I have always considered myself to have good Growth Mindset. I love challenges, I’m not afraid of change, I know that my potential is limitless and that intelligence is not fixed, I have failed and got up again and again. In my class I have the posters (the ones we all now have) encouraging my class to have exactly the same work ethic. I promote it every day and my class love realising their mistakes and learning from them, trying new things and ‘growing brain cells’. It makes for a really positive and happy class environment. As a teacher, I don’t have to work half as hard because the children are desperate to learn but it’s only recently that I’ve realised that work ethic isn’t where Growth Mindset ends.
We’ve spent a long time recognising that, tragic as it is, our children work in an environment where success is measured by reaching a (sometimes unrealistic) predetermined standard and not by effort. Promoting Growth Mindset in our classrooms helps take away that pressure by encouraging the idea that their intelligence is not fixed and yet how many of us find that, however good the Growth Mindset work ethic of our class, when children mark their own work there is a little hiss of “yessss” and a few fist pumps for every right answer. Children love to share their scores with each other as a measure of how successful they are. This isn’t about them not having Growth Mindset Work Ethic it’s about them not having Growth Mindset as a tool for self-affirmation.
The other day I gave my class a maths test. I asked them to give it 100% effort. At the end of the test I asked them if they had given 100% effort. They told me they had so I congratulated them and asked them to congratulate themselves as that meant they had got 100% in the test. I got them to write 100% on the front of the paper in big coloured letters and then they gave a little fist pump and had a little cheer of “yessss.” Then I read the answers. The difference was amazing. As they went through the paper there were no groans about wrong answers or cheers for right ones. The children knew that I was measuring them by their effort grade not their score and the love of their mistakes came back. At the end they shared with each other their effort score (100% all round) and the number of things they had learnt (their mistakes)
But how often as teachers do we do this for ourselves. Just like the children, we also work in an environment where our success is externally measured by a sometimes unrealistic, pre-determined standard. Stakes are high. Sometimes it is difficult not to fall into the trap of using this to self-affirm. I used to live and die by the grading I got in my observation, by my book scrutiny feedback, by a positive parents evening. Every positive comment I got from a member of management was like a gold star that I gave a little fist pump for and said “yesss” about (under my breath of course). And, sadly, I have worked in environments where the external pressures of Ofsted meant that if you weren’t getting positive feedback from management you were made to feel as though you were somehow failing the children, as if you were a sub-standard teacher or a ‘lower-attainer’. In this sort of environment, teachers fall into the trap of negative self-talk, punishing themselves for not being better, trying to be perfect. Despite all my Growth Mindset work ethic, I have frequently found my confidence crippled through measuring my success as a teacher by ‘score’ or my outputs and not by my effort.
As teachers we can only give our best. As my current head (a champion for teacher well-being and CPD) so frequently says to me: “You are only human. If you’ve given 100%, you’ve done enough.” Just like the children and their test, there will be things to work on, for some more than others. There might even be a whole section of learning that we need extra support on but as long as we recognise those learning opportunities then we are not failing. Teachers, just like children, need to be able to weather the high stakes test/inspection environment. It is therefore vital that leadership works to build teacher confidence by encouraging teachers to self-affirm through positive self-talk, praising their efforts and their learning rather than through their measurable successes or outputs. Even if your staff have incredible Growth Mindset work ethic, it’s being able to self affirm without external validation (from Ofsted or management) that will make for confident teachers and they are invaluable.