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☰ A Growth Mindset at Forest Park

Head's Blog

A Growth Mindset at Forest Park

Posted on November 10 2017

Is there anything better than spending time with your children? I doubt anything beats reading a bedtime story in bed or walking through the fallen leaves with your child in hand or even snuggling up on the sofa to watch a favourite TV show. Well let me tell you I was doing the latter with my girls the other evening when I could not help but laugh out loud at the episode of ‘The Simpsons’ we were watching. There was a great scene where Homer and Marge were attending school to listen to a speech about how to make their child a success - By the way, if ‘The Simpsons’ means little to you, get on to YouTube. It is as fresh now as it was twenty five years ago!

There is something big in education at the moment which would fit this philosophy down to a tee, and that is the current push on a ‘Growth Mindset’. It is not that there is anything special with this approach, indeed it seems to have a lot going for it, and used properly is an excellent tool to promote learning. The problem is that the term is being used in many UK schools to cover what is not the greatest practice.

False Growth Mindset

There is something about the term itself – who would NOT want to be identified as having a ‘growth mindset’? After all, the opposite – a shrinking mind set? – is something about which nobody would proudly boast. A false growth mindset is, it could be argued, harmful to student’s learning, whatever their age. There are two main characteristics to this state of mind. Firstly, it takes the form of a negative reaction to failure. We don’t like getting it wrong, do we? After all, we spent most of our education getting it right, and faced disappointment – our own, our parents’ and our teachers’ – when success eluded us.

And now, as teachers, if we get it wrong we face criticism and censure or, perhaps even worse, the patronising question from an inspector such as ‘How could you do it better?’, as if that question is not in the minds of every good teacher the whole time. But, as clichéd as it may sound, our pupils at Forest Park need to get things wrong. If they don’t, then they are not being stretched and challenged. Often children are fed knowledge rather than learning how to learn. One is a short-term solution for closed assessments; the other is a lesson for life. The approach at Forest Park by teachers, parents and the pupils themselves is one of finding a way of doing it right next time, when they have not reached a satisfactory conclusion this time round.

Secondly, a false growth mindset is one where the teacher (or parents) offers false praise reinforcing failure. ‘You’re almost there.’ ‘Well done, a really good effort.’ You know the sort of thing. However, at Forest Park, we understand that this kind of comment is not really going to help children improve? Yes, they may have tried hard, but they were trying at the wrong thing. This approach simply reinforces the incorrect way of working. Our approach of a growth mindset at Forest Park points out errors, but offers constructive advice as to the best way for the pupil to make progress.

Fixed Mindset

Much of the founding research on growth mindset was conducted by Carol Dweck and her colleagues at Stanford University. They identified a state that all teachers will have experienced in some of their less successful classes. That is the fixed mindset that says that the student has failed once, so might as well not try anymore, because that will result in further failure. This often manifests itself in surliness, rudeness, negativity and attention seeking behaviour. A careless attitude to work can also be present, or a reluctance to try new ideas.

If we are honest, some teachers also have a fixed mindset. They have a method that works for them, and many of their pupils, but will not open themselves to ideas that might work for more of their pupils. We have worked tirelessly at Forest Park to ensure that we do not follow this ‘one size fits all’ approach and that we are open to change and looking for ways to further improve the excellent practise already in place.

Growth Mindset

So, what does a real growth mindset look like at Forest Park? Firstly, it is not a quick fix. For children to develop a growth mindset, they need to be exposed to it for as long as possible.

A growth mindset in a school needs to exist in every part. The children need to know what learning looks like. They need to recognise that success is relative. Not every boy or girl is going to get into the school football team. That doesn’t mean that they are no good, or cannot enjoy playing. Pupils need to understand what is restricting their learning. In other words, they need to learn metacognitively – knowing what they need to do to make progress. They need to recognise that getting things wrong is a part of the normal process in the journey to getting them right. They need to understand that there are steps to go through to reach the end goal. The great teachers at Forest Park already facilitate this and the aim is to embed this in the mindset of all of our learners here.

Of course, we live in a society where, overtly, much operates against this approach; The ‘X Factor’ story on instant success; the sense of entitlement that pervades so many young lives; a Government that sees everything as success or failure, boom or bust. But, if schools are to deliver the opportunity of success for all, a growth mindset approach – properly employed – is fundamental in my opinion.

Many of the Forest Park teachers are already there and the pupils are benefitting as a result of them and our growth mindset philosophy.

Nick Tucker

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