Becoming a growth mindset school

The idea of becoming a growth mindset school has been over a year in the making. Our Headteacher bought each member of SLT a copy of Mindset for Christmas, and it was the main agenda item at our annual senior team conference. Today I launched the idea of becoming a growth mindset school to all staff at our INSET day. This is the basis of the presentation I did.

Our INSET session was for all staff – teaching, support, administrative, catering, site, network, technicians – everyone! It was essential for us, if we’re going to begin the process of shifting the culture of the school, that all staff are working together as one coherent team. It felt wonderful! As people arrived and settled down, we encouraged everyone to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire, with the results to be given out later! You can download our questionnaire (borrowed from John Tomsett and Huntington School) here.

What is Growth Mindset? 

Professor Carol Dweck and

Professor Carol Dweck and “Mindset”

Growth Mindset is the idea Professor Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Dweck has conducted a lifetime’s research into mindsets and established an opposition between a fixed mindset (the belief that intelligence is fixed) and a growth mindset (the belief that intelligence can grow). The differences Dweck establishes are well illustrated in this helpful infographic by Nigel Holmes.


Dweck’s approach to mindset was sparked by her own experience of education. In her book, she describes what happened in her sixth-grade class:

Even as a child, I was focused on being smart, but the fixed mindset was really stamped in by Mrs. Wilson, my sixth-grade teacher… She believed that people’s IQ scores told the whole story of who they were. We were seated around the room in IQ order, and only the highest-IQ students could be trusted to carry the flag, clap the erasers, or take a note to the principal. Aside from the daily stomachaches she provoked with her judgmental stance, she was creating a mindset in which everyone in the class had one consuming goal—look smart, don’t look dumb. Who cared about or enjoyed learning when our whole being was at stake every time she gave us a test or called on us in class?

Our aim as a school has to be to build the growth mindset in our young people, and avoid the fixed mindset that can trap them into a premature plateau and cause them to fall short of their unknowable potential.

The Science behind Growth Mindset

I have previously blogged about my tentative first steps into neuroscience. As part of today’s presentation I used a Robert Winston video to explain about neural pathways and synapses. The video helps to visualise the learning process in the brain. The first time we try to learn something, it can be really hard. This is because we are making the first connection between neurons across a synapse. If we give up at this stage – as the fixed mindset might encourage us to do – we will never form that neural pathway. If we persist, repeat and deliberately practice the new skill or knowledge, we will create a secure pathway in our brains which will allow us to recall and re-use that skill or knowledge.

Establishing a growth mindset works in just the same way. The first time we challenge our fixed mindset approach to something, it’s difficult. Persisting in the fixed mindset strengthens that pathway in our brains and makes it more difficult to challenge. But building and repeating growth mindset approaches makes them stronger and more powerful too.

Dweck’s work and why a Growth Mindset is important

To give my audience a break from my voice, I turned to a helpful TED talk:

Here Eduardo Briceño outlines some of Dweck’s research studies, and how they apply in particular to education. The most powerful for me was the study into the use of praise. When similar children were given fixed mindset praise (“you did that really well; are so clever at doing puzzles!”) or growth mindset praise (“you did that really well; you must have tried really hard!”) it dramatically reduced or improved their ability to progress onto harder puzzles. Briceño’s examples are clear and well-articulated, which helped to illustrate the application of Dweck’s research into an educational context.

Why are we interested in Growth Mindset

In our school, we use PASS surveys to help us understand how our young people feel about themselves and their school experience. In these nationally benchmarked tests, our school’s scores come out green, well above the national norms. However, there are some interesting anomalies around the numbers. Students’ own perceived learning capabilities – the extent to which they believe they are effective learners – are the lowest average scores across the school. Even more powerfully, as students moved from Year 7 to Year 8, whilst their self-esteem and attitudes to teachers improved, their perceived learning capability declined. As SLT, we interpreted this to mean that whilst students were increasingly positive about school and themselves as they progressed, they became less confident in their own ability to learn. This can lead to a slow-down of academic progress, often manifested as a lack of effort or a “can’t do” attitude: “I can’t do Maths.”

In simple terms, we need to reverse this trend. As Shaun Allison has noted on his blog, we need to be producing Hobnob learners, not Rich Tea:

The #BiscuitClub Case Study

Ashley Loynton has run a case study group with the boys in his Year 11 Science class to develop a growth mindset approach. You can read more on his blog, but he outlined the approach that he had taken and shared the impressive results: from Year 10 Core Science achievement of 2Bs, 8Cs and 1D, the students went on to achieve 1A*, 1A, 5Bs, 3Cs and 1D in their Physics mock exam at Christmas. The difference? A growth mindset approach. One boy even stuck the Nigel Holmes infographic over the power button on his XBox, to make him think about what he should be doing every time he went to switch the console on and break the habit of getting in from school and switching straight into gaming mode. That feels like success to me.

What difference can a Growth Mindset make? 

Here I paid due tribute to John Tomsett, who firmed up the idea of a growth mindset school for me as I sat in his session at #TLT13. His blog has been incredibly influential, but most notably the post “This much I know about…developing a Dweck-inspired Growth Mindset culture.” John has been very helpful and supportive, providing materials that he has used at his school and useful, intelligent advice. Thank you Mr Tomsett! This results graph, taken from his #TLT13 presentation (which he has helpfully embedded on his blog), helped illustrate what can happen to a school which adopts a growth mindset culture enthusiastically:

Huntington School A*-C, courtesy of John Tomsett

Huntington School A*-C, courtesy of John Tomsett

I also used the example of New Heys School in Liverpool which, when faced with closure, adopted growth mindsets and saw their results rise by 39% in two years. You can read Winchester University’s case study of New Heys here.

How will we enact a Growth Mindset culture? 

This is where the session became more open. We have several ideas already:

  • Ensuring all stakeholders – staff, students, governors and parents – have the approach clearly explained
  • Changing the language of reporting
  • Using growth mindset praise
  • Using formative comments only for assessments (both on student work and in lesson observation)
  • Removing the concept of “Gifted and Talented” and instead identifying “high starters” in curriculum areas
  • Using peer-to-peer coaching to develop teaching and learning

The buzz in the school hall was overwhelming. Staff were full of ideas. We aren’t launching to students and parents until September, so there is plenty of time to harness that energy and those ideas into a coherent strategy. It’s really exciting!

Changing Mindsets

I finished the session with the results of the questionnaire, so that all staff could assess where they currently were in terms of their mindsets. Finally, we discussed how Dweck encourages us to change our mindsets when we find ourselves taking a fixed approach:

  1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset voice
  2. Recognise that you have a choice.
  3. Talk back in your growth mindset voice.
  4. Take action.

I finished on this animation illustrating the mindsets:

Here is the Prezi I used in the INSET session. If you can’t see the embed, click this link.

I will be updating you on the progress of this project on this blog over the coming months – with the first being our new teaching and learning approach! Watch this space…the Trojan Mice are coming!

68 thoughts on “Becoming a growth mindset school

      • Good question! We are moving to a new assessment system where we look at progress from starting points rather than progress towards targets. Staff will still use chance graphs (from FFT etc) to inform discussion of progress, but students will not have fixed (or even flexible) end-point targets to achieve. Rather, they will be expected to make and maintain progress from a starting point. That way, progress is monitored, tracked and maintained but there is no cap on the aspiration of a learner.

      • Chris, I salute you and I sincerely hope that this work has been going well in the new term!

        Since reading Dweck’s book about 5 years ago, I’ve been living in hope that more educators and school leaders would see the importance and implications of our modern understanding of the human mind.

        This one particular change – “…students will not have fixed (or even flexible) end-point targets to achieve. Rather, they will be expected to make and maintain progress from a starting point. That way, progress is monitored, tracked and maintained but there is no cap on the aspiration of a learner.” – is, I feel the biggest barrier to school leadership taking the bull by the horns and making the changes needed. This would be the most revolutionary change in school culture, based on my experience of working in 4 schools!

        With the disappearance of levels we have the opportunity to change the way we think about assessment and ‘targets’ or ‘predicted grades’. I am battling my despair as I see schools continue to think the same way and introduce assessment systems that simply mirror what has come before.

        I’m glad that there is at least one school in the Westcountry embracing a growth mindset culture. Do you know of any others, particularly in Cornwall?

      • Also Langley Park School for Boys in Bromley, Kent. Chris I have tried twice to join the egschools network without any success. Stuart

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  6. Smashing post Chris. Just making my way through the book as we speak tempted to talk about implementation. I’m really interested to see how this develops. How’s the response from staff been after the presentation?

    • Fantastic. Lots going on. Pastoral leaders had a day-long conference discussing implementation of GM, and teaching and learning leaders generated lots of ideas last week. All coming together nicely! Thanks for the comment.

  7. Marvellous work. Brave. Daring. Motivated by all the right reasons. My next question is how do you teach the growth mindset? Think I need to finish the book. Have linked to your post from our new teacher blog. Hopefully some people will be curious.

  8. Superb introduction for staff, we are also going down this road in September whole school! Exciting times for Learning and Teaching! Many thanks for this, it really helped to consolidate my thoughts and hope you don’t mind if I use your Prezzie to build mine on?
    Heidi x

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  19. This is amazing work Chris. I enjoyed the way everything was put together.
    We are trying to work with our staff and students to develop a growth mindset as well. I hope you don’t mind that I also use your prezi as a foundation for my own. Thanks for the great write-up documenting your efforts thus far.

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  23. This was great, thank you for sharing this. We have been working on Growth Mindset this year as well alongside work we are doing with Diana Pardoe. I was wondering about your Gifted and Talented policy – I love the idea of ‘High Starters’ – have you created a policy for this? How are you implementing this in regards to tracking, etc? Sounds terrific!

    • Thanks for the comment! Yes, we have a new policy for high attaining students which has replaced our existing gifted and talented policy. It’s in draft forn at the moment awaiting Governors’ approval, but if you drop me a line via the “contact me” page on this blog I’d be happy to share the draft. Good luck with your work!

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  26. fantastic blog, just what I needed. Looking at how I can move student engagement forward in my school to enable better progress and the idea of developing our culture with a gowth miindset focus is exciting.
    I hope you dont mind if I use some of this. Planning stage at the moment, the most important!
    Thank you

    • A focus on effort and strategy to enable growth. A sense that learning is hard, but productive. An unbroken feedback loop focused on continuous improvement without a ceiling. An attitude of “how can I improve?” in every interaction.

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  28. Great presentation I love the Eduardo B clip it always inspires me to keep on with growth mindset at school. I know using growth mindset praise is all important . I’ve been using the Brainology programme to help student develop a growth mindset have you looked at it at all?

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  32. Chris

    I have been delivering growth mindset at my school for the last 18 months, it has been launched with Year 7 and 11. Year 7 had a half day workshop to bring them up to speed with the concept, year 7 tutors were trained to deliver the workshop and also read Carol Dweck’s book. Year 7 students were then taught about the brain and how to embrace failure with a 7 week PSHE programme (each session 20 minutes) Students were given a questionnaire at the beginning and end of the growth mindset work. All staff have had 2 INSETs on the concept. In the summer term Year 7 celebrated their achievements at a unique growth mindset awards evening where 60 students were awarded growth mindset medals for academic and extra curricular progress. This also gave me an opportunity to encourage parents to understand more of the concept. The whole evening was written and presented by students. Each award winner gave a speech on how GM has helped them. It was very powerful. My question is how to take this further for year 2. I am interested in developing growth mindset reporting systems and how teachers mark using the language of GM. As well as any other suggestions. The year group have embraced GM and have become ambassadors for the concept for the rest of the school. I am keen to also develop the visual message around the school. Are there any network groups that you know of where schools can support each other. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Thank you


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  40. Hi, I’ve just read all of the above and have found it fascinating and have been wanting to do this in our school for a while – so beneficial. We are a Primary School and I notice most of the posts are secondary. Do you have any advice or pointers for doing this with 4 -11 year olds?

  41. Hello Chris

    I am about to introduce our staff to Growth Mindset at our junior school of 480 pupils.
    I have read lots of literature and followed your blog which inspired me to push for this at our school.
    One of the areas that I need a bit of help with is when it comes to the appraisal targets; we want to make it part of the Growth Mindset development. Can you give me some ideas/examples of what those appraisal targets looked like? I don’t want to give staff a generic objective!

    Thanks so much.

    • Hi
      Thanks for reading and commenting! In terms of growth mindset objectives for staff, there are two ways to approach it. Firstly, if you want your staff to have a growth mindset, make sure the objective is focused on improving the process of teaching and learning, rather than outcomes. If you want the objective to focus the staff on developing a growth mindset for the students, then objectives we have used as exemplars include “To use the phrase “if it’s not excellent, it’s not finished” in refusing to accept substandard work in order to develop a growth mindset work ethic.” Hope this helps!

      • Hi Chris

        As an overarching objective I went for ‘Play an integral role in the development of a school-wide Growth Mindset culture and ensure its principles form an intrinsic part of classroom practice.

        Do you think this may be too much? It is part of a 1 – 3 year vision.

  42. You kept me reading for nearly an hour on a Sunday morning! As a ‘fledgling’ school leader I found your blog on this subject both inspiring and focussing. I’ve just finished reading Dweck’s book and now need to get a long term development plan together. Is it possible to see your long term plan as a starting point? I am in a small Primary school but I can see how studying your approach would benefit me. Thanks very much.

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