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CPD, Leadership, Redesigning Schools

Growth Mindset in the Staff Room

If you want Growth Mindset in the classroom then you need Growth Mindset in the staff room.  Growth Mindset is part of a wider deep cultural process aimed at improving the quality of teaching and outcomes for students.

The whole ideas of growing excellence in teaching & learning, building professional capital, genuinely excites and interest me.  I was asked to be part of a team presenting at the Growing Excellence in Teaching & Learning Conference in London but declined due to other commitments.  I decided to blog my thoughts to support the conference.

From Silver Bullet to Embedded Culture

Growth Mindset is not a quick fix or silver bullet.  As Billy Ocean sang, “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going.”

I need to believe that I can improve and accept resilience, grit and hard work, over time, is required to become a better and in time a great teacher.

When teachers are working within a whole school Growth Mindset culture, which is multi-faceted, they are far more likely to be successful in making marginal gains in teaching practice.  These gains contribute to the overall professional capital of the organisation.

“The literature provides a challenge to the much quoted claim that teachers typically improve over their first 3-5 years and then plateau. Teachers working in schools with more supportive professional environments continued to improve significantly after three years, while teachers in the least supportive schools actually declined in their effectiveness.“

Coe et al (2014) p.5

PC & Marginal Gains

This Growth Mindset wrap around culture for teachers consists of a set of nudges, commitment and actions.

Nudges – Professional Instruction, Formative Lesson Observation & Feedback

A prompt in the right direction can be useful, in fact, sometimes essential to get us moving.  This may come from professional instruction, formative lesson observation or some other form or source of feedback.

Professional Instruction

This is content and pedagogical knowledge by teachers, for teachers.  It’s about explicitly sharing our knowledge and understanding of: key concepts and mis-conceptions students will meet in the curriculum; how best to structure and sequence the learning of factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive knowledge and refining teaching approaches which have strong evidence of impact on students’ learning.  I wish more departmental and school CPD time focussed on sharing content and the proven pedagogical knowledge already available.

Formative Lesson Observations

In a post-lesson grading World I’m hopefully that we will seek to triangulate any judgements around the quality of teaching but more importantly we will pursue ways of making lessons more formative for teachers.  Some schools are already on this journey and some have been for many years.  Separating out formative and summative elements of assessing the quality of teaching is crucial.  Otherwise summative assessments will drown out any form of formative assessment of lessons.

Key to this is creating a set of criteria that have evidence of impact on student outcomes – for example, teacher clarity, relationships, feedback – or using pre-existing lesson observation protocols or products.  The teacher retains control of this document.  The central columns allows her/him to gain perspectives on her/his teaching from self,peer & students.  The key is limiting areas to focus on to one or at the most two.  In our emerging system all that would be submitted are the one or two areas of focus and what a teacher could “share” with another colleague.  The share is an area of expertise.

Observation as a peer process has benefits of reducing the levels of stress experienced by teachers being observed, separating it from line managed processes, which are now often linked to performance pay in England, however, the level of challenge involved must be maintained.  Formative lesson observation mustn’t become a low challenge mutual admiration society, if it is to move teachers forward.


Feedback can come in different forms.  From you own self-perception as well as lesson observations and increasingly Student Voice.

St. Mary's Catholic Academy Student Voice Data March 2013 - November 2014

St. Mary’s Catholic Academy Student Voice Data
March 2013 – November 2014

For a number of years we have collated data, twice a year, from students to give feedback to teachers.  These are then collated at a departmental and whole school level.  There are 3000+ responses from students providing rich individual and institutional feedback to act upon.  It is one source of evidence for triangulating “where to next”.

Commitment – Goldilocks’ Level Challenge, DERT & Coaching

“Self-efficacy is indicated by one’s confidence level about being successful on the next task on your life agenda … (it) is tied to actual contexts and realistic goals … it is found that people will make personal efficacy within a second or so of appraising the demands of the task.”  

Hattie & Yates (2014)

Gaining a person’s commitment precedes action.  We very rapidly make a decision about whether we are likely to be successful at a task.  This allied with whether we consider the task to be important combine as powerful predictors of the likely outcome.  Increasing self-efficacy requires the level of challenge, support and choice of task to be in alignment.  This is potentially where the Growth Mindset culture within a school and a person’s own beliefs kick in.  Can I improve further or is this as good as I can be?

Goldilocks’ Level Challenge

Setting the appropriate level of challenge – not too easy, not too hard, just right – can be a difficult balancing act for colleagues.  Not just in terms of setting the right level of challenge but being able to set any level of challenge.  These are not just our colleagues, in many cases they are our friend, and the last thing we would want to do is offend them.

You need to be a good friend to me and help me take the next step on the journey to become a great teacher.

Latest Quality of Teaching Schema

Latest Quality of Teaching Schema

To set the next step in professional learning we need to have a clear schema for the quality of learning across a number of key processes that impact on pedagogy.  Without this framework there is a real danger that our advice becomes idiosyncratic and directionless.  Above is my attempt to take my own schema and refine it.   By looking at one particular strand, identifying where current practice is most likely to be then the next step is identified.

DERT – Dedicated Evaluation & Reflection Time

This is an important element of improving practice but the time to complete it can be difficult in a bust schedule.  It may be an individual process or supported by a colleague.  At an individual level it can involve a simple process which Mark Healy (@cijane02) talked me through in another context.

Imagine reflecting on the lessons you have taught today and assigning each one’s overall quality on a scale of A (great) to E (not happy at all with it).  Don’t think too long or hard about the actual grade rather put your thinking time into why you didn’t:

  • Give the lesson a lower grade = What Went Well?
  • Give the lesson a higher grade = Even Better If?

Collating these reflections over a period of days, weeks or months and looking for common themes gives you a view of the various strengths and areas for development in your own teaching.


When supported by a colleague the above process becomes part of a coaching style relationship.  What’s interesting to note is using the questions above there is no need for the coach to actually observe the lesson(s).  Their role is to get you thinking.  This would be very much a “pull” style of coaching where the coach acts as a guide on the side.

On other occasions the coach may be much more direct using a “push” style.  This may be done with permission or where you want to adopt a certain style of pedagogy and you need the coach to keep you on track.  Coaching sits neatly alongside a number of different components of this proposed schema.  My one bit of advice would be to agree protocols up front, for example style of coaching required, and stick to the agreed way of working.

Actions – Redefining Curriculum Excellence, Deliberate Practice & Lesson Study

Without a realisation of new improved actions, in the classroom, nothing will change for our students.  New actions are not easy but they are necessary.  Here are a few different actions that may help to improve outcomes for students.

Redefining Curriculum Excellence

This is very much a planning style action.  It involves the use of specific, extensive and challenging success criteria and pre-planned challenging assessments to set a new standard for curriculum excellence.  It works for all four types of knowledge and can be part of a backward design approach to the curriculum.  There is more detail and a free downloadable resource in DIY Teaching CPD: Excellence & Evidence.

Part of a Growth Mindset is believing that students can reach even higher levels of attainment.  Our job is then to work out how.  Redefining our expectations of students and ourselves is a part of this process.

Deliberate Practice

Photo Credit: Woodleywonderworks via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Woodleywonderworks via Flickr cc

Developing an automaticity in a particular skill requires many hours deliberate practice.  Complex skills like teaching need to be broken down into smaller components and elements overlearned before the next more challenging goal is determined.  Setting a goal like improve behaviour management is hopeless.  Breaking this down into smaller components which can be explicitly taught, practiced and honed is far more effective.  In deliberate practice you have to be in it for the long term.  As we introduce a formative lesson observation process across the three academies within the Trust we have stipulated that teachers may only focus on one or a maximum of two elements of their practice in a six to twelve month period.  For this to have an impact we will need to think about supporting colleagues in highly structured and sequential practice.

Lesson Study

This is an in-school, teacher-led collaborative enquiry approach which originated in Japan.  Triads of teachers work together to target an identified area for development in their students’ learning.

The Lesson Study Approach by the National Teacher Enquiry Network If you haven't joind yet please consider doing so.  It's a fabulous group. http://www.teacherdevelopmenttrust.org/teacher-enquiry-network/

The Lesson Study Approach by the National Teacher Enquiry Network
If you haven’t joind yet please consider doing so. It’s a fabulous group.

It is about improving teaching and teachers’ practice.  For more information check out the National Teacher Enquiry Network website.

The Sum is Greater than the Parts

Embedding the individual elements above and making them into a coherent whole will take us many years.  We will be inspired and learn from the schools that are ahead of us on the journey and be supportive and learn from those schools that may be further behind.  As with all great journeys I set off with a sense of direction, discovery and destiny We will start by just taking the next step … better never stops.


Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S. and Elliot Major, L. (October 2014). What Makes Great Teaching?  Review of the Underpinning Research. Sutton Trust Report

Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. Constable & Robinson Limited

Hattie, J. & Yates, G. (2014). Visible Learning & the Science of How We Learn. London: Routledge

Growth Mindset: The Latest Silver Bullet?



16 thoughts on “Growth Mindset in the Staff Room

  1. A while back I was part of the management team in a large telecommunications company. I was a bit of a troubleshooter and I was asked to head up a team running the largest computer network in Europe.

    I was not a network person so in order to get some understanding I was asked to attend a course at Digital in Central London. We spent many a long hour messing about with DecVax machines and operating systems little of which is even faint in my memory. Two things stick in my mind however…

    1 When you got to the nitty gritty, the operating system itself was logical and straightforward.

    2 We were shown a “DecVax box” that was setup to be used on a naval warship. The security processes and systems surrounding the operating system were astonishing. All of it was necessary and essential if the details of the communication were not to be intercepted and used by a fiendish enemy. A machine that started on boot up could carry out millions of instructions per second (this was a fair while ago) could actually process about 10 instructions per second once all the security stuff was done. One of the fastest “boxes” available at the time became laboriously slow in carrying out it’s key function and purpose. However, to avoid compromising communication this level of security was required and therefore accepted.

    For me (and a few others that I see on the twoggasphere) the process of teaching and learning is quite simple. Learner takes in new information, learner assimilates and accomodates said information in some way. User finds said information useful for solving problems, making decisions and taking actions. Teaching is about helping learners to access information, helping learners to assimilate and accomodate information and helping learners to use said information for the variety of purpose.

    And then there is growth mindset, student voice, lesson study, improvement projects, performance related pay, workload, setting meaningless targets, new levels, grit, seating plans, assessment for learning, overly complex reward and behaviour behaviour policies aqnd procedures, absurd marking policies etc etc etc etc etc etc etc

    On a naval warship vast amounts of bureaucracy and complexity were necessary to achieve said security but at the expense of productivity and performance in most other areas.

    The teaching and learning you describe above, is, I am sure a great plan. My only concern is the same concern I expressed when looking at the DecVax Box. I fear that what seems a great way to manage the process and exercise extraordinary leadership within a school culture will result in the same outcome as could be found in the DecVax box. All of that extra stuff that is seen as essential for marginal improvements ( a concept borrowed from Economics I fear) will provide exactly that. Marginal improvements at best plus a complete shambles of a process which at worst will produce negative gains.Japan was revered in the 80,s and 90’s for it’s outstanding and incredibly bureacratic approach to quality, and I will check the NTEN thing as I suspect it may originate in the dark depths of Deeming et al et al et al. It will not go un-noticed that Japan has arguably had one of the worst performing economies in the world over the last 15-20 years. I will look at NTEN.

    The difference between the DecVax Box and the school, is that for the DecVax Box security is enhanced by all the extra nonsense whereas in the school, I fear that quantity and quality of learning are compromised. Lot’s of people will gain great satisfaction from feeling they are at the leading edge and making “the difference”. Lot’s of people will see it as a panacea for managing teachers teaching large groups of kiddies all at the same time. Lot’s of people will see it as as an efficient way to micro manage teachers without them realising they are being micro managed.

    All of this makes the process far too unweildy for me, making what really is a simple process very confusing. I never thought I would make the following two statements but here goes……

    1 I now think I start to see what Oldandrew has experienced in schools which I have not

    2 Working in such an environment might leave me no choice but to move towards an Oldandrew Neo Traditionalist approach just to maintain my own sense of worth and professional integrity.

    Posted by bt0558 | November 22, 2014, 11:18 am
  2. Education doesn’t have a monopoly on poor mindset. It’s been know for some considerable time that for growth you need a growth mindset – not just of individuals but of organisations. The argument is how do you get it? Well, again it’s not by coaching and training as the wealth of research again says that these have limited impact.

    But globally we persist in the belief training and coaching works. If it did why does Gallup’s research have only 13% of the global workforce are engaged? And this has been unchanged for many years.

    Evaluating training and teaching of soft skills – leadership, attitude, behaviour etc – has been along the Kirkpatrick model and whilst the 4 levels look reasonable, they have proven to be flawed. There are several key sources documenting the poor transfer of soft skills, research and practitioner observations.

    Alliger & Janak (1986)– found a poor correlation between the four levels of Kirkpatrick. One level is not linked to the next and each is a separate entity.
    Detterman & Steinberg (1993)– in their review of transferable training found 86% of people fail to action training.
    Pfeffer & Sutton (2013)- reiterated the enigma and continued existence of the Knowing-Doing training gap.
    Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick (2005)– acknowledged the need to examine the reasons for the “devastating disconnect between learning and behaviour”.
    Bramley (2003)– comment on the supporting evidence for any transfer of learning into behavioural change being no better than due to random chance.

    This link may be useful to the discussion. http://www.mindfitltd.com/mind-confuse-facts/

    So whilst Carol Dweck extols the two mindsets of children – fixed and growth – I’d agree it’s the teachers that need to get a growth mindset first.

    For info I’m a chair of governors at primary schools amongst other voluntary roles in the education sector.

    Posted by Neville Gaunt | November 29, 2014, 10:23 am


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