for further whole school discussion and implementation? Some argue that mixed-ability teaching is more appropriate to GM, other have an issue with gifted and talented and GM and so on. Plenty more to think about and Leon speaking at a London conference last week, received some great reviews and lots of interest in our BSG approach. Moving beyond NC levels and supporting every student to achieve their GOLD target in a subject mastery appropriate to their ability, is perhaps the greatest commitment we can show in terms of GM from us as teachers and from them to us a GM students! We have to believe that we can make this happen and we have to convince the students that they can achieve our aspirational targets. To achieve +1 residuals is a huge ask-all of those lovely green bits on FTT and RAISE are great to see when achieved but the work that goes into getting there needs every GM quality known to Carol Dweck!


13 14

Moving students who have been identified as falling behind, up Leon’s matrix is tough, but we can clearly focus on our intervention students and teach to the very best that we can.



I shared this comment from a recent outstanding Ofsted this week;

Teachers’ performance is managed very well. Expectations are high, and procedures are rigorous. Teachers are set targets which are based on students making very challenging rates of progress.

Students’ progress towards their ambitious targets is checked carefully. School leaders have made sure that teachers’ assessment of students’ attainment are frequent and accurate. Teachers are held to account for the progress of the students they teach. Extra help is readily available for students who need it, with a wealth of opportunities for students to receive additional support from their teachers.

Our targets are challenging too, help is available as I’ve seen in numerous observations and discussions and the emphasis on developing GM for both staff and students MUST have a positive effect on these final outcomes. In 2012 Ofsted commented on Meols Cop that;

This school crackles with ambition. Leadership at all levels demonstrates a unified determination to drive further improvements in outcomes for students. In addition, a vibrant culture of continuous improvement has been established, which is shared by all members of the school community.

It sounds great but that was 2 years ago! Our GM has to take us far beyond that to sustain the best learning and teaching for our students that is possible and to open the best possible life opportunities for them. We are committed to learning from the best and improving-none of us can be ‘precious’! We have successfully joined a potentially fantastic research opportunity-RISE- Research-leads Improving Students’ Education – project which will help our English and maths teachers to become involved in classroom based research looking critically at the impact of their own practice [and others] to help their development. For non-teachers reading this you may think that all teachers naturally want to dissect their performance so that they become even better-I’m not quite sure if this is always true or indeed true of any profession-the truth isn’t always welcome! It has to happen here though and this has to be the case for leaders too-I agreed this morning to accept an invitation to join Edge Hill’s research into leadership-we have to show our GM too-we have to believe that we aren’t the best leaders we can be-yet!

The Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University through its Schools and Colleges Teacher Education Research Centre (SCaTE) would like to create a partnership with local schools to pilot a programme to develop research leadership at school level.  Central to the collaboration is the notion that research for schools and colleges should be conceived from practice by practitioners rather than by academic researchers.   This in turn suggests that research and evidence-informed practice have to establish processes and systems that recognise the needs of teachers in classrooms and by working with schools to develop research leadership. SCaTE intends to strengthen the ability of participating schools to utilise current practice knowledge and extend understanding of research knowledge.

Growth mind-set isn’t just for Xmas or for assemblies and posters-it’s basically damn good learning and teaching and school leadership. Embrace the aspects of it that are best for our school-nice little challenge for 2015!




One thought on “Growth mind set-not just for Xmas! Beyond the posters and assemblies.

  1. Pingback: Growth Mindset? | mrbenney

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *