Category Archives: Mindset

You’re Not Doing Growth Mindset Properly


Brain Gym and Learning Styles came and went, well, the hope is they’ve gone. Fads and gimmicks come and go, often on the basis of some research or other. When this research is translated into the classroom setting it often takes on a very different hue than was originally envisaged. And, if what was originally envisaged was nonsense, by the time it has got to pupil questionnaire stage it is often double or triple nonsense.

The trouble with teachers is we like to embellish ideas with our own take. The ideas travel via whispered insets some twenty teachers away from the original instigator who wasn’t the original original but was the original who uttered it in a three minute slot at a teach-meet, which was then summed up in a tweet and a quote with a lovely picture of a mountain peak…

You can see how it happens.

Research is great for picking apart research and  also sorting out bad science from good. This is a vital part of its job. How many school canteens will be taking chips, toast and roast potatoes off the menu as of tomorrow? We’ve heard the news, now we must act! Mashed potato sandwiches are now the menu de jour. Tomorrow.

And now Growth Mindset has received a gentle nudge to its credibility, Li and Bates write that:

We find no support for the idea that fixed beliefs about basic ability are harmful, or that implicit theories of intelligence play any significant role in development of cognitive ability, response to challenge, or educational attainment.

If you teach in a school that trumpets itself as a ‘Mindset’ school this might be worth ignoring in the short term as another piece of research might be along in a few days that contradicts it. Or supports it. Which is where the problem lies. Should we base our entire teaching and learning ethos on one piece of research?

This came to mind today when I read that:

Height has an effect on academic outcomes:

The paper states that:

Height has positive effects on educational outcomes for students in large schools, but not for students in small schools.

The height effects are consistent with taller students being able to better capture school resources in large schools.

You’ll notice that not only height is relevant here but also the size of your school.

Tall students clearly can’t fit into small schools, whereas in large schools they not only fit snugly but outperform their vertically challenged peers.

When this is mentioned in a three minute segment in the next teach meet the outcome could be catastrophic. Clearly we need larger schools and taller students. Smaller students can be sent to small schools. Small schools being small, might not have enough room for lots of small students. When do we decide how small a student is? Key stage 2 height tests might be insufficient evidence for judging expected growth progress in the secondary school. Puberty might play havoc with the data, things might get very hairy.

And then a solution is sought and the utterance becomes: make all children stand tall: This is the real Growth Mindset. If children believe they are tall, they are tall. If they self identify as tall, they are tall. But there are always those who will let the school down, no matter how large it is. If you want to do growth mindset properly these children can be made tall:

Every school should introduce the rack. A few twists a day will see a real growth mindset for all children regardless of their genetic inheritance.

From such small things, big ideas grow.

Results Day Failure


37 years ago today, or thereabouts I received my results for O levels and CSEs. I collected my envelopes and went away on my own, knowing that I wouldn’t have done very well. One of the worst things about failing is being around success, good to escape it. I looked at my results, I’d achieved an O level equivalent in Maths CSE, though not achieved it in O level… I passed O levels in Physics, Geography and English Lit and failed all the others… I had 4 O levels to my name.


I retook English Language and History the following Autumn getting an A and a B respectively and I also reinforced my D in Art.

6 O levels to my name, in two sittings. No smiling pics of me clutching certificates…

By December I had left secondary school ‘by mutual consent’ and the chip on my shoulder has accompanied me ever since.

It wasn’t exams I failed, it was school. I didn’t apply myself and the school did little to truly educate me. The school worked for some, failed others, and for many in our cohort in 1979 there were worse stories than mine, that there were also better ones points at my responsibility to see myself through. Nowadays people call this needing grit, then I was simply lazy.

Looking back I can see what the school could have done for me that would have enabled me a fair shot at passing more than I did. For myself, I could have worked, I didn’t… I was extremely cynical about my school, the schooling and the whole point. Loud, argumentative, I was probably ‘difficult to teach’, and it is this that would prove in the years to come an asset when in a round about way I found myself back in the classroom as a teacher, vowing to be the teacher I needed when I was at school.

Those who celebrate failure as a precursor to success, seem to do it with alarming self-assuredness. Whether it be Jeremy Clarkson boasting about how he didn’t need his exams to become a rich celebrity or a teacher on twitter encouraging growth mindset, it seems as if failure is a virtue; it isn’t.

For all the pictures of successful students jumping into the air with big smiles on their faces, there are many more skulking away in the background, it might be because they were taught badly, have behavioural issues, are lazy, are not academic, whatever the reason, it still hurts.

“So what,” I’d say, “I don’t care…” and I got more and more bitter…

Exam results do matter but a good education matters more. No-one dragged me through exams, which I am thankful for, but on the way no-one really spotted I could be taught well either. What to do with the kids who won’t learn unless you teach them well?

Great teaching requires a teacher to instil discipline, focus, ensure great content, a curriculum that connects, the use of argument and challenging ideas, teachers should teach pupils how to write, speak and debate, and yes, they need to be passionate about what they are teaching too…

Ultimately  the responsibility for good results should lie with the child and not the school. Teachers should make sure their pupils know this and provide them with the knowledge and the tools by which children can ensure they do their best. If a child is dragged through tests and exams they will have no idea what real failure looks like until it hits them hard when they least expect it. If a child is let down by a school they will always have someone else to blame.

At least I expected to fail.

I still do; this is no bad thing, but it doesn’t ever feel like one step nearer to success. It won’t if I can still blame the school rather than thinking about my own responsibility towards my failure.

What Then?


When all kids have grit, what then?

When every school is outstanding, what then?

When every target is reached or surpassed, what then?

When everyone’s mindset is switched to growth, what then?

When all is meritocratic and we all get to where we ought to be, what then?

When every twenty-first century skill has been adopted and learnt, what then?

When every child attends the college of their dreams, when every child is fluent in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, what then?

When all children are creative, empathetic, can move from job to job with ease, what then?

When every school leaver is able to commune happily with artificially intelligent machines due to the new jobs that have yet to be thought of that they can now be employed in the exciting never thought of industries of the future… What then?

When the tense is future-perfect, what then?

Gentlemen, there are questions that worry me; solve them for me. You for example want human beings to give up their old habits and adjust their will so that it accords with the requirements of science and common sense. But how do you know that human beings not only can but must be transformed in this way?*

Isn’t the way of things that mankind is drawn to destroying the very things that might, in all sense, be to our advantage? Even in the life of one person don’t we sometimes do the very things we know do us no good whatsoever? Eat that extra bit of cake, drink a couple of glasses too many, wake up in the wrong bed on the wrong side of town…?

How many people will it take to make the system perfect? Won’t we get bored in this utopia, that we stick pins in our eyes, or the eyes of others?

If a system is doomed to fail is it just a vain hope? Has our vision of the future written out the awkward, rebellious, self destructive anti-heroes or zeroes that so many find themselves to be? Oh we are such disappointments us human-beings. We are our own nemesis. Give me a target and I might deliberately miss it and even I won’t know why.

In the meritocracy will schools be there for the inhabitants of the de-meritocracy?


*Dostoevsky: Notes From Underground (which is the inspiration for this piece)


On Character: Can We Know the Dancer From the Dance?


O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

WB Yeats: Among School Children

The Sutton Trust report A Winning Personality identified:

…extraversion (sociability, confidence, assertiveness), self-esteem, and a positive outlook as particularly beneficial for career success, and an external locus of control (a belief that one’s successes and failures are outside one’s control) to be particularly detrimental.

By examining data from the BBC ‘Big Personality Test’ they decided that:

… highly extraverted people – those who were more confident, sociable or assertive – had a 25% higher chance of being in a high-earning job (over £40,000 per year), with the odds being higher for men than women. We also found that people who scored high for conscientiousness (thoroughness, and a preference for planning and order) had approximately a 20% higher chance of having a high-paying job.

If only everyone danced the dance of the extravert, then all would be successful. If only the poor had big egos then all would be right with the world. But is it the dance of extraversion that makes a successful dancer? Could it be a character trait the successful develop when they look in their mirror: ‘Oh, look at me I’m great…’

Or is this another example of scientism? Science venturing into areas it is ill equipped to deal with.

Nietzsche talked of the ego as belonging to the master mentality rather than the slave morality. He thought Christian values were responsible for a slave morality where all men had the same worth. These slave values, based on envy, were doing a disservice to mankind by championing values of generosity and care for the weak. Nietzsche championed the virtues  of the powerful, the ‘Übermensch’; he thought the master mentality included the imagination, he admired the artistic spirit of Shakespeare, Goethe, Wagner (until they fell out) these figures were: daring, curious, creative and brave and had, what Nietzsche called a ‘will to power’:

My idea is that every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force (its will to power): and to thrust back all that resists its extension. 

…my Dionysian world of the eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying, this mystery world of the twofold voluptuous delight, my ‘beyond good and evil,’ without goal, unless the joy of the circle is itself a goal; without will, unless a ring feels good will toward itself— do you want a name for this world? A solution for all of its riddles? A light for you, too, you best-concealed, strongest, most intrepid, most midnightly men?— This world is the will to power—and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power—and nothing besides!”

Nietzsche asks us to live! He sees values as created by man: we are free to choose whatever values we want to have it is this that enables us to be free…. God is dead  but what is a full life in a Godless world? Living your life as if it might be lived again and again. Nietzsche saw man as a process of overcoming conflicts within himself to surpass and become a tragic but noble hero. The Übermensch were both creator and created, they were both dancer and the dance and the next step in man’s development.

Nietzsche saw the need for the elimination of the weak by the strong, a need to replace the stupid with the clever. Some contemporary educationalists delight in this self same idea, instead of indulging the morality of the slave and the values of compassion, the trait of ‘introversion’, and maybe a pessimistic mood, they seem to delight in wanting to seek the stamping out of ‘weakness’ by getting kids to adopt a changing mindset and the character traits of extroverted, confident, assertive optimists.

I must admit that Nietzsche’s list is far more attractive than that of the Sutton Trust, but in a Godless universe in which we can, and must, make our own values the Übermensch can write their own lists but our contemporary lists don’t seem to be about improving the lot of man. Rather than being free our second rate Übermensch need to delight in just earning a spit over £40,000 a year and remain slaves to the workplace. This is hardly the lot of tragic noble heroes. This dance is choreographed by the unimaginative: instead of stamping out the weak, we teach that those that earn below £40,000 do so due to their character flaws and even though teachers have done their best to point these flaws out to them, they clearly have the wrong mindset, poor fools. Mind you how many teachers earn below £40,000 a year?

If you kill God and replace Him with the marketplace, believe character is a measurable quantity and think that all the meek have to do is to dance the same dance as those that wear the smartest suits,  you miss the point. These are not the Übermensch. The cult of scientism seems to think some people are successful due to rather dull character traits. Can success on earth really be attained by dancing this dance? Nietzsche would have recognised that the dance and the dancer are one and the same and in order to join the Übermensch we would have to say NO to the values written for us by the Sutton Trust. Instead we should become the Übermensch by overcoming our burdens, wandering in solitude and roaring at those who step in our way and finally freeing ourselves, childlike to dance our own dances: becoming at once the dancer and the dance, in our circular heaven on earth.

But truly, to celebrate humanity in all its majesty we must celebrate all, both weak and strong, and appreciate our fellow human beings for what they bring to us, not bully them into acquiring the ‘winning personalities’ of estate agents, double glazing salesman and drama teachers due to some dubious science. There are many dances and dancers on the best dance floors.

And we make ourselves stronger by not believing the ultimate worth of man is travelling the tube to another dreary day of servitude in the hope we can all squeeze past £40,000 per annum.






Schools and the Mindless Mindset Meritocracy

SDante In Schools Week Carol Dweck writes: “If I were the Secretary of State for Education, I would make schools places of growth. I would… give back to students and teachers that zest for learning — the desire for challenges, passion for hard work, embracing of mistakes, and joy in improvement. If some schools can do it, all schools can do it.” Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset is something I buy into but there is a niggling doubt in the back of my mind…

“If some schools can do it, all schools can do it…”

In their book G is for Genes Plomin and Asbury point out that: “We think it is likely that, for genetic as well as environmental reasons, it will be harder for some people to develop a growth mindset than others.” All in our world is not equal, is it not disheartening to think that Mindset might not be an easy fix for all your pupils?

Mindset attracts schools because in a kingdom of the blind the one eyed man would be king. We think: ‘ah our kids can get higher grades if they have a growth mindset; our kids can be ‘kings’ and our school lauded as ‘kingmaker’! But in a kingdom of growth mindset ‘where all school’s do it’ all the iniquities and inequalities remain. If I was to practise as much as Usain Bolt I doubt I would ever be as fast as him, even with the same coaching I would not be his equal. (I think Usain has a fixed mindset, he strikes me as someone who is quite content with being the fastest in the world, quite content with being praised for his speed, I’m sure that his gold medals sustain this impression.) Cyclist Lance Armstrong ‘suggested that doping had been so widespread in the sport a decade ago that only those involved could hope to contend’ in the Tour de France. If we educate all to have a growth mindset what advantage could there possibly be?

Mindset is accompanied by meritocracy, driven by a Governmental desire to compete in PISA tables, our kids have to compete. The impression given is those with a growth mindset get the best results in exams, get the best jobs, get the most money, have the happiest lives and the most ornate funerals. Michael Young, wrote that: “If meritocrats believe… that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get… They can be insufferably smug… The newcomers can actually believe they have morality on their side.” Can you imagine a world where those at the top have got there because of their mindset and that is all…? At least with our current system we know it’s unfair and we have cause for anger. Meritocratic man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, and the poor would have nothing to blame but their mindsets: let them eat cake from their self imposed fixed mindset food-banks; our ‘failures’ are but a quintessence of dust.

On Dweck’s Mindset Website it says: ‘Do people with [the growth] mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable), that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.’

To Be or Not To Be the Human Becoming?

Toil! Under the tyranny of targets and outcomes and grit and resilience some of us dread every morning as we set up upon our daily trial of Sisyphus, rolling that effing rock up that effing hill. What about a day of idling, lolling and wasting time? Are these now sins in this work-ethic-growth-mindset driven age? Why this focus on the desperate struggle, why not, sometimes, be content just to be content? Education can be a passing fancy in which things awake our interest and give us pause, where learning is for its own ends and not part of an international Tour de Force. Rather than demand we have to become super brain fit for the great competition of life we can be the human forever becoming and be relaxed with that knowledge rather than need to beat everyone at all cost. Lance Armstrong said: “I just took part in the system…” let’s ensure that we don’t over systematise Mindset. images-7 Who are you trying to kid Einstein? You were smart and you stayed with problems for a long time! But there your picture is, accompanied by others all over the walls of our schools: hey kids, work hard and you too can be Einstein! Really??? Do we expect Growth Mindset to solve all our ills? Instead of covering our school walls with ‘mindset’ quotes and pictures of great men and women, let’s just look at the whole picture, literally… quotes and pictures from everyone: let’s look at life in all its shades. Pictures of street cleaners, bus drivers, house-husbands, the unemployed accompanied by their quotes; let’s celebrate their lives! Let us turn outwards and towards each other as fallible human beings sharing more in common than not and celebrate:

What a piece of work is a human! How noble in reason and how infinite in faculty! Schools are not just for the aspirant über-successful, they are for all, even those who are less smart and those without a ‘passion for hard work’.