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‘Growth Mindset’: explained

Are these the 2 most important words in education? Find out what this phrase actually means for your kids...

If I had a pound for every time I heard the phrase ‘growth mindset’ I’d have…well enough to buy this season’s Hush trainers with stars that I’ve been hankering after all month for starters. But what the devil does it actually mean? Julie Lodrick (above), Headmistress at the all-girls Kent College, Pembury, (see my review of the school) has gamely stepped up to the challenge of explaining what it means for your child…

Q: I keep hearing the phrase ‘growth mindset’ – can you explain what it actually means? 

A mindset is a belief about who you think you are and will include different qualities such as ability, faith, personality and talents. People tend to have either a fixed or growth mindset. If an individual has a fixed mindset, they will tend to believe that qualities such as intelligence are unchangeable and will not alter massively over a person’s life time. On the other hand, if an individual has a growth mindset they will believe that qualities can grow over time and will blossom.

Q: So someone who thinks that intelligence or skill is something we’re just born with and cannot change has a ‘fixed mindset’ and someone who thinks our performance at school and in life can be changed by our attitude has a ‘growth mindset’. Right? 

Absolutely. The key is that having a growth mindset is very much to do with how you approach a situation or challenge. For example, if someone decides to learn an instrument, and their first lesson is disastrous, they may then think that they simple cannot do it and should give up – this is a fixed mindset. However, if after the terrible lesson, the person leaves asking themselves what they need to do to improve the following week, this is an example of a growth mindset. A great acronym we use at school is FAIL – First Attempt In Learning. Just because you have not mastered something immediately, does not mean that you cannot, it just means you haven’t yet.

Q: You mean, how much a child actually believes they can improve can actually affect the outcome? 

Absolutely, as teachers, the key is to ensure that our feedback is consistent and that it is constructive, giving our pupils advice on how they can pursue their goals. I am sure that we can all think back to that one teacher who really believed in us and pushed us to gain results we first thought were not possible – that is growth mindset.

Q: This sounds like it is all linked quite heavily with a child’s self-esteem? 

Self-esteem certainly plays a part in how pupils are open to new challenges and therefore how they approach their learning.

Q: So resilience is important too? 

100%. As a school we ensure that the girls’ self-esteem is nurtured every day and also through annual events such as our Resilience Day. The interaction teachers have with the pupils in the classroom, and the encouragement they receive to aim to be the best version of themselves, helps them to realise their potential.

Q: So should we be telling our kids they’re brilliant all the time then? 

Carol Dweck would say no, but before you worry that this means we can never again say positive things to our children, let me explain. Dweck says that if you praise a child for doing something but do not build upon that feedback, you could be leading that child towards having a fixed mindset. For example, if a pupil hands me an essay that she has written about Plato’s Cave, it reads beautifully, her knowledge, understanding, analysis and evaluation are all detailed and effective in answering the question, I would be doing the pupil a disservice if my feedback was simply ‘excellent’ or ‘good work’. It is our duty as educators to ensure that the pupil is given the guidance and opportunity to delve even further into her learning and give her the tools to have a genuine love of it through this.

How do you apply this at Kent College?

Our school is unique in providing girls with a personalised and bespoke education, rooted in the concept that intelligence is not fixed, but can be grown. This is the basis of everything we do and teach. And it works.

KC’s is holding an Open Morning on Sat 30 Sept.  It is a day of codebreaking and adventure and a great introduction to life at Kent College.  The day will include tours of the school’s outstanding facilities and beautiful grounds, as well as meet teachers and pupils. The whole family is invited, so please bring brothers and grandparents. Early booking is essential, as places are limited. Book here on: kent-college.co.uk

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