Educational leadership & learning

Changing Mindsets

Like many people in education  I have heard Carol Dweck’s name and ideas referenced many times in recent years – so much so she has almost become a ‘fixed’ part of the contemporary educational research landscape (please excuse the pun – I’m working hard on them!)

I have read a variety of blogs, including Chris Hildrew’s ( which I can highly recommend and seen a range of the posters, but had not managed to read the book until this summer. For me I wondered whether I had missed anything and wanted to do the concept justice by reading it in full. I was also intrigued by a colleague’s question in July when I was explaining the two different mindsets: “So how do you do it? How I help my child change his mindset?” Good questions and I didn’t have clear answers.

How do you do it?

In the book Dweck states that “just by knowing about the two mindsets you can start thinking and reacting in different ways.” She also talks about: taking the challenge, learning from your failures and mistakes and maintaining the effort to change. It can be very easy to slip into old habits but you must persevere.

Great teachers

“Don’t judge. Teach. It’s a learning process”

I don’t think this means we shouldn’t assess the children’s learning journey, it means don’t label them for eternity, either out loud or in your head.

Great teachers believe in the growth of intellect and talent and are fascinated with the actual process of learning. They set high standards, but within a nurturing atmosphere because they believe that anything is possible.

“Teach pupils to love learning…to learn and think for themselves…work hard on the fundamentals.”

Every word and action can send a message to a child. In our schools children need to know that they are in a place where they will not be judged and labelled for the entirety of their stay. It is about having confidence in them as people and nurturing their growth. Helping them think through issues and come to ethical and mature decisions of their own.

Dweck also discusses praise a great deal, another trap that I personally call very easily fall into. She explains it is best not to judge them on their intelligence or talent (which would be perceived as fixed) but on what they have accomplished through practice, study, persistence and good strategies. In my new school we are trying to put children’s names in the weekly Golden Mention Book for these types of reasons and for a positive and determined approach to accepting and overcoming challenges. We have also reviewed our “Passports to Success” which were fairly standard last year, and are trialling new “Ready Steady GrOw” booklets, which encourage the children to think about all the ways they are growing on their learning journey through our school. My Y2 colleague has already commented on a shift in attitude towards learning from the same class she taught last year in Y1. I have obviously thanked her for her efforts.

Great Leaders

Leadership was an aspect of a “Growth Mindset” I hadn’t considered in as much detail prior to reading the book – mainly because I had focused on considering the children.

“Leadership is about growth and passion not about personal brilliance” (which is good for me!)

Great leaders according to Dweck:

  • do what they love with tremendous drive and enthusiasm
  • promote a culture of growth and teamwork
  • talk about an inclusive and learning filled journey
  • respect, learn from and nurture others
  • constantly ask questions
  • don’t highlight hierarchies
  • constantly try to improve but are not interested in proving themselves
  • surround themselves with the most able people
  • keep their ego in check and stay in touch with their humanity
  • believe that everyone is capable of self-transformation

As someone taking on his first headship, in a school that has only been open 12 months, with only 3 class teachers, and with massive changes to curriculum, assessment and SEND I am certainly not in a position to claim that I know everything and that my ideas are always best. I have deliberately gone out of my way during the first few weeks with colleagues for us all to work collegiately as part of the team, to celebrate the ideas and contributions of others, particularly when they improve on my ideas or suggestions. Positive relationships and building trust early on I believe are crucial for successful leadership – which has therefore also been a focus for me.

I also have shared some summaries of research with them including Dweck’s work on Mindsets as:

“Changing people’s beliefs can have a profound effect. The belief that abilities can be cultivated.”

I have certainly not got every conversation or decision ‘right’ but I have tried to focus on using a ‘Change Mindset’ approach. I have been very open and overt with my message to staff when I have made a mistake or forgotten something, I have not hidden it or been embarrassed by it but clearly stated, “Great I can learn from that. I will grow better”

Other quotes.

I also read some other books over the summer and there were quotes from other individuals in Dweck’s book.

One of my favourites was Paula Radcliffe’s “My Journey so far”. I had read this before and have always found her to be an inspiring person. Here are a few thoughts she shared:

“I am not going to brood any more over what is lost, but concentrate on the future  and what it offers.” 

“You learn what you can from the experience so that you can use it to prepare better for the next time and then you put it behind you and carry on.”

“The disappointments are part of life, so long as I learn from them and get stronger the experience hasn’t been wasted.”

“If I can’t do something that I want to do, I will practice and practice until I can.”

I also read “Creating Learning without limits” by Alison Peacock et al

“Creates a passion for learning and stretching yourself…learning is a priority.”

“Performance cannot be based on one assessment.”

John Wooden (a famous American sports coach) is quoted in the book saying:

“You aren’t a failure until you start to blame…you can still be in the process of learning from your mistakes when you are not denying them.”

And finally Jack Welch once said, that true self-confidence is

“the courage to be open – to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.”

I plan to be open and honest as I start my headship, to welcome debate and value the ideas of others in our school team, to encourage them to trial new ways of working, to reflect and grow and consider carefully the messages we give our children: because I believe that with the complexity and enormity of the challenge we have in front of us, this is the surest way to succeed: learning and growing together!


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