Growth mindsets: The pandemic has proved their power

The debate about growth mindsets will rumble on, but surely the pandemic has shown that framing teachers’ and pupils’ ability to learn new skills in the toughest conditions is a positive thing to do?

Tim Hawkins

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“Growth mindset” is a phrase that can elicit some strong opinions. To some it is the embodiment of common sense turned into psychology speak, to others it represents the pinnacle of how we should drive academic success in our pupils – and ourselves.

Whatever your point of view, though, the past 16 months have given the most powerful evidence possible that “growth mindsets” do exist and sum up the possibility of growth, achievement and success that pupils – and teachers – possess, whatever the circumstances.

You are the proof

Need convincing? Then think first about how you have dealt with your own workload over this pandemic.

Did you curl up into a ball and pretend you couldn’t work the internet, or did you – like me and every other educator out there – knuckle down to learn about Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Moodle, Kahoot, Zoom and a whole raft of other hitherto unexplored teaching tools?

And have you, like me, retained many of these innovations in the classroom now that face-to-face learning has become the trend again?

Using my webcam to mark? Why not. Now, instead of cramping my wrist marking 20 Year 11 essays in one go, I can record my thoughts and upload detailed, highly personal next steps to a secure student area in a fraction of the time.

We can all learn new skills

Don’t tell me that “you don’t get technology” – I’ve heard that for decades in every school I’ve ever worked in. But it’s clear now that everyone can learn how to use new tools, skills and expertise, which is just as it should be – after all, isn’t that what we expect our students to do when we tell them to “embrace challenge”, “don’t worry about getting it wrong, just try” and “show a little confidence”?

This is exactly the sort of growth mindset we should be applying to our own professional practice – something the pandemic has forced us to do – by being resilient, adaptable and showing the best combination of grit and determination we have to offer.

It’s not been easy, of course. Days have been long, directives ever-changing and lockdowns endless, but that’s half the point – we have succeeded despite all this.

Remember the positives 

So, if we fail to take away the positives from all this then we are selling ourselves, and our pupils, short, which would be a travesty, given how much they have achieved over the pandemic, too.

For my key stage 3 lessons, it’s been the pupils who have been leading the way as I’ve looked to embrace the changes forced upon us by closure.

Typical end-of-unit assessments in reading and writing have been replaced with more holistic approaches: uploading vlogs, producing online reviews of texts, using computer-aided design to create persuasive advertising texts.

Pupils have adapted, innovated, experimented and achieved more than they probably ever thought possible.

Again, this has not been easy for them: hours spent in front of an online classroom talking to non-responsive icons, which may or may not be listening, is far from ideal.

Let's remember everything we achieved 

But we should make sure we remind pupils that, despite all of this, they have adapted to the toughest challenge we could have imagined and learned heaps in doing so.

We should remind them of this the next time they claim they “don’t understand” or “can’t do it” – they are resilient, capable learners and, if they can cope with the demands of a pandemic, they can learn whatever else we throw at them from our curricula.

So let’s put the debate about growth mindset as a concept to bed and see it for what it is – a positive way of framing the fact that we can all learn new skills, adapt and thrive, whatever the circumstances. That’s something we can surely all get behind.

Tim Hawkins is head of English at an international school in the Middle East

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Tim Hawkins

Tim Hawkins is head of English at an international school in the Middle East

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