I’m no expert here. My ability to preach is qualified only by the fact that I read Carol Dweck’s book when Elsie was born and then heard that I should instil Growth Mindset in my pupils. As simply as that.
My problem is, however, a concept such as instilling or changing mindset isn’t something that can be done immediately. It can’t be done over the course of a scheme of work. Probably not in a term. Maybe not even in a year. If you’re my mother, you’ve been trying to change Big George’s mindset for the last 50 years. And no, he still won’t clear his shit out of the garage, because he will not be convinced that it is no longer required. Big George has a fixed mindset. Big George is passionate about his fixed mindset. “Tha can allus tell a Yorkshireman, but tha can’t tell ‘im much“.
I’ll try to give you a practical example. If you’ve sat through some staff training; probably laid-on at great expense to you, the tax-payer, presented by a slick, well-oiled key-note machine, you will have been informed that it is imperative that your students have a growth mindset. I completely accept and endorse this. Wouldn’t it be great if all your kids rocked up knowing that the lesson you’d prepared for them was a rung on a ladder to success. Sometimes the rungs might break, but the climb would continue, Eventually, the drawbacks, pitfalls, bumps and intellectual bruises they had sustained would shape them as individuals and help them to really learn.
Let’s be realistic though; we’ve got a few problems.
1 – Us. How can you force a growth mindset on a kid, when you might not have one yourself? A change in mindset is tough. Do you love your job? No? Right, start loving it. Easy. Ok shit example, you are teachers, you all love your jobs… Try again.
I’m not foolish enough to admit that I went on a Speed Awareness Course run by the AA on behalf of Northumbria Police at the start of August; that would just be insurance-premium suicide. However, if I had done so, I would have been exposed to unbelievably powerful information about the dangers of speeding, especially the myth of “braking distances and modern cars” and of course the impact speeding motorists have on those around them. If I had done the course, I might have left the training centre at around 9pm, got back in the car and then proceeded to drive home, never once exceeding the speed limit. The instructors might have acknowledged that one of the biggest influences on the speed of a motorist is the desire to “go with the flow”. We like to move at the speed of those around us. If you don’t believe me, try driving without exceeding the speed limit tomorrow on your journey to work. Without a doubt, after 10 seconds at 30mph with the dick in the Impreza trying to mount you from the rear, you will feel an irresistible urge to depress the pedal on the right a touch. Asking someone to change a habit, a mechanical action we perform every day overnight is tough. Even when you’ve just seen images of the worse motorway crash the country has ever seen where scores of people were injured and dozens lost their lives.
2 – The kids. I don’t care what your school “culture” is. There’s another term that has inexplicably penetrated British educational jargon from the shores of the US. Kids are kids. We’d love them to think like adults and have adult minds when processing the state of play around them. But surely, if they were adults, it’d be a proper boring job! Kids don’t always see value in things, even when you’re passionate – like it says in your Twitter bio. Kids will fight the system. They’re James Dean, but in McKenzie tracksuits and shit trainers. They’re rebels. Rather than expecting to create a mindset and live out the rest of their 5-7 years at your school in peace and harmony, accept that you might have to chip away, rather than “fix” the issue.
3 – The Parents. We provide the world’s best free childcare system for 190 days of the year; 8ish-4ish. That means that 175 (or 176 in a leap year) days of the year, you don’t have to look at the little buggers. And that’s a problem. To be a teacher you need a school education up to 18. A*-C in Maths and English. Relevant A Levels or equivalent at KS5. A degree or L5 qualification. QTS obtained through PGCE, SCITT, Schools Direct or whatever the sodding hell you can do nowadays. Regular CPD delivered by them what’s cleverer than you. Regular inspection by a set of wonderful human beings from Ofsted or the Gestapo. Oh, and of course, annual appraisal – just to make sure you’re not too shit to teach.
To be a parent, you could knock up Candice from the cheese counter at Asda. Unless you attract the attention of social services (you’d probably have to send them a letter confessing your incompetence these days), you’ve got legal responsibility for that kid for the next 18 years. With no qualifications, no check-ups, no accountability. You simply do not have to do anything to raise aspirations of your child, develop any sort of can-do attitude or indeed support their intellectual development. If a fixed mindset has crept in during the early stages of childhood, teachers are screwed. I walked past a hag of a woman in (not Asda – don’t want to bump into Candice) the Supermarket the other day, screaming at her child “You’re an idiot! How stupid can you get?!” Wow. Not in my house Big Lady. Yes, I intervened and asked her not to shout stuff like that at her kid, and certainly not in front of my two. Big Lady is not in the tiny minority you might like to imagine.
I’ve no idea. No seriously, I’m not clever enough (fixed mindset). My advice however is that you chip away. If you try and praise effort and perseverance (I’m desperately not saying “resilience”), you’re doing something right. If you have kids, work massively on praising the time and care they’ve put into painting their pictures. When you realise that you’re constantly saying “Clever girl! You won! Weren’t you brilliant!” You realise that as harmless and well-intentioned your praise might be – it’s actually pretty damaging. What does the kid expect when they lost? Or didn’t do well? Or got the answer wrong?
We’ve banned the phrase, “I can’t do it”. It’s old and probably cheesy, but Elsie is only allowed to finish this with “…yet”. Then we’ll have a practise and try and do something a bit better.
Ok, you probably think this sounds like crap and are questioning my motive. Here it is. Last month, it was Elsie’s 1st parents’ evening at nursery school. All good, pleasant, polite, bright, well-spoken. My wife’s beaming from ear-to-ear. Then the teacher told her that of all the kids in the group, Elsie’s the only one who won’t bring her favourite work to the front to go on her display board. When we asked Elsie why, she told us she didn’t thin it was good enough. Heartbreaking. A kid at four years old, already starting to think that her effort isn’t good enough. We’ve no idea where it came from, but it certainly has made us think about what we say, how we praise and let her know that if she does her best, it’s always good enough. And surely that mindset would make us all happier bunnies.