Mindset Next Steps

The previous mindset day I spent at Carol Dweck and Susan Mackie is captured in this previous post; however, the purpose of this post is to emphasis the follow up and next steps arising from this day.

Firstly, presenting this material in Dean’s Assembly. The science of character video that preempted the day provides a fantastic core for this. It offers an accessible way into the argument that we can change and grow, asking “who do you want to be?”

This can work alongside an introduction to the growth mindset and a general discussion about failure. The Michael Jordan clip provices a way in for this:

The next area of follow up focus is my language in the classroom. This includes:

  • Using “what are you struggling with?” as a approach to conversation rather than “how are you going?” or equivalent. I wonder whether this is quite a negative framework to apply – however, in a space where failure is de-stigmatised this type of approach is not focused on negativity, it is focused on growth.
  • Which leads to the familiar emphasis of Carol Dweck on praising the process. I’ve written on this before in regards to active learning, where there is a challenge around focusing on the process instead of the content or the outcome.
  • And another familiar Dweck emphasis: using “yet”. By using “yet” or “not yet” in feedback, the focus is on growth and process. Not achieved is not a finale, but not achieved yet shifts the focus to something that is ongoing, a process by which the students can grow and develop from. This supports embedding the idea with the student that they can learn and they can improve.

And finally, I need to make errors. Modelling the error correction process is an important part of shifting to a growth culture. Letting students see this happen and being open to conversations around it help to emphasis a growth environment.


Active learning Showcase Reflection

The Active Learning Showcase was a fabulous occasion, truly putting learners at the centre. It saw about 100 students in the hall to present and showcase their learning in conversations with mainly adults who were circulating around.

The open invitation to work the room and talk with students offered an opportunity to deeply reflect on how to approach learning conversations with students. I found that students with interesting content would draw content focused questions from me, and it would take significant effort to sometimes steer this conversation into the process. There was so much value in this for the students involved as the conversations were so empowering and the growth across the two hours was visible in many instances.

In terms of Professional Learning, I feel that one of the biggest gains of the showcase was through the decision to make it compulsory for all staff to attend. This forced staff to engage with the underlying learning purpose of active learning and any cynicism was immediately challenged by the voices of the students. It was visible during the two hours that teachers were active in talking to akonga. This must have been a challenge for many who enjoy the safety of a desk as a barrier. But the throw them in the deep end approach was a valuable experience for at the least the opportunity to circulate among learners in an innovative learning environment.

There is deeper reflection to come about the process as a whole. It is a complex journey to unpack. But it’s great to record this positive buzz!

Growth Mindset Workshop – Carol Dweck and Susan Mackie

The workshop was to explore your own mindset triggers and learn how to respond to the everyday challenges and demands to help us become the people we want to be. Prior to the workshop we were asked to complete some pre-readings/pre-viewings:

I want to be… someone who inspires others to aim for the sky and strive to be the best that they can be.

Success in life is about learning, constantly learning, finding hard things sticking to them. It’s also about finding the joy in learning. I was struck by how often the word ‘joy’ came up across the day. That is a powerful word that should be turning up more in my classroom. BUT many things that we do are turning people into non learners – we put emphasis on talent, on who is gifted and who is not. We create children that have to be infallible. This is the enemy of learning. If children think they can be infallible, they limit themselves so that they can be perfect.

How do we bring back the zest for learning?

Brain Plasticity – neuroscience shows us the tremendous plasticity of our brains – they can transform through learning. There is a lot of evidence that mindsets work and mindsets matter.

There was a section that was focused on the idea of an organisation and how there are fixed and growth cultures. A fixed setting is likely to believe in – and judge – fixed abilities. It will have a competitive culture where staff will try to be between that one another and therefore little or no collaboration. Meanwhile a growth focused organisation will support creativity, innovation and foster teamwork. Teachers being excited to go to work. Brainstorm together, feeling free to innovate, trying things, to go to others with problems and not be judged.


  • Deep fear of failure in Y11. The need to experience some success before the mindset can grow
  • Brain Training vs growth mindset – the picture of neurons in your brain making connections.
  • Brainology essential to study skills – study skills in isolation is not ok.
  • Grades in Math (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, Dweck, 2007) said one student: “You mean I don’t have to be dumb”


  • False Mindset  – of course one will always say that they have a growth mindset
  • It’s a normal thing to make a mistake, it’s a wonderful thing to learn from a mistake.
  • We must have a deep belief that everyone can raise their abilities
  • Tie the process they engaged in and connect it to their learning
  • How to raise kids with grit
  • Effort is one route to learning and improvement
  • Someone that says: “I have a growth mindset in all areas” – is a clear sign that they have a fixed mindset

Fixed mindset triggers

The following for triggers are common for switching our approaches back into a fixed mold. The slides suggest the different ways of  dealing with each of these triggers. The triggers can trap you in the fixed mindset – be aware of them and those behaviours.

1. Stepping out of our comfort zones.


2. High effort


3. Setbacks


4. Feedback



Changing your mindset

“I’ve told you a 100 times”

“Yeah, and how’s that working for you”

  • The power of “yet” or “not yet”
  • Legitimize the fixed mindset and acknowledge that we’re all a mixture

Name and claim your fixed mindset persona. Get to know it:

  • When does it show up?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • How does it affect your behaviour? Your relationships? Your goals?
  • Over time, learn to work with it

Fixed mindset persona: Joking Jerome – a persona I use to protect myself sometimes. Occasionally I rely on humour to navigate tough situations. This occurs a lot outside of school mainly, but my joking and sarcastic nature can be used as a defense at times and might prevent deep reflection and growth from a given opportunity. (True words said in jest?)

How to raise kids with grit

  • Mindfulness and mindset are related
  • The need to explore your own mental models, what you think about your learning and others learning: you show it.
  • Have an assembly about failure.
  • “Finland doesn’t teach to the test, they teach joyful effective learning
  • Nothing can tell you how smart you are and how smart you will be when you grow up. A test/assessment measures what you know now, and it will show you what you need to work on going forward.
  • The interplay between adult and child’s mindset – teachers and adults matter.

Fixed mindset triggers

  • A student struggling or confused
  • A student not listening to your lesson
  • A student with high or low test scores

There is compassion when you understand that all students have some degree of pain or fear behind their behaviour. These behaviours can all be addressed with a growth mindset. This involves working with the student and supporting them – and not putting them in a fixed mindset box. The growth mindset is part of the meta-curriculum.

  • The fishbowl – activity of coaching through some teachers when faced with this kind of conversation.
  • The conversation around assessments could be examined. How do we manage students fears and emotions through assessment?

Advice for a students in a fixed mindset?

  • See it as a challenge
  • What do you need to …?
  • Restorative questions – what’s happening/happened?
  • Look for the positive strategies and adapt them for a different context.
  • Peer to peer conection
  • Saying more effort is needed can alienate a student. They need to connect the effort with better outcomes/understanding.
  • Look up your heroes – they always find without fail that their heroes had to try really hard and had to overcome challenges.
  • Use the personas that make you afraid of risk. Something that is common and accessible.

Transmitting mindsets in the classroom

  • What can teachers do?
  • Studies showing that adults are not passing on growth mindsets
  • Rushing in and not letting the students fail
  • When students succeed – praise the process. Tie it to learning, progress.
  • When children struggle or fail – focus on the process. Talk about fabulous struggles.
  • Ask: What are you struggling with now? 
  • Give out failure of the year award
  • Make errors. Modelling the error correction process.


Growth mindset necessary for students to find their way back to the world that needs them so much.

A Life-Span Perspective on Bullying

Earlier in the term I went along to Professor Vanessa Green’s inaugural lecture at Victoria University that tackled the issue of bullying which I feel is particularly pertinent to youth in educational settings. Green presented a range of points around the issue – and while the 45 minute format did not allow for any particular depth into the issue, there was a range of interesting points raised.

Bullying is a barrier to every human being having the right to fulfill their potential and develop a full set of social and emotional skills. The existence of bullying has historical been denied often making this area of research difficult. Defining bullying is problematic. There is debate around whether the use of the word ‘repeated’ should be included – one harmful incident is potentially damaging so does it really need to be repeated in order to be considered bullying. For instance, cyberbullying challenges the common definition, because one post containing defamation can be seen by a significant number of people and shared even further.

slide_25Espelage and Swearer have developed a social-ecological model of bullying among youth (explained further here). It suggests that the role of the parents is particularly vital, and some evidence suggests their advice can often be harmful (who is training them? Is this the responsibility of schools?). Other participants are then vital like peers and this is where the bystander effect comes into play. The more people that see the less likely we are to help. We are not taught how to intervene. This is the shift that Green proposes: a community response whereby we all accept responsibility for stopping bullying.

The bullying programme that Green advocates is KiVa, already being used successfully by a
small number of NZ schools. She detailed a number of promising aspects of this programme and argued that is should be widely used.

kiva_logo_registered_550x550-300x300Another angle Green took in terms of a community response was in suggesting that we need to work towards a zero tolerance of bullying through shifting to explicitly teaching positive peer relationships and how to interfere in situations that do not fit this. Bullying occurs because of an unequal power dynamic – if left to sort it out themselves, this will remain unequal. We need to believe in the capacity for change and develop our growth mindsets.

I found her final point fascinating, as Green expanded the discussion to draw on our global community. We have seen in recent years a whistle blowing trend which has challenged the balance of power. These global manifestations of power the subsequent bullying that occurs could be a different story if we are all equipped to participate in positive relationships and intervene when we recognise a relationship that it’s not.

Active Learning Stories


Students came to our professional learning session today to share their stories. Active learning is a project based student centred model of learning that the school has embraced this year for the first time. The launch was earlier in the year and here’s a post that captures some of what happened on day one. The students today shared their projects and jounryes including:

  • 3D Printing – how could we incorporate 3D printing into the curriculum at Newlands College?
  • Start a brewing company – what does it take? How do we do it?
  • Tackling Student Stress – building resources to help assist struggling students.
  • Automotive design – How have cars become more fuel efficient?
  • Starting a sign language class to help connect with the deaf students – A goal to add sign language to the curriculum in the future.


The learning that was evident in the stories that were shared was powerful. Particularly as the stories were student driven and from the students own passions and not guided by any need to gain credits. I found the learning interesting and the way the students had overcome problems and navigating their thinking in quite complex ways. During the session though I ended up focusing on what the staff response was, and the learning that needed to happen for the adults involved…

What was fascinating was how interesting it was to observe how they overwhelmingly responded to the content rather than the learning. As a result most of the questions were directed towards the topics raised and not about the learning journeys.

Another fascinating aspect was hearing questions from staff where the majority were leading questions. It was amazing how many times a teacher said “like,” “or” and examples that led the response. They often contained the answers for the students to pick from. Many responses were along the lines of “have you thought of…” or “one thing you could try…” It was fascinating to see such a clear indication that student-centred learning is not as accessible as I thought and how there are still steps to go.

This is a challenge as a professional learning leader and much more thinking needs to go into how we support the change in this culture. At least we have the structure in place in order to address this!

Presenting ‘Safer Schools For All’

I was fortunate today to present for the second time yesterday the ‘Safer Schools for All’ PPTA Rainbow Taskforce presentation. Previously I reflected on how full the presentation was of ‘tell’, the need to facilitate more discussion, and how it needed to be more dynamic. I’m proud that I feel I moved in a positive direction in all these factors and feel like I’ve moved in the right direction. However, I have thoughts to reflect on nevertheless in a couple of key areas:

  • Transitions – I feel like because I’m adapting a presentation created by someone else that sometimes my flow isn’t as strong as it could be. Sometimes moving between ideas of topics is a little off and I feel taking more ownership of the presentation and developing it to my own thinking is key to this.
  • Responses to suggestions could have been stronger – I feel I perhaps accepted all the responses because they were all offers in a staffroom that I was unfamiliar with. There were some weak suggestions as to what we can do when we hear “that’s so gay”. But I accepted them all without pushing to do more. I also didn’t feel I adequately challenged a suggestion that contained prejudice.

I feel good having developed confidence in presenting it, and totally rapt about nailing my mihi for the opening. Very proud to carry the message and share my knowledge.

Student Voice – Matariki

As an acknowledgement of Matariki, students from Komiti Maori were invited along to join our Professional Learning Focus Groups. They spoke about their learning and we gently interrogated them. Some of the strands arising from the discussion were:

  • The need for specific learning – and repeating stuff. “While some people find repeating stuff useless, I need it repeated and it helps”.
  • “The biggest difference to my success is the thoroughness of what we have to learn”. Value the little stuff and the big stuff.
  • “I feel supported when I have a wide range of knowledge of the topic”
  • “Even though the I say no to support, I still probably want it”.
  • “Mentoring was good because we could bond, talking with other without the need to write things down”.
  • Self directed learning criticised and generally misunderstood as being a thing that has to be done alone without support. Are students misunderstanding the concept or are teachers not setting up this approach correctly?
  • Need to have friends and connections in class – friends help more than the teacher at times.
  • Other students can be distracting – desire for teachers to do something more about them.
  • Personality of the teacher vital in enjoying the class.

Active learning was a topic that all the students spoke about. They

  • One project was about looking at tikanga Maori and finding out more about it so they could share things with the school.
  • Frustration at not having a topic, and generally not valuing the process of finding something to look into. No learning or reflection about this process was on the surface for the students and you have to dig for this.
  • General comments showed they understood the point of active learning and that progress  was being made towards a positive outcome.