Growing our mindset


This time last year I read Dweck’s ‘Mindset’.  Since then we’ve done quite a lot of work at DHS to develop and embed a growth mindset with our students  – especially during the last term.  We are trying to ensure that it runs through everything we do – as only then will it become an intrinsic part of our school culture.  It can’t be a one-off.  This article attempts to describe how we are trying to do this through our teaching, assessment and feedback.

The following video clip of Professor Dweck gives a great overview of growth mindset:

Why Mindset?

As a school, we are successful.  We get great outcomes for our students – but we are always looking to get better.  A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Humphrey Walters speak at a conference.  He described this graph:

humphrey waltersThe message was simple.  Successful individuals or institutions will continue to grow and improve up to a point – but will then plateau.  At this point, they need to do something different, in order to continue to grow and succeed.  For me, the ‘different’ bit for us as a school, was a clear and concerted focus on developing a growth mindset.

Why growth mindset?  Our students are brilliant, but like many schools, we still hear the following responses from some of our students when they get stuck:

gm students say

I’m convinced that developing a growth mindset could be the thing to unstick many of them!

I’m indebted to John Tomsett for getting me started on how to embed a culture of growth mindset across the school.  John was speaking at a conference I attended and I was fortunate to grab an hour with him in the bar, to pick his brains on how he has approached growth mindset at his school.  John was very generous with his time and resources.  One of the things he shared, was a questionnaire that he used with his students, to ascertain their mindset:

gm questions

gm questions2

John has blogged about this here – where you can also download this questionnaire and other associated resources.

We used the questionnaire at school with all students, who were then given a score from 1-6 based on their responses – 1 being fixed mindset and 6 growth mindset.  At an INSET day, we then discussed the results and focused on a few case study students, to illustrate the qualities and attributes of different ‘mindset’ students.

gm studentaSo student A was well known to the staff.  A bright boy who has the potential to do well.  However, when he gets stuck, he’ll down tools and stay stuck.  He won’t seek assistance or try any harder – he’ll just stay stuck.  He had a fixed mindset score of 2.5 and was only achieving his potential in 57% of his subjects in his mocks.


Student C was also well known to staff.  She’s a C grade student, but is exceeding that in all of her subjects – according to her mock grades.  She works incredibly hard, sticks with it when she finds things hard, seeks clarification and support from her peers and teachers when she needs it – and wants to get better and better.  Not surprisingly, she has a high mindset score – 5.5.


Student E was an interesting student to look at.  He was very disappointed with his Tracking Point 4 projection (October) for history.  He discussed this with his tutor and told her that it was his fault and that he had to work harder to address it.  He did just this and by Tracking Point 5 (January – post mocks) had converted the D into a B.  This approach matched his mindset score of 5.4 – a growth mindset.

growth-mindsetWhilst this is only three students, there were many other similar examples – where the mindset score matched how students were achieving and their approach to learning.  The exercise of matching mindset scores to real students was really useful – as it made the mindset attributes come to life.  This made me realise there was something in the whole mindset thing and that it was definitely worth pursing.  So we have.

Developing a growth mindset

Growth Mindset appeals to teachers because it makes sense – it’s about hard work, sticking with it and not giving up.  As Tom Bennett describes:


So what have we done to try and embed this into our school culture?

The INSET day discussion, described above, was a great starting point.  I then shared this information with all students, through assemblies over a fortnight period.  The powerpoint I used can be viewed here.

The one factor that has most influence over students in a school is how they are taught.  So if we wanted to develop their mindset, we had to think about how we taught them.  We don’t have a teaching & learning policy, but we do have a set of principles that drive our teaching – keeping it ‘tight but loose’.  These were reviewed and updated last term, to ensure that they align with the growth mindset approach.  How this happened is documented here – this resulted in the following flow diagram, that sums up the key pedagogical principles of expert teaching:

expert pub

The overarching principle here was the idea of ‘challenge for all’.  If we really want to develop a growth mindset and get students to raise their aspirations, we had to raise our expectations of all students.  By doing this, they get used to the struggle of learning, and learn to overcome obstacles – and so become grittier. Angela Duckworth describes the importance of grit here:

We also need to ensure that we support them with meeting these expectations – through excellent explanations, modelling, questioning, feedback and the opportunity to practise – lots. Our teachers have responded brilliantly to this – there are a growing number of examples around the school of high expectations and excellence being shared.  More here.

Alongside this, I share a range of teaching techniques, that will help develop a growth mindset, on this page.  A great example of this is illustrated here by Dweck talking about the power of ‘yet’:

Andy Tharby has also made a great contribution, in the shape of excellent blog posts, such as this one on ‘gallery critique‘.  This has been shared with staff and tried out across a range of subjects.

We also reviewed our ‘marking policy’.  This was timely as it gave us the opportunity to develop quality feedback across the school – a key aspect of the ‘growth mindset’ approach.  So our marking policy, became a feedback policy.

dhsfeedback1The starting point for this was a group of interested staff coming up with a set of principles to guide the policy – using John Hattie and The Sutton Trust as a starting point.  We wanted to move away from a policy that just focused on ‘red pen’, towards a policy that valued and acknowledged a wide range of feedback.  This is what we came up with:

dhsfeedback2These principles are now being put into action.  However, each department has been given the freedom to determine how effective feedback will be implemented in their subject.  We’ve moved away from a rigid, one size fits all approach to feedback – it’s about what works well for different subjects, but still meets these guiding principles.  So each subject outlines this in their own section of the feedback policy:


Assessment without levels, also provides us with another opportunity to develop mindset. Again we started with a set of principles:


From this each subject area looks at their units of work for KS3 and decides the standards of excellence they would expect, in terms of knowledge and skills.  We are not focusing on assessing everything, just the key knowledge and skills that subject specialists know are important to master, in order to be successful at GCSE.  This can then be summarised as below:


This is then broken down into thresholds below excellence – the idea being that that through effective feedback and support, students will move through the thresholds and aspire towards excellence. We’re not setting a ceiling on achievement, but setting a standard of excellence – in the knowledge and skills that we think are important.  So we are raising aspirations and being selective about the knowledge and skills that we assess.

growthThe development of a growth mindset has become an exciting and interesting journey – that has taken on a life of it’s own across the school.  We even seem to have developed a new strap line as a result of it – ‘Going beyond our best’.

The journey continues.




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12 Responses to Growing our mindset

  1. Wonderful read and inspiring. Challenging the belief that learning is instant and without effort is so important. High expectations of all student and nurturing the personal qualities that lead to success in students has completely changed the way I approach teaching. Strange as I always knew this to be true but seemed to lose sight of this in recent years. Thank you from a very grateful teacher.

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  3. jameswilding says:

    I echo the first comment. As a very independent and free thinking head, releasing departments to be experts in their domain is a key construct in my aim to be more effective in what we do. I am deeply irritated by the recent narrowing in future assessments for GCSE and A level, but propose to push to keep the breadth that ensures students will be successful at undergraduate level.

  4. Michael Tidd says:

    Great stuff as usual from DHS – I’d love to see an example of the thresholds table completed for a specific unit/subject.

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  8. zebedee says:

    Thank you for this. It was brought to my attention by on of the teachers in our network where the focus is on bringing the Growth Mindset into mathematics teaching in secondary schools. Are you aware of Helen Hindle’s work?

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