Leading Growth Mindsets: Setting Up for Success


By James Anderson

This collection of articles is intended for your school’s Growth Mindset leadership team. I outline key research you need to be familiar with, as well as many of the pitfalls you’ll want to avoid, as you adopt Growth Mindsets as part of your whole-school initiative. Importantly, I outline how to prevent Growth Mindsets becoming “last year’s initiative” at your school.

I invite you to share these articles as professional reading for your school’s Growth Mindset leaders. All the articles were originally published as blog posts. For regular updates, you can subscribe to my blog at www.jamesanderson.com.au.

If you’re going to start working with Growth Mindsets in your school, let’s start by not making things worse! In the first article, I introduce the idea of “Schlimmbesserung.” This is a German word that means to make things worse in an effort to make them better. In English, we refer to this idea as a “backfire” or “the cobra effect.”

Unfortunately, there are many examples of schools that have enthusiastically jumped on the idea of Growth Mindsets, but with little understanding and no real planning. These schools often adopt social media solutions to Growth Mindsets that oversimplify psychologist Carol Dweck’s ideas. The result is often the exact opposite of what they intended: they create more fixed-oriented Mindsets in their students instead of growth-oriented ones!

This article highlights some of the traps for unwary schools and invites you to go beyond the catchphrases and social media hype to develop a deeper understanding of Growth Mindsets.

(By the way, if you’re interested in the idea of Schlimmbesserung, you can read about 10 of history’s greatest backfires here, including how the cobra effect got its name and why 10 boxes of TNT is too much if you want to blow up a whale carcass!)

In the second article, “Mindsets Matter – But That’s Only Half the Story,” I introduce data that explains why we should take a serious look at Growth Mindsets in the classroom. Importantly, I clarify that although the data shows Growth Mindsets are important, they are only useful if our Growth Mindset interventions are effective! I also introduce the concepts of Motivation Calibration and Learning Agility, central ideas that should be introduced alongside your work with Growth Mindsets.

The third article, “Setting the Record Straight on Growth Mindset,” is a longer, more thoughtful article. It looks closely at some of the Growth Mindset criticisms that have been published. This is an excellent article for leaders who are rightly sceptical about how schools are implementing Growth Mindsets, and for those who have suspicions about the “Power of Yet.” This article also sets the direction for more purposeful and effective Growth Mindset interventions.

The fourth article, “How Growth Mindsets Become ‘Last Year’s Initiative’ – A Cautionary Tale,” is a warning for schools that don’t heed the lessons above. I wrote this article as I began to observe schools enthusiastically adopting social media solutions to Growth Mindsets and seeing little enduring impact. Schools don’t have the time or resources to waste on initiatives that are swept away every time something new comes along. It’s crucial you heed the lessons of this article.

The fifth article focuses on perhaps the biggest misunderstanding about Mindsets: the idea that there are just two. In “Why Are We Still Talking Fixed vs Growth Mindsets,” I introduce you to the Mindset Continuum. Recognising that in the real world our Mindsets lie somewhere along a continuum opens the door to meaningful dialogue and realistic school-based interventions.

The final article is about “Making Mindsets Meaningful” in your school. It advocates for a more measured and meaningful whole-school approach to Growth Mindsets. It’s an approach that doesn’t involve catchphrases or slogans. It requires leadership rather than posters. The approach I advocate involves developing a Growth Mindset Style Guide for your school and supporting teachers in developing their own more growth-oriented Mindsets.

Continue reading “Leading Growth Mindsets: Setting Up for Success.”

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