5 steps to achieving a growth mindset culture in maths

Maths was a poor relation to literacy in this school before it turned to growth mindset, says head Jacqui McBurnie

Jacqui McBurnie

5 steps to achieving a growth mindset culture in maths

Back in early 2019, I noticed that a number of my staff lacked confidence in teaching maths, which was, in turn, affecting how well our learners engaged in the subject.

Our school had recently achieved a major national award for literacy. This was great, but it led me to the conviction that maths had become a poor relation to literacy and that we had to do something about it.

Our council introduced us to a professional learning programme where the Winning Scotland Foundation focused on a "growth mindset" culture in maths. We jumped at the chance.

The power of growth mindset in maths

Fast-forward 18 months, and where are we now? Here are the five key steps that made our journey a successful one:

1. Flexible learning

We used an online platform which meant we could work through the course when and where we wished. Initially, we made time on Mondays to do the training, but when lockdown happened we just switched to training at home.


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2. Whole-school approach 

Because 19 of my staff took the training, there was a constant stream of discussion, in school and online. This whole-school dialogue led us to a number of revelations, the most important of which was when we realised that we were still teaching maths the way we were taught it. Our fear-of-failure hangover from our own school days was having an impact on how our own pupils were viewing the subject, and we set about changing our pedagogy immediately.

3. Change the culture

We supported pupils to persevere when they found something difficult, to be resilient when they made mistakes, and to focus more on the process rather than getting the right answer. This changed the culture around maths. Now, when children make a mistake, they celebrate mistakes and keep trying, because they know they are learning and "exercising their brains".

4. Reset expectations

Another staffroom debate about how we sometimes treated certain children differently led us to make yet another significant change. When children from very disadvantaged backgrounds turned up to school, we used to wrap them in cotton wool and expected very little of them. But we soon realised that, in trying to be kind, we were being unfair, and that we needed to set the same expectations for all children. They were all here to learn.

5. Cross-curricular culture

One of the benefits of the whole team taking part was that these changes quickly permeated all of our teaching culture. Having recognised that the effort they were applying was having a positive effect, the pupils started making links to their prior learning in other subjects. For example in PE, when they’re running outside and getting tired, we hear them say "keep trying". They’ll persevere and see if they can improve.

We are yet to learn if the change in our own and our learners’ mindsets will have an impact on attainment within maths, but our learners are certainly more motivated and willing to have a go. We staff, meanwhile, will continue to learn ourselves – and work to empower our learners with a growth mindset day after day, year after year.

Jacqui McBurnie is the headteacher of St Anthony’s Primary School in Johnstone, Renfrewshire. You can learn more about St Anthony’s’ growth mindset experience by watching this video and reading this case study.

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Jacqui McBurnie

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