Growth Mindset in Practice

The concept of growth mindset and the recognition of its relative merits over a fixed mindset have now been with us for quite a few years. I’ve written about the concept, the work of Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University and also her reservations about some of the practical misunderstandings on a number of occasions over the last few years, especially since reading her book on the subject.

To me, it was already clear in a number of ways that there was a gap between the theory, the concept itself and even people’s expressed positive views towards it and the actual practical application of the growth mindset in classrooms and schools on a day to day basis. So, i was very interested to see that some research had been carried out on this subject. It’s reported in research shared through the Edweek website:

Edweek – Mindset in the Classroom – A National Study of K-12 Teachers

Now, the report does acknowledge that the sample is not wholly statistically balanced. Firstly, the participants were self-selecting. Next, they were all in the American education system (though as the concept originated there, we would expect to see higher levels of engagement with it). Maybe, to me, most relevant and not really mentioned – they were all users of the Edweek website. In my experience, that marks them out as a cohort of educators with stronger inclination towards their own continuous professional development.

Nevertheless, even allowing for these shortcomings I still believe it offers some interesting insights. The first is that, not too uncommonly, teachers perceive that their own levels of awareness and comprehension of an important concept in education is better than that of the administrators in their school and most certainly better than their peers! Teachers still, at heart, love to compete. Further, there was clearly some hesitancy amongst teachers about how important growth mindset was for children’s learning compared with other factors, even though they rated student motivation and engagement strongest – and there’s lots of evidence that these are heavily impacted by mindset.

On aspect of the survey that saddened me a little was that it didn’t dare to step in to the delicate area of the extent to which the mindset of the teacher themselves impacts their approach to mindset with their students. One of the toughest aspects may well be that a teacher really needs to imbibe the concept very deeply with regard to themselves, their professional and personal growth journey and potential before they can truly address it with children or integrate the approach fully and effectively in their teaching practice. A bit of a case of practicing what we preach and willingness to model the attributes that we wish to see in our students.

The survey is also interesting, but not wholly surprising in highlighting that most teachers believe they haven’t received enough training on mindset. Here, yet again is the deep irony – teachers, by and large still go through their lives as products of their own education and still believe in a paradigm that learning is being taught. My question – if you want to know more about Mindset, as a teacher, what’s stopping you? Do you have to wait for others to train you? Could you choose to learn, share with peers and then experiment and practice the different approaches?

In short, the data carries a clear message that if we want our children to be learning and developing in school environments where growth mindset prevails, there is still a great deal to be done. A gulf exists between theory and acknowledgement and actual practice and we need to address this gap.

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