Growth Mindset in Schools

Sadly the term “Growth Mindset” due to its popularity in education and leadership circles can sometimes attract eye rolls. In education, these ideas, like fashions roll around from decade to decade. Sometimes they have genuine impact but these concepts need to transfer from the lips and CVs of leaders, to genuine practice and school culture.

1. A crisis or problem can be a challenge shared for Growth Mindset

Authentic leadership has no room for bravado. Strength sometimes includes protecting staff from stress but they need to know what challenges the school is facing. “We have a challenge I would like to discuss” is very different to “I have a problem that I am solving.” Leaders do not need to be vulnerable or weak but the language you use and your posture will influence school culture. A “challenge” is just that. It is a call to action with a positive mindset. Leaders steer the ship but they also gather the expertise and get buy in from those around them. With every challenge there is a struggle and it requires navigation. Acknowledge that and walk forward with your trusted team. Share confidence in your determination to tackle all that the challenge includes.

2. Positive engagement with challenges builds positive school culture

How you present things matters. It is not unusual for a strong leader to see a crisis as a positive opportunity and for them to be motivated by a challenge. Energy is energy and it can be harnessed positively or negatively. Challenges provide opportunities for growth and new learning. You have the chance to foster new leadership and skills in others.

3. Anticipate success to build a culture of growth mindset

“Do you have a solution to this challenge?”

Answer “Not yet.”

You may not see any immediate solution but you are likely to and need to demonstrate a positive expectation that you will.

Together we will find a solution. Let’s figure this out and create a plan to resolve it.”

Language is powerful.

4. Challenges makes us stronger and grateful for the opportunities they bring

We tell students that brains are malleable and that our neural growth, skills, knowledge and abilities grow in response to challenge but sometimes we forget how relevant that is for us. Without obstacles and challenge we do not improve and our schools only get better because we find new solutions to old problems. Be grateful for the chance you get to make a change.

5. Acknowledge mistakes and celebrate success, during the journey

“I thought my response was correct but I now know there was a better way.”

Mistakes should be viewed as learning opportunities or tests that helped you find a better way. We can easily correct our actions, adjust plans and refine courses of action. There is a way to present “mistakes” in ways that do not demonstrate weakness, but in fact strength. The weakest leaders are often the most defiant ones with blind spots and a limited ability to reflect.

6. Where are we heading and what are we trying to achieve?

It is important to begin with a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve. Clearly articulate the standard or the outcome and then design a plan that achieves that. There is a very strong chance that members of your team may be better equipped at some parts of the plan than yourself. Stop short of taking action but always communicate the goal you are trying to achieve. It might be simple and singular or complex and multifaceted.

7. Focus on the skills required for successful cooperation and teamwork

I have frequently seen teams or committees created for the sake of it. They sometimes have no real function other than being an audience for the chair. Establish very clearly the process and what participation and engagement needs to look like in order to have a healthy cooperation. Finding solutions will include opposing opinions that need to be discussed, conflicting ideas that need debate. In classrooms we use strategies like De Bono’s Cort Thinking and other great critical thinking models that encourage metacognition but are you modelling these in your teams? Consider all factors, compare and contrast, use different thinking hats, model consensus. Teach your team how to think critically in a team to find solutions.

8. Seek out challenges including a culture of growth mindset

“Maybe there is a different way to solve this.”

“Are we sure that we are using the model that gets us the very best outcomes.”

Change for the sake of change does not make sense but seeking out reasons to challenge best practice for even better practices builds a growth mindset culture. Identify opportunities and challenges for leadership development within your organisation. Do it yourself and encourage others.

9. Recognise and praise the process, more so than the outcome

Rarely is one person 100% responsible for an outcome and such recognition does not foster growth mindset culture in a school. Congratulating and recognising the team efforts invested in a challenge draw in participants and motivate courage and determination. When we only recognise the outcome we have a limited ability to tell the full story and the efforts that achieved that.

10. Replace “You can do it” with more realistic but determined words

Sometimes you CAN’T do it. Empty statements that do not consider the full complexity of tasks give people the impression that it is easy, natural or a “done deal.” It is not just harmless encouragement.

“I am here to help you with this challenging task.”

“I admire your courage and determination.”

The truth is you don’t know if they can do it but you do know that can work hard, take on the challenge, harness the support of others, investigate throughly, seek out truth, consider all outcomes.

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Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

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