I’ve finished reading Carol Dweck’s seminal book, Mindsets. Dweck dedicates half of Chapter 7 to exploring what makes a great teacher.  It’s powerful reading because it illustrates how pervasive the messages students receive in classrooms are in reinforcing ‘fixed’ mindsets about intelligence.  Dweck writes “great teachers believe in the growth of intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning.”Woody all Tied Up

John Hattie makes reference to Dweck in his work and expands on the notion of mindsets, which should underpin all decision making at schools.  In Visible Learning for Teachers, Hattie presents eight for teachers/leaders.

Dweck admits that teachers who have fixed mindsets create ‘an atmosphere of judging’ – they decide very early on who is worth the effort and who isn’t.  Growth-minded teachers enable students to reach high standards by identifying strategies and giving feedback.  It is a continuous challenge-feedback-learning loop in action.

Dweck astutely captures what great teachers do – they see teaching as a way to learn about themselves, their students, the world.  She concedes that fixed minded teachers see themselves as ‘finished products’ whose role is simply to impart knowledge.  One is focused on learning, the other on teaching.

Hattie expands on this in Mind Frame #3.  He says in relation to professional development, the focus “should be about the impact of our teaching. And while you could argue that this mind frame is a bit strong because of the emphasis I place on learning rather than on teaching – this might suggest we should have learning colleges, not teachers colleges.  I want to get away from debates we have about teaching.  Not because teaching isn’t important – it’s too strong to say it’s not, of course – but it’s wrong for it to be the one and only focus.”

After reading Dweck and Hattie, I am even more convinced that the industrial model of schooling (and teaching) is based on a fixed mindset.  Everything is planned, packaged and pre-judged.  There is no space for just in time learning and or improvised teaching.   Hattie says we adopt this teacher-centred stance because of what we’ve been taught – create a lesson, plan an activity. This model unfortunately perpetuates the fixed mindset about student intelligence and learning.  In theory, a contemporary student-centred model of schooling should be rooted in the growth mindset.  And that requires growth-minded teachers and leaders.

Hattie admits that we don’t ask teachers to come into the profession because they are expert problem solvers or apt at improvising, we ask them to teach because they are ‘willing to adopt a traditional mode of teaching. It requires them to have a particular way of thinking about what their job is, and this perspective can actually diminish improvisation and ingenuity.”

The big question is how do we change teachers’ mindsets?  How do we move from fixed to growth, from sages to activators?

What Dweck’s research shows is that it is possible to think differently and when we think differently about our students, we are in a stronger position to teach differently.  To quote Hattie, “teachers’ beliefs and commitments are the greatest influence on student achievement over which we can have some control.”

11 thoughts on “Mindsets

  1. Hi Greg I just want to add my voice to the undoubted cacophony of thanks and respect for your writing. I wish I had known your work when I was still teaching. Kind regards

  2. Love the post…How do we move from the fixed mindset of seat time, industrial model, from teacher-centric to learner-centric…..

    1. Sam, I think we do it by building a new narrative that has rigour in both theory and practice. this provides the framework for innovation. This is the heart of the challenge. Where is it being done and done well so we can alll learn how to do it.
      The first thing to do is to challenge the norms of contemporary models of schooling.

  3. Hi Greg,
    “I taught it, but they didn’t learn it!” sums up the fixed-minded teacher.
    The challenge is then how to break a cycle that is not just perpetuated by tertiary institutions and schools but also society and the media! The process of “letting go” is a situation that many teachers would find extremely destabilising not to mention parents, unions and the media. In the history of education, the current industrial model of traditional teacher and student, is a relative new-comer. Socrates, some 2400 years earlier, favoured inquiry and discussion between individuals to stimulate critical thinking. This method produced Plato and Xenophon amongst others! Makes me think that we need a ‘back to the future’ approach. The answer as to how we do this is simply: “One day at a time” or maybe “One teacher at a time”

  4. Changing Mindsets: My professional life as an educator has been about dismantling and disrupting the industrial model so ingrained in people’s minds as the ‘way’ to learn.’ When you have been taught in silos you continue to build silos. Unlearning is far more difficult than learning. When I created Lathner Primary,a virtual school, I did so because I was desperate for pre-service teachers to experience, albeit virtually, a school where teachers were working to shift mindsets and beginning to see learning differently. The pre-service teachers have a placement in this virtual school and many are uncomfortable there, disturbed by not being able to find their way, filled with uncertainty about their role.

    Often their placements in actual schools, reinforce their comfortable existing mindsets. Even though they may be teaching in new environments with open areas and couches, team teaching and allowing greater student autonomy and using more technological resources this ‘newness’ still masks the underbelly of the conveyor belt moving from one subject to the next, ability grouping, testing knowledge rather than thinking…It has been a struggle but it is a struggle worth fighting.

  5. You get right to the heart of the matter. The change we seek is a change in pedagogy not in the enablers. Frameworks for constructing learning opportunities rather than implementation of set curriculum which engage teachers in collaboration builds their capacity as well as engaging students more directly in the process.

  6. Thank you Greg for your inspirational words and innovative wisdom. Your posts are invaluable and extremely motivating. I truly believe we can change our mindset through passion, wisdom and learning. I am grateful for being kept informed. Looking forward to the next instalment.

  7. Start with the students! I sometimes worry that we do not place enough emphasis on understanding the brain and having students develop deep knowledge about “how they learn”, and what works for them (It would be an excellent unit of study in Stage 2, 3 or Stage 4). Recently our Stage 3 students explored the latest research and our understanding of the brain, and saw the potential of a growth mindset. We listened to Carol via a Youtube clip and discussed fixed and growth mindsets with the students, seeing that with a growth mindset they can do anything, learn anything and be anything. It was very empowering. I also had the opportunity to hear Carol Dweck last year along with the staff from another school. I was impressed that there was an evening session planned for parents and students (this school has a growth mindset when it comes to whom they see is involved in the learning). It is still a struggle in all schools, including ours but we do have a way forward based on keeping the student at the centre, relevant and recent brain research, and our understanding on what makes good learning and teaching.

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