Growth Mindset: A Cautionary Tale

Why writing this blog may just help me to get a little bit better at teaching each and every day

I think it might have been Wimpy. It wasn’t 1985 as you might expect, but actually 2003. My dad refused to visit MacDonalds because they don’t give you cutlery. The details are hazy but I’ll never forget the conversation.

“Dad, I’ve decided to train to be a primary school teacher”

“Really!? I don’t think you’d be very good at that.”

Possibly not the most supportive parenting, but the thing was, he was right and I knew it. Fresh out of Uni, I was arrogant, immature, selfish, hated to sleep and loved to party. One of the key reasons I had chosen this career path was a recognition that it would challenge me to the very core. I believed (and I think, eventually, I was right) that if I succeeded, I would be a happier, healthier and more rounded individual. I’d had a taste of office life and needed to put as much distance as possible between me and the desk.

I wanted desperately to captivate young minds the way I had been inspired by my idiosyncratic,  eccentric (and sometimes completely loopy) junior school teachers.

But this mix of desperation to succeed, less than ideal lifestyle and nagging self doubt made for a tricky start. Well. Actually, I made a terrific start. My initial observations brought high praise. My confidence was sky-high.

And that was when it all went wrong. I thought to myself, “I am good at this. In fact I’m great!”

With hindsight, it would be untrue to say that I didn’t develop as a teacher. I improved greatly, but I was quick to become defensive; my threshold for criticism so low that any negative message, no matter how important, brought out a surly response.  When things went wrong I looked for external causes, but success meant I felt vindicated and ‘talented’, rather than looking carefully for the cause of the success or interrogating whether the success was really there. I began to compete with my colleagues and failed to learn as much as I could from their vast expertise.

And then Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset was introduced to me. Reflecting back on my time at school (where innate talent was highly regarded and seen as an almost magical bestowal of gifts to the lucky few) and then my career to date, these idea’s were a revelation. Suddenly, I saw the error of my ways and I began afresh. My career mission quickly evolved into a yearning for constant and regular improvement. Over time this self-realisation has helped me to lead a much less stressful existence as nagging parent emails, negative observation feedback, that moaning “uuuuurrrhhhh” noise children make when they see what lesson is on the timetable and the ‘rolling eyes of doom’ during a staff meeting – all of these things -are an opportunity to reflect and ultimately get better.

At lot of material is available on using growth mindset in the classroom and I have my own strategies for promoting it (none of which by the way are a beautiful display entitled ‘What Growth Mindset Looks Like’ and a laminated picture of a brain), but it is its application for my teaching practice that has really inspired me.

And this is what led me to this point. I became a Change Junky. A frenzied addict constantly craving Kaizen. I want to improve on yesterday’s me just a little bit every day (apart from Friday’s when I mostly just want to go to the pub).

Most teachers I meet seem to have arrived at this point with ease, without needing to even have heard of Carol Dweck (although, if they haven’t, they must have been teaching in a very isolated mountain school in Outer Mongolia) but just in case there are a few out there with whom my early teacher experiences resonate, here are my top tips for how developing a growth mindset for school professionals:

  1. The next time someone criticises you, (no matter how much you need to grit your teeth) welcome this as a learning opportunity. Possibly because you can change your behaviour, or at the very least it will be an opportunity to find out why they think the way they do.
  2. Constantly seek out feedback from others.
  3. Demonstrate to others you are open to feedback by embodying a learning mentality, sharing success as well as failure.
  4. Be brave and push yourself past your comfort zone. You will learn a lot.
  5. Practise skills deliberately and beyond mere capability until they become second nature.
  6. Engage in critical professional dialogue with colleagues so you can learn from the success and failure of others too.
  7. Inform your practice with a bit of data and a lot of good relationships with the children.

Through this blog I hope to list and describe the many and varied innovations and tweaks that my team and I regularly make.  For better or worse, I’d like to highlight the changes in practice I am regularly making, allowing others to learn from that experience, whilst also giving me the opportunity to reflect meaningfully on those changes.







Author: Nosnomolas

Tom Salomonson. Head of Year and Maths Lead at a fantastic London primary. Lucky to work with stand-out staff and ambitious and creative pupils.

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