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Carol Dweck vs Carol Decker? For most teachers 'China in Your Hand' wins every time

The messages from 80s' pop bands like T’Pau and A-ha resonate more strongly in the staffroom than any amount of growth mindset, writes one head of department

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The messages from 80s' pop bands like T’Pau and A-ha resonate more strongly in the staffroom than any amount of growth mindset, writes one head of department

As Bananarama assert repeatedly, in one of their most important works, “it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it”.  Typically sound advice for just about everyone from the recently resuscitated pop trio: but for teachers in particular.

Bananarama are arguing that there’s no point in our passively just “doing” the job. There’s no joy in that for anyone. Teaching has to be about making it ours, making it come alive, “letting our jive swing” – “that’s what gets results”. Even the head of the Sutton Trust agrees that this is fine advice for teachers.

This just about nails it for me, particularly as the lyrics also include an all-important “take it easy” caveat. So I am delighted that these three sages from the stage are currently back together and on tour – a chance to pay homage again to these pioneers in life-management. I know a good many teachers who are doing exactly that. The three of them were once our "Venus", our "Fire" and our "Desire" – though it's so many years ago now that I can't fully remember which one was which.   

They are not the only yesteryear performers to be really saying something to teachers at the moment. Countless other stars from the past century are back on the circuit again in some shape or form – and there are growing numbers of nostalgia-loving teachers forming their own mobile mosh-pits and heading off to see them. It may mean the occasional daredevil late night during the middle of the school week (all part of the fun of it), yet the contribution to morale and to CPD is utterly immeasurable. Even the greatest of educators can learn some lessons from this.

A-ha, the way to win teachers' hearts and minds

No disrespect to Carol Dweck, for instance, but Carol Decker is causing a far greater stir our staffroom at the moment. She and her band T’Pau are back on the road again, celebrating 30 years since China in Your Hand was at Number 1. In fact, Decker’s famously elliptical song fires a vicious broadside at Dweck’s growth mindset. Compare and contrast Decker’s: “Don't push too far/ your dreams are China in your hand... You don't know what you might have set upon yourself…” with Dweck’s: “You have to work hardest for the things you love most.” It doesn’t matter who is right there. The essential point is that Decker’s lines are lodged inside far more teachers' heads. 

It’s a similarly brutal truth when we compare Hattie with Harkett. What chance does the esteemed John Hattie have of getting Visible Learning into the hearts and minds of teachers when we reflect on the knee-trembling impact on many a colleague when Morten Harket and A-ha return to the UK next year? “Take on me, Hattie! The sun always shines on TV!” And it’s clearly the same sorry tale when we put Dylan Wiliam alongside Bob Dylan, or even when we place Bill Rogers next to Kenny Rogers.

So for the likes of the brilliant Dweck, Hattie, Rogers and Wiliam, their collective aim must surely be to find a better way of reaching a critical mass of teachers. Their best hope, it seems obvious, is to form a four-piece musical group and to hop on to the touring bandwagon. It’s not too late for any of them to learn instruments and achieve success – what with growth mindset and all that. They might be a bit too young, that’s the only thing.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire. For more from Stephen, see his back catalogue

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