As a school we’ve been thinking a great deal about developing a growth mindset with our students and staff. There’s been a lot of discussion on twitter around mindset recently, some positive and some not so. In my mind the principles around growth mindset are pretty solid and in no way gimmicky. It’s about getting students to:
- Have high expectations of what they can achieve and be inspired by the success of others.
- Accept that hard work and effort is needed to master new ideas and achieve excellence.
- Accept that they need to be resilient and so keep going when things get tough.
I struggle to see how anyone could argue against these. These are the sorts of attributes that the best teachers have been developing in their students for years (a reminder about Mr Clarke). The issue I suppose is how schools put it into practice. It’s not a quick fix and it can’t be a one off ‘strategy’ – it has to permeate everything we do and be a way of working and thinking. For example, the idea of having a ‘growth mindset’ learning objective for lessons, seems bizarre (though I have heard of one institution that does this). However, there are things that can be done to support this ethos.
This week, inspired by Pete Jones, we’ve unveiled our ‘Wall of Excellence’, to put these principles into action. The idea is very simple – a high impact display of excellent work. Not work that necessarily looks pretty, but work that is of a high quality and has been achieved by hard work and determination. Work that sets the standard of excellence and inspires other students to aim for that standard. Work that encourages students to want to go ‘beyond their best’. Work that allows us to celebrate excellence instead of hiding it away. Work that shows what can be achieved with hard work, effort and determination. Work that makes it ‘cool to be smart!‘
In his brilliant book, ‘An Ethic of Excellence’, Ron Berger sets out the following factors for establishing a culture of excellence in a school:
Our wall facilitates this perfectly. Students and staff will be able to study and discuss examples of excellence in an informal setting. The discussion will help to develop a culture of critique. It will also provide the opportunity for public presentation. As subjects prepare for their exhibition slot (see below), I imagine that it will also encourage them to think about the nature of the work they are setting and so ‘assign work that matters’.
This is what it looks like:
The response from students has been great – it’s been lovely to see them standing and admiring the work and getting very excited when they see a piece of their own in a frame! They’ve been pointing out particular pieces of work to each other and discussing why it’s so good. The work includes poetry from English, math problems being solved, science experimental write ups, geography case studies, photos of drama productions, historical source analysis, QR codes to student video presentations etc etc. This initial exhibition is from a range of different subjects, but we have some other ideas about how else we will use the wall:
- Supporting transition – our middle schools have been contacted to ask for samples of excellent work from Y7, who will be joining us as Y8 in September. We will then use this as an exhibition in September, so the first thing our new Y8 students see is their own excellent work up on display in their new school. This will hopefully help them to feel a part of the school. In the words of Andy Tharby it will also act as a ‘benchmark of brilliance’ for their future work – setting the standard high and celebrating excellence from the outset.
- Subject Exhibitions – next year each curriculum area has been allocated a half termly slot where they will be responsible for ‘filling the gallery’ with work. This will allow us to celebrate excellence across the curriculum. Taking this a stage further, during lessons students could be taken to the wall and critique the work for that subject. This can then be used to inform their own work.
- Governor celebration of excellence events – Once a term, our governors are invited to an event in the library where they can see examples of excellent work on display and discuss this with the students who produced the work. This will now be done here, at the gallery – giving it more of an exhibition feel.
- Parental open evenings – A great way to allow parents to see the great work their children are producing. This should also encourage discussion about excellent work at home, supporting the importance of hard work and commitment.
Is it possible to ‘go beyond our best’? Yes, I believe so. Your best, is the best you have done up until that time. Once we’ve achieved our best, we shouldn’t just be happy with that, we should be striving to get better and better – and so go beyond our best. The only limit to this is the level of expectation we place on ourselves and our students and the amount of hard work, effort and determination they put in. That’s a key part of this wall – to show students what can be achieved by their peers, with the right mindset – expect excellence, work hard, learn from your failures, be inspired by others and keep going when the going is tough and you’ll do well!
“I expect them all to get an A. Which doesn’t mean I disregard prior achievement and other impediments, merely to say that I believe anyone can do anything if they want it hard enough and are prepared to do what it takes to get it.”