Trying to be a ‘Growth-Mindset’ teacher in a Fixed-Mindset education system

Throughout my fledgling teaching career so far, one question has always been at the back of my mind; what kind of teacher do I want to be? While it is easy to say that my teaching adapts to meet the needs of all my learners, in reality, we all fall into certain routines, patterns and habits of teaching that perhaps don’t fully represent that philosophy 100% of the time.
For me personally, I am very much of the school of Hymer, Gershon and Dweck, in that I would like to consider myself not only to be Growth-Mindset teacher, but also a Growth-Mindset person. I fully embrace the idea that to fail at something is simply the ‘First Attempt In Learning’ and that to not be able to do something, is simply not to be able to do it ‘yet’. I’m under no illusion that it is impossible to be fully Growth-Mindsetted, (for example, I am more than acutely aware that I will never master the delicacy and grace of ballet or understand the intricacies of neurological science). I do believe that if we think about the Growth-Mindset on a smaller scale; in focussing on the daily challenges we face and being reflective on the unsuccessful attempts at facing those challenges, then our pupils will become people who say “I will get this eventually” rather than spouting out the same excuses of “I don’t get it” when facing a challenge.
If we focus on these short term ends, rather than focus on the end goal of mastering something then learning to children wont seem so daunting. I believe this almost fear of learning is what hold most children back. It was Illeris who stated that for children to push their mind beyond simple assimilation in to true transformative learning, they have to go through a painful process. Learning is painful. As a result, as humans, it is only natural that we choose the easier route of giving up too easily or sticking with the things that we already know. This is why I think that it is important to focus teaching to promote risk in classrooms and to promote the idea of learning being a rewarding and exciting process rather than a painful one. I firmly believe that this has to be done on a step by step basis. We have to focus on the next stable foothold rather than focussing on the summit of the mountain.

However, as idealist as this sounds, (perhaps somewhat naive in my inexperience), can we truly achieve this in the current education system that we find ourselves in? Yes, a lot of Ofsted and DfE rhetoric often talks about pupils be self-reflective, be independent learners and have a positive attitude towards their own learning, but does the government truly want this? They say they do evidently, and Ofsted lambasts schools for not promoting it, and yet from the way in which our pupils are measured it would indicate that what they want us as teachers to produce contradicts the way in which they want us to produce it.
At the end of their 5 years in school, we do not measure our pupils on their ability to reflect, or their ability to earn independently; we measure them on what they have learned. Therefore it begs the question, why do we need to promote all these ideals when all that is measured and graded and that is taken into account for the rest of these childrens’ lives is what they score they get in an exam. We are not assessing their ability to learn, we are assessing their ability to jump through hoops. It was Biesta to said that ‘we value what we measure rather than measure what we value’, and I think this rings true. Teachers and schools are under so much pressure from Ofsted, data collections, league tables, performance related pay, that I find it hard to see how schools can focus on anything but their results rather than the learning of their pupils.

Unless a school embraces the idea of the Growth-Mindset, I think teachers can be ostracised, or told ‘it won’t work’, or called mavericks because of the fact that really all teachers should be doing is training pupils to get through exams. I am very lucky to have been employed at a school that fully embraces the Growth-Mindset, (so much so, the mantra has been incorporated into the school’s motto), and that I able to promote the idea of risk and independence in my classroom. I fully believe that if we teach in away that promotes the Growth-Minset, that results will come naturally and that we won’t be any worse of than where we are now, but there will be one marked difference; we will be producing students who can learn with resilience, independence and confidence to take risks.
In the current system there obviously needs to be a balance. we need to try and teach in such a way that we are promoting these ideas of reflection and independent learning while still having that end goal.

I think that until the system changes – until we start to ‘measure what we value’ – and judge our pupils on not only what they learn, but the way in which they approach it; then I believe that teachers will forever be in a circle of contradictions when trying to approach teaching in a Growth-Mindset way. It is the idea of the ‘Semmelweis Effect’, (talked about by Frank Coffield), in that the people in power are often stuck in their ways and any new ideas are considered radical and have no place. From what I can see so far in my career, the current people in power of education only seem to focus on data and results rather than the kinds of people we are farming out of this system, and that I believe is why our country is falling rapidly behind in this rapidly advancing world.
I hope I am wrong, and that my nativity on this topic becomes apparent over the next few years, but I will continue to teach in a Growth-Mindset way, always having in the back of my mind that niggling thought; ‘I need to get results’.

-Mr. H-B.


2 thoughts on “Trying to be a ‘Growth-Mindset’ teacher in a Fixed-Mindset education system

  1. Interesting thoughts Mr HB. I’ve been watching the progress of my daughters with swimming and horse riding with real interest. In Sept 15, my youngest, a sport Billy, started swimming with our local club. She really, really wanted to do it because all of her cousins had been through the club and are great little swimmers. But, Every week just before the lesson, she cried and changed her mind “I’m not going; what if I can’t do it? What if they ask me to do something and I don’t know how to do it? What if they put me in deep water? I’m not going. I’m afraid.” But every lesson, twice per weekend I took her and reassured her. “Tell the coach if you don’t understand, ask for help. Give yourself time, you don’t know how to do everything YET.” Sometimes she cried and got out of the pool, but the coaches were great. They kept her in the bottom widths group for way longer than necessary, knowing she needed to build her confidence. 7 months on, I watched her dive from the blocks yesterday and swim lengths under race conditions with elegant, powerful strokes. Walking back to the deep end, she grins at me and waves and I am bursting with pride – not because she’s such a competent swimmer – but because of the evolution in her mind-set.

    I think the key, as you say, is to make the learning fun and rewarding, but I also think desire to learn is paramount. That is what helps an individual get back up whenever they are knocked down and helps develop a willingness to expand the “circle of competence”. Interestingly, if my daughter were taking an exam, she would probably get a 50m badge. Yes that’s progress. But what she has achieved in personal growth, resilience and confidence probably cannot be measured….

    As a teacher, you will know your pupils and their journeys’, but I only hope things change in school as we go forwards and the focus moves to reflect more than one dimension of pupil ability.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Jules! Great to hear how well she is doing at swimming, and how much her confidence has grown!
      This is exactly what I am talking about – if we could allow pupils more freedom in learning at their own pace in order to gain resilience and confidence and generate an atmosphere where they can feel comfortable in taking risks and go beyond their comfort zones, then I really think we can create a generation of children who can do fantastic things who love learning, not just focus on the end result.


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