Becoming a growth mindset school: the book


I published my first blog on the subject of growth mindset in March 2014. Since that point I have been refining and developing my understanding of the psychology behind mindsets, and the research into implementation of mindset theory in practice. I have learned a lot about the psychology of motivation, and the challenges of scaling interventions to shift beliefs about intelligence and ability, and I have also become more and more convinced that mindset provides a “golden thread” for school improvement. This book is my attempt to gather my thoughts, explain my journey, and describe my experiences to anyone who is interested in helping their school become a growth mindset school.

Part of the drive to write this book came from a desire to right some wrongs. There is a lot of nonsense trotted out under the banner of “growth mindset” and, like any promising research, it has gathered its fair share of detractors. There is a tendency in some quarters to see it as a kind of panacea, a silver bullet which will quickly fix all your educational problems. Put up a couple of displays full of quotations, tell the students that “if you work harder, you’ll get smarter,” and sit back to watch them flourish. Of course, it’s not that simple, and this book doesn’t offer any of those simple solutions.

The problem is that growth mindset has been understood the wrong way round. The way that it’s often talked about – and I think Mindset itself is guilty of this – suggests that changing learners’ beliefs about themselves leads to more successful academic progress and achievement. What I have learned, from working with mindsets over the past years, is that the inverse is usually true: good academic progress and achievement, when it is the result of sustained effort and effective learning strategies, changes learners’ beliefs about themselves. If you work hard and make progress, again and again and again, over years, you come to equate hard work with progress. This is the growth mindset. If you work hard and don’t make progress, you come to believe that you can’t do it; this is the fixed mindset. If you make progress without having to work too hard, this can also lead to a fixed mindset: what Dweck calls “the worst belief anybody can have about themselves,” that if you are talented you shouldn’t need effort.

A growth mindset school, then, needs to be a place where students have to try hard, and then achieve success as a result. Every day, again and again, we have design experiences where students have to put in the effort, and then experience the satisfaction of seeing it pay off. Because our beliefs are forged far stronger by our experiences than by what we our told – no matter how good the assembly, or how inspirational the poster.

Becoming a growth mindset school 2017 home

The cornerstone of a growth mindset ethos at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form

As David Didau and Nick Rose say in What every teacher needs to know about psychology: 

“The overriding component in all of this is that students must believe they can improve through their own efforts. Probably the best way of achieving this is for students to experience some success as a consequence of applying greater effort.”

In Becoming a growth mindset school I attempt to make the case for a whole school culture, where every member of staff is engaged in working to develop positive attitudes to learning in the children at the school; where practice is based in scientific evidence, supported by research, and constantly refined in the light of new developments; a culture with compassion and kindness at its heart; a culture which values honesty about failures and mistakes, seeing them not as labels but as opportunities to learn. This is a growth mindset school.

I hope you enjoy the book! You can find out more and buy it here:




SLT Book Club: Clever Lands by Lucy Crehan


This year, in an attempt to keep abreast of educational thinking and to keep our minds sharp, we are running an SLT book club. Each member of the senior team has chosen an educational book to take away and read. When they’ve read it, they present the key ideas and points we can learn from at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form back to the rest of the team. I went first last week, when I attempted to summarise the key points from Lucy Crehan’s excellent educational odyssey “Clever Lands.”

The premise

Lucy Crehan set off to visit top-performing PISA educational systems around the world. She visited Finland, Singapore, Shanghai, Japan and Canada, staying with teachers and volunteering in schools whilst there to get in amongst the system and try to really understand it from the inside. By taking this very personal perspective, as a trained Science teacher from England, Crehan offers a window into these very different systems from a perspective which is easy for us to relate to, whilst summarising big policy and system ideas clearly and coherently.

Key findings

There are so many nuggets in this book it’s hard to summarise them or select just a few! But one or two that caused me to turn down page corners are:

  • Finnish Child Welfare Teams: each Finnish secondary school has to have a child welfare team, consisting of specialist pastoral workers with the aim “to create a healthy and safe environment for learning and growing, to protect mental health, prevent social exclusion, and promote the wellbeing of the school community.” They meet weekly to discuss a particular class in detail with the class tutor, then a drop-in session for any teacher to discuss concerns about any child in the school.
  • Finnish trust in teachers: the Finnish education system is set up around the pillars of intrinsic motivation for its teachers. They are trained well and then trusted as professionals, achieving purpose, mastery and autonomy.
  • Japanese emphasis on resilience: Japan has an ingrained cultural emphasis on resilience, and on collective conformity which enables academic success.
  • The impact of selection in Singapore: Crehan’s portrait of Singapore’s highly selective system was nightmarish. With entire futures hinging on the outcome of Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE – the Singaporean 11+), eleven-year-olds are tutored, crammed and pressurised to within an inch of their lives. The highlight of the entire book for me was Crehan’s expose of the flawed interpretation of research upon which ability selection at 11 is based. I wish Theresa May would read just this chapter.

The five principles of successful education systems

Crehan concludes by drawing together her conclusions from her experiences in these different systems into five governing principles:

  1. Get children ready for learning
  2. Design curriculum for mastery (and context for motivation)
  3. Support children to take on challenges, rather than making concessions
  4. Trust teachers as professionals
  5. Combine school accountability with school support (rather than sanctions)

Of particular interest to me was principle 3, linking to my drive to develop a growth mindset ethos in schools. Within this principle, Crehan observes that the successful systems she observed:

  • Delay selection by ability until age 15 or 16
  • Teach children in mixed-ability classes until 15 or 16
  • Provide small, flexible group support from qualified professionals before/during/after lessons

I feel we have a lot to learn from this.


I drew three take-away conclusions from the book that we could implement at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form:

  • Combined Child Welfare Team – we are implementing a unified student services team which combined academic, pastoral, social, behavioural and mental health support
  • Support all children to reach high expectations, not concede lower expectations for lower ability
  • Equip teachers with knowledge and then trust them – give them purpose, mastery, and autonomy

Coming soon on SLT Book Club:

My next read is John Dunford’s The School Leadership Journeywhilst my colleagues are reading:

As an avowed #HeForShe advocate, I note with some pride that five of our first seven influential books are written by women.

We’re also thinking of extending the book club to our Middle Leadership Team!

Sharing a book

My World Book Day post from The Headteacher’s Blog.

The Headteacher's Blog

grasmere-school-date-unknown Jim Hildrew at Grasmere School (date unknown)

This photograph hangs on my office wall. It’s a photograph of my grandfather, Jim Hildrew, when he was Headteacher of Grasmere primary school. Although it’s undated, we think it was taken at some point in the early 1960s.

I love this photograph for lots of reasons. Firstly, my grandad was a huge inspiration for me. He taught at Percy Main School in North Shields in the 1930s, before serving in the Royal Navy in the Second World War on minesweepers and as part of the D-Day landings. He came back to teaching after the war, settling into the school house in Grasmere that came as part of the job of Headteacher. His passion for teaching and learning was clearly infectious as his eldest son became a teacher and Head of House at Sedbergh School, and his youngest – my father – a Headteacher…

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Staff Shout Outs

This week, we’ve launched our first Staff Shout Outs. This was the brainchild of our fantastic Catering teacher, Sarah Tucker, who suggested it as part of our staff wellbeing strategy before Christmas. The idea is brilliant: a way of celebrating the wonderful things colleagues do to make one another’s lives easier and better, by giving them a public “shout out” to say thanks. Here’s how it works: 

  • A link on our staff intranet takes you to a Google Form, where you fill in your name, the name of the member of staff who did something nice, and what it was that they did. 
  • The results are collated by our HR team and run through a mail merge, so that every Friday afternoon you receive a certificate in your pigeonhole with the details of your shout-out. The certificates are also displayed on the staff room wall. 
  • HR send out an all-staff email on a Friday afternoon containing the details of all the Shout Outs from the week, so that everyone can see the lovely things that have been going on. 
  • Every term, I use a random number generator to pick one Shout Out to win either a bottle of wine of a box of chocolates (their choice!) to say thank you. The winner, and a summary of all the term’s Shout Outs, are included in the termly HR newsletter and shared with the Governors. 

It doesn’t take the place of the private thank-yous that happen as a matter of course across the Academy, but when a colleague has gone out of their way, or over-and-above, or just deserves public recognition for their all-round niceness, the Shout Out is an excellent addition to the staff wellbeing strategy to foster a positive culture or mutual support, recognition, and celebration. 

I even got a Shout Out myself this week – for being supportive of the introduction of Shout Outs. 


Thank you Barack and Michelle Obama


Dear Barack and Michelle Obama,

I wonder if you realise how far the influence of your Presidency extends? I know the President of the United States is often dubbed the “Leader of the Free World,” but your time in the White House has had a truly global reach. In my little part of England, I have been moved to tears more than once by the example that you both have set for me, for my family, for the students I teach, and for future generations.

I want to thank you. Over the past eight years, you have shown the world what it is like to behave with dignity, compassion, and humanity in public office. The first black President and First Lady in the White House, you have completed your tenure without personal scandal or revelation, with your integrity intact. This shouldn’t be a rarity, but public figures with such qualities are few and far between.

I want to thank you for your leadership. You have shown what it is to lead with vision and values, a set of principles that you articulated clearly and which ran through every aspect of your Presidency. I am sure that you will feel frustrated at not having achieved all that you wished to, obstructed by partisan division and political machination. I am sure you will be frustrated as you watch some of what you have achieved rolled back and undone by your successor. But you have borne those setbacks with equanimity and tolerance, and they seem to have strengthened your resolve, not weakened it.


I want to thank you for the example you have set as a family. I admire the care you have taken to protect your children and ensure that their upbringing was insulated from the extraordinary circumstances of your role. The fact that Sasha did not attend her father’s farewell address because she had an important exam the next day tells us everything about your priorities as parents, and the value that you place on education.

It was fitting that the First Lady’s final public engagement was at a celebration of school counsellors, and you took the opportunity to re-emphasise your commitment to the importance of education to the success of our society. You have yourselves shown what the power of good schooling can do, as it was your own education which allowed you to overcome all of the barriers and obstacles between you and the highest political office, and to speak with such authority, knowledge and wisdom on so many occasions and on so many topics.


I want to thank you for your feminism and all you have done to overcome stereotyped masculine and feminine roles in the workplace, in authority, and in relationships. In your farewell address, and on so many occasions throughout your two terms in the Oval Office, you have shown that your marriage is a partnership of equals, modelling those values that so many still struggle to live by. You took time to reply to a letter from a young girl suffering bullying because her parents were a gay couple, saying:

In America, no two families look the same. We celebrate this diversity. And we recognize that whether you have two dads or one mom what matters above all is the love we show one another. You are very fortunate to have two parents who care deeply for you. They are lucky to have such an exceptional daughter in you.

Our differences unite us.

I want to thank you for your humour. From Carpool Karaoke to the Correspondents’ Dinner, from your Thanksgiving dad-jokes to your Saturday Night Live appearances, you have set a new standard in political comedy – although I admit your competition is scarce. You have balanced this with the dignity you have mustered in times of unbearable tragedy and commemoration. You have shown that laughter and tears do not diminish your leadership, but enhance it.


I want to thank you for all the barriers you have broken down. You have shown people what is possible with a good education, a set of deeply held principles and values by which you chart your course, and the unconditional love and support for one another as a couple and as a family – not just in America, but the world over. You talked about the audacity of hope. But in your time as President you have shown what can be achieved by daring to hope, by daring to try, and by believing in what is possible. You have been inspiring. And no matter what follows, that will always remain.

Thank you, Barack and Michelle Obama. Thank you.




Assembly: The 1960s

Latest Assembly from the Headteacher’s Blog

The Headteacher's Blog

This year marks the Diamond Jubilee of Churchill Academy, which opened its doors as Churchill Community School in January 1957. To mark this anniversary, we are having an assembly in each term looking back on the decades that the school has existed. This term, it’s been my job to look back on the 1960s.

sixties-collage The Sixties: what a decade

When looking at this amazing decade, I could have chosen from such a wide range of events, movements, and people – I was spoilt for choice! But for me, the iconic image of the 1960s comes from the end of the decade.

man-on-the-moon Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon in 1969 (Source: NASA)

The moon landings still represent the zenith of human scientific achievement. I have written before about the so-called “moonshot thinking” of President Kennedy who, in September 1962, gave a speech at Rice Stadium where he…

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Why I’m backing #ASCLBarton

In a previous post on my history of union membership, I waxed lyrical over my ASCL membership. Here’s what I wrote:

Now that I’m in ASCL I feel like I belong to a union that does speak with my voice. When I read Brian Lightman’s responses to the GCSE fiasco, to the EBac proposal, to the proposals for performance-related pay, they seem rational, reasoned and responsible. They represent the profession as a profession, and when I hear the national officers speak at conferences, they seem committed to constructive negotiation on our behalf with the Secretary of State and the Department for Education. This model of the representative voice constructively negotiating with the senior leadership on behalf of teachers is precisely that which works so well in school, scaled up to the national level.

I stand by those comments. I do think that the Association of School and College Leaders represents the profession well. I am proud of my membership and I feel like ASCL represents me, as a Headteacher, in the way I would like to be represented. Their Blueprint for a Self-Improving System is a document I return to, alongside the Headteachers’ Roundtable Five Principles and Alternative Green Paper, as a common-sense but ambitious vision for how education could work in this country.

Now, ASCL members are faced with a choice. Two candidates have been placed before the membership of the association for election to the post of General Secretary. The ASCL selection committee have nominated Chris Kirk, who has spent fourteen years at PwC as an education leader as well as stints at the National College, as a director of education services for GEMS, and at the Department for Education as a civil servant. Before that, he spent a year in the classroom. Around 300 ASCL members, myself included, nominated his opponent, Geoff Barton, who started teaching in 1985 and hasn’t stopped since. Geoff has been a Headteacher since 2002.

Both candidates are qualified to lead ASCL, but for me the choice is clear. Who do I want representing school and college leaders at a national level, influencing policy, engaging in debate, challenging the evidence base behind decision making, and holding the Secretary of State and the Department to account? I want the candidate who has been where I am now, as a serving Headteacher, facing the challenges of the current system and climate, and really understanding them. Not in theory, but in practice. The candidate who has spent over thirty years in schools, in classrooms, teaching and leading.  The candidate who has been endorsed by Stephen Tierney, John Tomsett, Kev Bartle, Rob Campbell, Ros McMullen, Caroline Spalding, Ross McGill and countless other teachers and leaders I admire and respect from across the country.


Click the image to tweet your support for #ASCLBarton

In his manifesto, Geoff outlines the challenges currently facing our “perilously fragmented system”:

  • funding
  • teacher and leadership recruitment
  • the proposal to resurrect educational selection
  • an apparent marginalisation of vocational education and the arts
  • the fallout from over-hasty qualification reform
  • an inspection regime which for too many leaders continues to feel punitive

These are all critical issues facing our profession today. The top three – funding, recruitment, and the return of selection – all loom large in the top left “urgent/important” quadrant of my Covey Matrix. That they have pushed the other three towards the top right hand corner indicate the unprecedented level of crisis across education. We need an eloquent, level-headed and experienced leader to articulate the genuine concerns that every Headteacher I speak to is feeling.

But what Geoff also brings to the table is optimism. In amongst the dark clouds and portents of doom, the horses eating one another in the stable and the spilled salt, Geoff brightens my Twitter timeline with silly humour, tales of the unexpected and dry reflections on obscure words in the English language. Geoff is already a high-profile figure. A published author, a well-known writer, and an engaging public speaker, his over 35,000 twitter followers show that he has the capacity to reach not only school leaders and teachers, but a wider audience too. His voice will be a powerful one not only to ensure that this issues are clear – he articulated the funding crisis in just this way in the Guardian in November – but also that the many positives in teaching continue to be communicated far and wide. He promises to battle hard to defend, champion and celebrate the profession he has devoted his life’s work to. I will be supporting him all the way.

So what now? If you are an ASCL member – or if you know an ASCL member – it’s vital that you engage with the election for General Secretary. Whoever is elected will be our voice. Read the information on the ASCL website and, when your ballot paper arrives in January, vote. As 2016 has shown us, anything can happen when democracy is unleashed. So read. Fill in your ballot. And vote.


Why I love the Junior Choir

New post on The Headteacher’s Blog:

The Headteacher's Blog

This year’s Christmas Concert was an absolute triumph, as you can read in my review for the website and all the lovely emails and messages which were sent in afterwards. The standard of music-making and performance was exceptional, and the variety of acts was joyous. But for me, and I think for most of the audience, the Junior Choir was the perfect way to close the show. Here’s why I love the Junior Choir…


By my count there are 237 students listed on the programme in the Junior Choir, including 21 soloists. The captures the ethos of the Academy – it’s inclusive, where all students are valued, where everyone has a voice. And what a fantastic sound 237 Year 7 and 8 students make when they’re together!


The soloists – and the rest of the choir – who performed on the night were incredible. It’s important to remember…

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#LoveToRead: My Desert Island Books

My Desert Island Books – from The Headteacher’s Blog.

The Headteacher's Blog


This weekend (5-6th November) is “Love to Read” weekend, a campaign run by BookTrust and the BBC. There’s a wealth of programming across the BBC (read about it here) and as part of the campaign, Simon Mayo has been asking authors to share their six “Desert Island Books” on his Radio Two show (you can hear Marian Keyes’ choices here). Our wonderful LRC co-manager Mrs McGilloway suggested I share mine here…and I don’t need asking twice! You can read the LRC’s #LovetoRead blog post here.

Firstly, I’ve always loved to read. I used to read by torchlight under the covers at night when I was supposed to be asleep. I have always got a book on the go (it’s pretty much all I put on my Instagram!) and I don’t think there’s much to beat the feeling of being completely absorbed…

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Teaching: Leading Learning at #TLT16

I have always been interested in leadership, probably even before I started teaching. I’ve always been an organiser, and I’ve enjoyed getting people involved in a project and seeing it through to realisation. As a teacher, I was quick to take on extra: I took on my first responsibility after two years; I was second in English after three; I was Head of English after five. I truth, that last jump was probably two years too soon, but I learned an awful lot from my mistakes in those two years!

I started this blog in December 2012 to share my experiences of senior leadership as a Deputy Head. I called it Teaching: Leading Learning without hesitation. The name of the blog stems from the long held belief that teaching is itself a leadership role, and that if you teach well you already have the skillset of an effective leader. In my session at #TLT16 I set out to explore how my experience as a teacher has prepared me for Headship, and the lessons my experience as a new Headteacher has for teachers.

Leadership behaviours in teaching


Going through the now defunct Leading From the Middle, several home-grown leadership development courses and, more recently, NPQH, I’ve read a lot about different leadership styles and behaviours. It’s interesting to look beyond education and think about business models of leadership, and whether they have relevance to us in the public sector. Hence my plundering of Zenger Folkman’s generous free-to-access resource library, where I found the “Top 9 Leadership Behaviours That Drive Employee Commitment.” They are:

  1. Inspire and motivate others
  2. Drive for results
  3. Strategic perspective
  4. Collaboration
  5. Walk the talk
  6. Trust
  7. Develops and supports others
  8. Building relationships
  9. Courage

These are qualities that have relevance to educational leadership but also, clearly, to classroom teaching.

Inspire and motivate others

This is clearly the role of the leader: to bring people with you on the journey. And it is the role of the classroom teacher too. To spark the interest of your learners, to get the best out of them, and to do your best to make sure that they want to do their best too.

Drive for results

We’re in an outcomes business, and there’s no point pretending otherwise. Results bring choice, raise aspiration and open doors. It’s the role of the school leader to evaluate every initiative, intervention and idea in terms of its impact on results, stopping the things that don’t help and doing the things that do. It’s the same for the classroom teacher. We must ask ourselves: what can I do that will make the biggest difference to the students’ outcomes?

Strategic perspective


Why do you do what you do? (source)

The leader’s role is to hold and share the vision, based on core values, and align everything in the organisation towards achieving that vision. The teacher’s role is the same: to know how this activity fits into this lesson, which fits into this week, which fits into this scheme of learning, which fits into the long term plan, which contributes to this young person’s experience of this subject across their schooling, which shapes the adult they will become. Where does what you are doing today fit into the bigger picture? Think about how this ten-minute activity contributes to the cathedral that you are building.



Leadership lessons from geese (source)

A leader doesn’t fly solo. The leader is part of a team. We achieve what we achieve together. And we recognise that we can’t know and do it all, so we call in help, advice and support when we need it. The teacher is no different. The class must work together – the culture must be right. And, when it’s needed, it is a sign of strength in the teacher to seek help, advice and support.

Walk the talk

We all know of inauthentic leaders who don’t walk the talk. Words are hollow and empty when leaders are dishonest or do not act with integrity. Classrooms work the same way. When you say you’ll read their work, you have to read it. The students’ faith in you comes from you modelling the behaviours that you expect.


This comes from walking the talk. Trust is built over time by leaders who look, listen and learn, leading to an understanding of the issues facing those you lead. Then, it comes from actions rooted in integrity, with a clear and transparent rationale consistent with the vision and values you espouse. The same with the classroom teacher. If you say something is going to happen, it happens. You don’t let your students down. You are consistent, constant, reliable. You win their trust.

Develop and support others


The National standards of excellence for headteachers, Domain Two, standard 5, says that excellent headteachers will:

Identify emerging talents, coaching current and aspiring leaders in a climate where excellence is the standard, leading to clear succession planning.

This is a vital part of any leader’s role, but the process of developing and supporting others is what a teacher does. It is the job.

Building relationships

Relationships lead to trust. This is how things get done – not by ordering people around, but by building relationships with colleagues which bring about commitment to the shared enterprise. Am I talking about leadership? Or teaching? Or both?




Mark Twain: always good for a quote

Joanna Postlethwaite put me on to this quotation in her “Head in Heels” session at #WomenEd. It’s a different take on the “do the hard things first” I’ve used before, and it’s about not shying away from the most difficult tasks. If challenging situations aren’t grasped and resolved, they will fester. If you don’t eat that frog now, it’ll grow – and then you’ll never be able to stomach it. The same in your classroom – whatever you tolerate, that’s where your expectations sit. If there’s a problem, tackle it. Don’t let things go, or you’ll struggle to get them back.

Spheres of influence


In leadership, and in teaching, it pays to focus your attention where you will have the most influence. In both cases, this is the inner two circles in the diagram above: the areas where you have complete control, and the area where you have direct influence. You can’t control everything. But what you will find is that, if you are outward facing and focused on outcomes, the energy you are expending on the inner two circles will have an influence on the third. And the third, on the fourth. What you’re doing with your students in your classroom matters. What you’re doing with your team in your department matters. What I’m doing with my school matters. We all influence one another. We all matter.

 Download the slides from my #TLT16 session here (Dropbox link)