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The Fixed Mindset – Catch 22? November 24, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Musings, research.
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When Jo Baker asked:

my interest was immediately piqued. Carole Dweck’s work on Mindsets1 and the implications for learners has been around for a while now and seems to be gaining some traction, however most discussions seem to explore the issues (understandably) in the context of our students. But what about us? With what mindset do we come to work in the morning?

fixed mindset

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Doug Belshaw: http://flickr.com/photos/dougbelshaw/4046412163/

After punting through the backwaters of the Interwebs, it’s clear that this is a much less discussed area. If you want to explore what people are posting about how an awareness of mindsets is working with their students or reflecting on how mindset initiatives are influencing their schools, then you’ve more than enough to shake a couple of sticks at. On the other hand, articles, let alone research, on the effects of teachers employing a particular mindset with respect to their own learning, are much more rare. The most common topics explore the detrimental effects a teacher with a fixed mindset can have on the learning of their students

People with a growth mind-set don’t put people in categories and expect them to stay there, but people with a fixed mind-set do. … For the educator with a fixed mind-set, learning is the students’ responsibility. If students don’t have what it takes, so be it. (Carole Dweck)

I’ve heard so many teachers over the years categorise students in this way, but wonder whether they’re stuck in a fixed mindset themselves, or are simply conferring that misfortune on their students? I’d have to disagree with Carole to some extent and say that surely learning is indeed to some degree the students’ responsibility? However it is of course incumbent on us to ensure that we provide conditions within which learning is valued and enjoyable; we need to support, guide, stimulate and encourage that learning. I wonder if that’s not possible if you have a fixed mindset?

Mike Goldstein spotted another area where teacher mindset often becomes manifest; that of performance management and the review process:

 … faced with critical feedback, we all sometimes become defensive, and revert to fixed mindset. … Our teacher residency half-jokingly describes these defensive reactions as “The Four Horsemen of Fixed Mindset.” These are “types of reactions” that the skilled teachers (coaches) sometimes get from trainees (on the receiving end of feedback).

It’s tough listening to feedback, especially where that feedback, however well-phrased, is critical … at least it is when you have a fixed mindset. Approaching a review with a growth mindset is a much less intimidating prospect since you will be viewing it as an opportunity to learn about your performance with a view to improving. As ‘The Contextual Curriculum‘ puts it:

People with fixed minds don’t react well to failure and don’t see the point of practice, studying, or attempts at self-improvement.

Here we begin to see a richer seam on which a mindset view can shed some light; that of professional development. Jackie Gerstein outlined some of the typical responses from teachers asked to engage in a process of growth: “not enough time, insufficient resources, need training, have a curriculum to deliver,” and recognised:

But these are external obstacles whereby the educator places blame for resisting change or engaging in a growth mindset outside of one’s own responsibility. The result is a fixed mindset of learned helplessness, “I cannot change because the system won’t let me change.” (Jackie Gerstein)

And Jackie goes on to explore this further as arising from a sense in which teachers feel a loss of agency and autonomy, but that adopting a growth mindset can begin the process of renewal.

Given my role in school, it will come as no surprise to learn that I share Ewan McIntosh’s view:

This fixed mindset mentality is, I believe, probably at its most unashamedly visible in the teaching population in one specific area: understanding technology, both in terms of the clicks (how to) and the smarts (why to).

When we begin to dig a little deeper in people’s attitudes to the use of technology, perhaps their mindset reveals itself. Are those who we would traditionally label as ‘resistant to change,’ simply encumbered with a fixed mindset, whereas those who are continually seeking new approaches doing so from a growth standpoint? Are those who claim to be ‘no good with computers’ stuck in a fixed mindset which prevents them taking responsibility for their own progress? It’s out of their hands; they just don’t have that aptitude. Contrast that with someone with a growth mindset who is constantly ferreting around for new ways to do things, resilient in the face of setbacks and adept at finding solutions to the problems they face. That said, perhaps we who work with teachers don’t always help, especially if there are people with a fixed mindset in the room. I’m grateful to Kelly Etheridge for bringing one of my shortcomings to the surface:

I was the “Pollyanna cheerleader” who often began sessions by saying, “This is going to be super easy, and you are going to get the hang of this in no time!” While I was trying to be encouraging, the fixed mindset teacher heard, “If you don’t get this quickly, you aren’t smart and you’ll never be able to do things like this.” … My words of encouragement were actually disheartening to anyone in the room with a fixed mindset. Thanks to Mindset, I reframed my discussions when I work with teachers. Now, when introducing a new concept, skill, or program, I explain, “The more we practice this skill (concept, program) the better we will get at it. Trying and messing up is part of the process, …

Guilty as charged your honour, but hopefully I can bring a growth mindset to bear, accept that I have some improving to do and ensure that I don’t make that mistake next time. I wonder how often in trying to encourage a student who had come for help with their Physics, I said something along the lines of “Don’t worry, this is easy …?” Hopefully the damage wasn’t too severe; if they had made the decision to come and seek help, their growth mindset might have shielded them from my ignorance (I hope!).

In conclusion and to return to teacher mindsets rather than students, I have a worry about those with fixed mindsets, especially where their personal development is concerned. When confronted by some of the fixed mindset traits outlined in the blog posts and articles referenced here, would a fixed mindset teacher be in a position to recognise any shortcomings and set about rectifying them, or does their fixed mindset constitute a self-fulfilling prophecy?

1Dweck, C.S., 2006. Mindset: the new psychology of success. Random House, New York

“Craft of the Classroom” – 40 tips to help you manage your classroom effectively June 17, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Reading, Teaching Idea.
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The Craft of the Classroom

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/7388684206/

A number of years ago (unfortunately where n>30) as I was awaiting the start of my PGCE, I opted to read one of the pre-course texts. It left a lasting impression on me and despite being a slim volume, became my touchstone as I worked through teacher training and the first few years as a newly qualified teacher. Michael Marland’s “The Craft of the Classroom” provides advice on strategies, techniques and resources for managing a classroom. In some ways dated (e.g. use of the overhead projector), even in the 1993 reprint, the advice nevertheless remains in many ways timeless. The book isn’t about learning theories and pedagogy, progression and performance, assessment and reporting; it’s about how to manage delicate balance of interactions between the teacher, students, resources and the classroom environment itself.

I revisited the book recently following a tweet asking for educational books which made an impact on us. Unable to track down my original, for a few pence on Amazon I picked up a used copy and pulled out forty points, each of which is expanded in greater detail in the book – you could do worse than to pick up a copy for the teachers’ reading shelf in school … which is where mine will now reside.


  • Be yourself
  • Learn your students’ names … quickly!
  • Use ‘duty’ time positively and proactively.
  • Aim to develop relationships with your students over the course of weeks, not minutes
  • Get involved in extra-curricular activities
  • Be consistent in all you do.
  • Praise publicly (when appropriate), privately (when appropriate) and via significant others (form tutor, pastoral leader, parents)
  • Avoid confrontations
  • Use humour when opportunities arise naturally.

Classroom Environment

  • Ensure your classroom (or the one you have just used) is left clean and tidy.
  • Report (and follow up) maintenance issues early.
  • Use display areas imaginatively and keep them fresh.
  • Think carefully about the position of the teachers desk to maximse your ability to orchestrate the classroom.
  • Consider how students’ desks should be arranged (but be aware that others may use the room after you)
  • Where students sit should be decided by you … though different groups may require different approaches
  • Make a seating plan … and use it proactively.

Records & registers

Your markbook (which might be digital) should record:

  • The students for whom you are responsible
  • Their attendance and punctuality
  • The work they undertook
  • Comments/notes about your students

and will help you in many ways including:

  • keeping track of student progress
  • writing interim and summative reports
  • communicating with parents

Conventions and routines

  • Whenever possible, be in the room first and receive the class proactively
  • Use your greeting to set the tone of the lesson
  • Consider carefully how you will accommodate late arrivals
  • Have a starter activity that students can undertake to start the lesson meaningfully, whilst initial business is completed (register etc)
  • Develop an ‘oversight’ through which you maintain a general awareness of everything taking place, especially when you are notionally involved in a 1-2-1.
  • Plan the last five minutes of the lesson meticulously to ensure a businesslike and timely close.
  • Develop an efficient system for collecting in and handing out work. Use other students where possible. (Seating plans can be very useful here)
  • Be systematic in the issuing and collecting of resources.
  • Follow school procedures for allowing students out of the room during lesson time
  • If the noise level becomes inappropriate for the task, address it through individual students rather than general exhortations to the class.
  • As you circulate around the room talking with students/groups, be aware of your position and field of view.
  • Where group work is called for consider carefully the composition of the groups – different curriculum aims and different students will require different arrangements.

The teacher’s performance

  • Consider your appearance and image you portray.
  • If you need to speak to the whole class, ensure everyone listens and hears. If the everyone doesn’t need to hear, don’t say it.
  • Position yourself in the room wisely.
  • Don’t speak until you have everyone’s complete attention.
  • The old adage ‘Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them’ still has much merit.
  • When delivering instructions, be clear and firm, but pleasant, ensuring the instructions are slanted positively i.e. ‘Do’ rather than ‘Don’t.’
  • Using a board (white, black or interactive) requires forethought – why, what, when and how and where you are in relation to it.

There are also sections on Questioning techniques and lesson planning, neither of which I could adequately do justice to in a short phrase … another reason to acquire your own copy perhaps?

Though Michael left us in 2008, he also left behind a ‘bible’ or as he describes it, a ‘Survival Guide.’

#tmsheff10 . . . musings November 12, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Inspiration, Resources.
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TeachMeet Sheffield

Another excellent TeachMeet, made all the more special by it being on ‘home turf’ and another step forward in my Teachmeet experiences. Once again it’s energising to enjoy the passion of innovative educators who care deeply about the learning of their pupils; deeply enough to give up a few precious hours during a busy week to share their excitement with others. It’s sorely tempting at this point to celebrate the wealth of ideas the presenters provided us with by listing them individually; after all they deserve much credit for taking the time to prepare their presos and overcoming any stage fright (although the latter wasn’t the case for all … you know who I’m talking about Dr H.!). But there’s no point when you can watch and enjoy it all on the UStream archive. Or you can check out the summary @catherinelliott is producing.

I could tell you about all the resources our presenters guided us towards, but they’ll surface through the CLC blog shortly. (Or if you’re in a hurry to get stuck into some stuff, a million and one links from @Ideas_Factory should keep you busy for a while!

I could write about one of the most important aspects of the event being how you reinforce the ‘virtual’ connections forged in the Twittersphere with the opportunity to talk with and shake the hands of those you respect and from whom you learn.

I’m tempted to describe how I feel following a TeachMeet, but hey I’ve been there already! And here is some brief feedback from colleagues new to the profession and to TeachMeets.

Perhaps instead I can reflect on how this event was so different from those I’ve experienced before . . . though to be fair, they in turn were all quite, quite different from each other. For me this one was about new faces. New faces ‘on the stage’ and new faces in the audience. Some were faces new to the teaching profession, either undertaking their PGCE or in their NQT year, whilst others, though new to TeachMeets, were further on in their careers. It didn’t matter where on that continuum each person is located, they all shared a common enthusiasm. I’ve mused before on more than one occasion about how we spread that enthusiasm more widely and seek to enthuse an even broader church. #tmsheff10 went some way towards that. Perhaps it was the NQT focus? Perhaps we’re just so far off the beaten track … geographically speaking! I guess it doesn’t really matter how, only that the community becomes richer with each new connection made. So welcome to all who attended their first of what will hopefully be many returns to TeachMeets . . . perhaps as presenters next time?

Sometimes, Twit happens October 20, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Tools.
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Following on from my previous post, I thought it was time to broach a subject I’ve been skirting for a while – how powerful social networking tools can be for teachers’ professional development . . . especially those like my colleague, who maybe isolated in small departments or small schools.  So why haven’t I tackled social networking tools earlier?  Well actually I have . . . but it has to be said, not with the greatest success!

My Delicious homepage

My Delicious homepage

My starting point was with a group of departmental reps., one from  each of the curriculum areas.  We meet once a term to open channels of communication and share interesting practice.  I began with Delicious, a social bookmarking tool I’ve found to be incredibly powerful and easy to use.  We all save links thought I, and given how easy it is to share those online, have anytime access no matter what computer you’re working at, this was going to be an easy sell.  Errr, no.  When I followed up a few weeks later to check on how the group was progressing, I had failed to account for one small factor.  Actually most of the folks don’t save links in a systemmatic way – if they find a resource theywant to pass on to a class, they embed the link with the other support materials they’re providing or . . .  and this one really foxed me . . . they just Googled for the resource they were after, in much the same way they did when they first found it!  I’d made the schoolboy error of thinking what was to me a blindingly obvious more efficient and effective way of working, was only so because of the way I work and the way I see things.

Source: Matt Hamm on Flickr

Source: Matt Hamm on Flickr

So I was a bit reticent about getting burn’t again . . . but hey, it goes with the territory, so it was time to dip the toe back in the water.  This time the prompt was to offer possible ways that isolated teachers can access a wider support network using social networking tools i.e. start up their professional learning network.  My weapon of choice – Twitter, another tool which has been a revelation to me and one I’d now find it hard to live without.  Back to the same group of ICT Reps then and slowly, slowly . . . let’s begin by looking at how a carefully chosen community in Twitter can begin to provide a wonderful support network.  With the ‘lack of time’ reaction likely to raise its head as it invariably does, I was careful to explain how this is a stream into which we can dip, as and when we choose.  It’s a bit like Pooh Sticks – you lean over the bridge and watch the flow go by.  Occasionally there’s not much of interest, sometimes a few twigs and sticks and leaves which you just watch float past, but often there are intriguing little paper boats that catch your eye. So you pick one out and check it a little more carefully; it might have an interesting message on – they’re the ‘keepers.’  When you’re a little more comfortable, you might start dropping your boats into the flow for others to find downstream.

OK so that metaphor’s perhaps reached its elastic limit, but it was worth a shot and we’ll see whether folks follow it up.  But sometimes it’s the unexpected that really provides the reward and that came from a colleague in the English department, who wasn’t entirely convinced that Twitter might be able to help, but did spot that it would provide a really interesting opportunity for students to examine the ‘writing for a purpose and specific audience’ element of the curriculum. She’d seen the different ways that Tweeps express themselves through their Tweets, how they’re economical with language, the methods they use to squeeze their messages into the 140 characters and how you have to ‘tune in’ slightly to understand the flow.  If for no other reason than that discovery by one colleague, the session was worth it.