Growth mindsets vs my VAT return!

September 24, 2018 admin No comments exist

I was just about to do my quarterly VAT return this morning when I went on LinkedIn and came across a blog post by Tom Sherrington entitled ‘School walls are oozing with unhelpful growth mindset cheese….’. It aroused my interest and deflected me away from formulating my VAT return (I suspect you can understand why this was not hard to do!)

You can find Tom’s blog post at

Tom’s post contains some interesting points of view. The underlying theme, I believe, is that posters on walls in schools that contain ‘growth mindset’ statements can paper over (excuse the pun) what might be the true cultural mindset that exists in the school. In other words, statements made on paper, or verbally expressed, are no substitute for truly changing the beliefs and attitudes that result in the actions of any community. This is evidenced, as well, by school vision and mission statements that often bear little resemblance to the actions and real attitudes and beliefs found in the schools themselves.

In the work that I have done with many school I too have experienced many headteachers proudly presenting the ‘growth mindset wall’ where inspirational statements about the value of resilience, grit, perseverance and having a growth mindset have been carefully structured into an impressive display. Does this always represent what is going on in the school? Well, in my view, no it doesn’t in every case.

The danger can be, however, that a blog post like Tom’s might encourage some people to believe that there is no value in encouraging both staff and students to consider the implications of the key messages around the concept of a growth mindset. This would be a big mistake in my view.

Statements about growth mindsets on walls in schools are only a starting point for a more important and detailed way of challenging some of the inbuilt belief systems that can result in negative, unwanted, and unintended consequences for the students that we all want to support through their journey in life.

Tom talks about focusing efforts on teaching strategies and I agree with this. But I don’t believe that this should be at the expense of schools spending time thinking about what they are trying to achieve in the long term for the students that they serve, and how their (the adults in the school) own mindsets, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, habits, and values all significantly impact on the way that they go about implementing teaching strategies. And I would argue very strongly that key elements of what a growth mindset entails, can and should be implemented as teaching strategies.

Style over content must be always challenged. What schools do is self-evidently far more important than what they say they do or will do. This is the most important message that I have taken from this blog post.

The post is an interesting thought provocation. I hope it therefore does indeed result in provoking deep thoughts within people about how they can turn aspirational statements into a reality within the school community. My worry is that the style of the article, and the importance that someone like Tom has in terms of influencing many people in education that follow him, might encourage some educators to think of dismissing spending time on exploring, beyond the superficial, the highly significant ideas around having a growth mindset, and their importance for all of us in our lives.

I sincerely hope that this does not happen, and I hope as well that Tom is not suggesting that this should happen. Now, back to my VAT return!

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