Tag Archives: What I think about…

Classroom Strategies for Growth Mindset, Pocketbooks and Dragons at the #NPATConf

Today, I spent 7 hours in a hotel room with 152 other teachers from the Northampton Primary Academy Trust at our annual conference, learning more about Growth Mindset with Mike Gershon, co-author of the widely popular Growth Mindset Pocketbook and highly renowned for his work around Growth Mindset in schools.

In teaching, things can often be discovered and celebrated; lauded as the next ‘thing that makes a difference’ in education. Then they get adopted into practice (or not), criticised, occasionally dismissed and gradually find their way either woven into the fabric of school life or cast aside for ‘the next thing’. Growth Mindset as a concept has now become so popular in schools that it has hit that point where it has started to attract a small minority of critics and those who are keen to find satisfaction in categorising the approaches as ‘trendy’.

In defence of Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck’s research and work spans over 35 years (I’m sure she certainly wouldn’t describe it as new or revolutionary) and underpins much of the work that many schools have been doing in recent years, particularly around feedback and assessment for learning. Lots of the good stuff that works from our educational heroes such as Dylan William, Shirley Clarke and Ron Berger is either built on Dweck’s research or links very closely to it.

The Growth Mindset Pocketbook is a really useful resource and one which we bought for all teaching staff across the trust this Summer...
The Growth Mindset Pocketbook is a really useful resource and one which we bought for all teaching staff across the trust this Summer…

Books and resources which package Carol Dweck’s work for teachers are now a-plenty and the internet is awash with ‘Growth Mindset’ quotes and images from a wide range of individuals such as Henry Ford, Gandhi, Michael Jordan and Yoda for enthusiastic types (including me) to post, like and retweet in various online networks. Amidst this backdrop, the staff and school leaders across our trust are convinced of the importance that Growth Mindset can bring to schools and have put this at the heart of our curriculum development plan for the next 3 years. Today was a great opportunity for us all to hear it from a real expert and I had the pleasure of spending the day as pupil, taking on board the messages that Mike Gershon delivered expertly to us.

What Mike did today was both clever and useful. He gave us all a comprehensive introduction to both the Science and Research around Growth Mindset which was informative and thought-provoking, even for those amongst the audience who have done all the pre-reading. He also did what we often cry out for within training in schools, made it simple and gave us practical approaches and strategies to take away and use which were in the following six areas:

  1.  Trial & Error
  2. Targeted Effort
  3. Feedback
  4. Metacognition
  5. Language
  6. Embracing Challenge

Throughout the day, we worked through a range of different strategies to use in the classroom which related to each of the above six categories. Some were new but many were those which staff were familiar with – the learning here was less about revolutionary new practice and more about how they all linked together within the context of Growth Mindset and related areas of pedagogy such as feedback, challenge and pupil talk.

We also enjoyed wrestling with the biggest question of the day, would you rather ‘own’ a dragon or ‘be’ a dragon, given the choice?  This was posed by one of the Weston Favell staff – I think it’s what comes from working in an outstanding school!

Mike Gershon in full swing at the #NPATConf
Mike Gershon in full swing at the #NPATConf

Some key messages for us to take away? Here are mine:

  •  Avoid trait-based feedback and celebrating outcomes – instead celebrate the processes and application that led to success.
  • Diminish the cost of failure in school (both for staff and students) through a range of activities that encourage trial and error or ‘trial and improvement’. Speed debating was one which we enjoyed today.
  • Work hard at getting feedback right across school.
  • Create a common ‘Growth Mindset’ language which is shared and used throughout the school community – work with parents to share this work and engage them as much as you can.
  • Work harder at getting feedback right across school.
  • Develop scripts for reframing fixed mindset language that you hear in the classroom. e.g. ‘I’m rubbish at Maths’.
  • Growth Mindset storytelling – providing examples, models and drawing on children’s own ‘Growth Mindset’ stories as reference points for staff and children.
  • Work even harder at feedback.
  • Never give out grades or levels alongside feedback if you want anyone to listen or act on the feedback!

One that I want to unpick further is about ‘targeted effort’ which is the beautifully simple premise that ‘If we focus our attention on improving something specific, we’ll get better in that area’. I’m conscious of the amount of different feedback and targets that we provide children with and wonder whether this helps provide clarity or confusion on their next steps.   We’ll look at this one a bit closer in the next few weeks at school.

A thought provoking and enjoyable day but I still  can’t draw… YET.




Change is afoot: Assessment, New Beginnings & 21st Century Learning…

And so September comes again with its fresh autumnal winds and shortening evenings reminding us that change is afoot. Each new school year brings us new challenges but this one does so in spades. After several years of discussion, consultation and piloting, the rubber is about to hit the road in the world of life beyond levels and, for the first time in many years, children’s achievements in Year 2 and 6 will be reported in a new (as yet undefined) currency. Anyone who still belongs to the ostrich camp must now remove their heads from the sand, at least long enough to read the new sample papers, and appreciate the difference in challenge that children will face in their end of Key Stage tests and the significant implications this has for classroom practice. The goalposts have moved; the game has changed, and rightly so. Repeating what has worked in the past will not bring success in the future.

A brief (and over-simplified) examination of ‘success’ within that retro age of levels gives us two contrasting possibilities. Were schools sitting pretty in the league tables because their children had acquired deep and meaningful knowledge, skills and understanding through a rich curriculum which meant that they were able to sail through formal assessments with ease? Or were ‘successful’ outcomes bought at a price of intense test preparation, coaching and booster groups which had children jumping nicely through the hoops of Year 6 assessment, only for this shallow and quickly acquired knowledge to be lost without trace by the time they arrived at secondary schools four months later? And were OFSTED astute enough to see the difference between these realities or brave enough to report on it? This dilemma, of course, is part of Tim Oates and co.’s compelling case for removing levels that was argued for so eloquently last year which has led us to this new dawn.

Either way, the removal of National Curriculum Levels provides us with a chance to think differently about what, how and why we teach and assess in our schools.   I believe this is an important opportunity for us to fundamentally reform and evolve our approach to classroom practice to ensure that we are teaching children the right things in the right way so that they are equipped with the relevant knowledge, skills and attributes to succeed in the turbulent waters of the 21st Century; it is one that we should grasp with both hands.

But our window of opportunity is likely to be brief so seize it quickly, as the OFSTED wheels are about to start turning again and will quickly reveal the inevitable (and probably preventable) problems with inconsistency on inspection that declaring a free-for-all on measuring pupil progress will bring. Odds are surely now very short on the re-introduction of a common ‘in-school’ measure by either OFSTED or the DFE which may then return the debate to annual percentage gains and KPIs rather than learning and children.

But September is no time for scepticism or pessimism; it’s a time for us to be inspired by the latest leg of adventure in making learning more irresistible for children in our schools and to be optimistic about what the year might bring. I believe it’s the time for us to find the conviction and courage to evolve our schools away from the narrow academic focus that our paymasters demand, legacy of a bygone era. Rather than simply finding a new way to measure the 3 Rs, surely this is now the time to establish a progression around the wider range of skills, competencies and habits that young people need to succeed in the modern world.

Never has the case for taking such an approach been more compelling, with leading academics, researchers and schools now all talking this common language. Studies such as the ITL Research (Innovative Teaching and Learning) and the CBI report: First steps: A New Approach For Our Schools all tell us that employers and governments across the world need the next generation to be educated differently; to have more than the ‘basics’ which too many current school systems are entrenched in across the world. But what are these skills? Hasn’t everyone been talking about 21st Century skills for so long it feels out of date? And now we’ve been in the 21st Century for 15 years, isn’t it about time we got this one nailed down?

There are several models that schools can reach for when looking for a starting point. The Campaign for Learning has championed the ‘Learning to Learn’ approach for many years and the ‘5 Rs of Lifelong Learning’; Guy Claxton’s ‘Building Learning Power’ is used by thousands of schools and the recently formed ‘Expansive Education Network’ offers resources and CPD/networking opportunities for schools. School Leaders within our Multi-Academy Trust have spent a great deal of time over the last 12 months researching, exploring and discussing which strategy to take and have adopted 21CLD (21st Century Learning Design) as a model to drive this broader approach to education. 21CLD is an approach built on the ITL Research Project and authored by Maria Langworthy which offers the following six dimensions of global learning. Helpfully, this model has also developed a series of rubrics and resources for teachers which unpick progression through these areas to support planning and assessment. This resource is also a product of the must-read ‘New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning’ paper, authored in 2013 (Fullan & Langworthy) which is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks the status quo in education system is OK as it is.


The 21 CLD app available in the Windows store is a great resource for helping teachers explore the different dimensions of 21CLD.

My teaching staff at Simon de Senlis have all read ‘Educating Ruby’ over the summer, by the inspiring Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas, which provides a robust and well-informed argument that there is a bigger picture to education than just chasing the numbers in academic subjects and is a call to action for us all to do more in this area. We spent part of our September training day talking about the implications for this and how we will use 21CLD to drive our planning, teaching and assessment in the future. This is a big change for teachers and school leaders who will, over the course of this year, plan, teach and assess these dimensions of learning more explicitly. The professional conversations were rich and we consolidated our collective belief that each of these areas of child-development should be viewed as equally important, with ‘Knowledge Construction’ encompassing the academic focus but encouraging the deeper approach to learning and greater cognitive challenge that is now explicitly required within the National Curriculum and demanded of children within end of Key Stage testing.

We had some great discussion as a staff who are committed to ensuring we develop the right skills in children for their futures.
Questions to staff on the training day for discussion around our summer reading...
Questions to staff on the training day for discussion around our summer reading…

Times of great change can cause unrest and uncertainty in schools but also offer a time for our staff to grow professionally as we develop new practices, learning from our mistakes along the way. A wise man once told me that complex problems are rarely solved with simple solutions and so beware the quick fixes and neatly packaged solutions that are being offered off the shelves. I’ll be writing more each month to talk more about how this approach evolves throughout the academic year and how the schools that I’m fortunate to work with  are meeting the same challenge.


Simon de Senlis Primary are hosting an event on the 15th October to look more deeply at aspects of the 21CLD approach as part of the Microsoft Showcase Schools UK tour.

This is free and you can sign up online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/developing-a-schools-digital-strategy-free-15th-october-2015-tickets-18532702813

What I Think About Training Days…

On Monday, we had a training day at Simon de Senlis.  It was an excellent and important day of training and one of my colleagues took the time to share his reflections on the day on the Simon de Senlis PE blog.

In schools, we are allocated 5 training days a year which are the only opportunities we have to spend a full day focusing on staff development together.  Other development takes place after school or in snatched meetings unless it means teachers being covered out of classes to attend training and courses.  Quick Maths will tell you that (using official contracted hours), training days  take up just 27.5 hours out of the available 8760 in the year (around 0.003%) or 2% of the 1265 directed hours of a teachers working life.  This is well below the UK national average for time spent off work sick (74 hours) and (according to a well-know tabloid) three times less than the 91 hours that Men apparently spend on the toilet each year!

With this in mind, it’s absolutely crictical that we make the most of  these limited opportunities and plan them with thought and care, ensuring that they are aligned with our biggest priorities and challenges in school.

But selecting the right content isn’t enough; it’s also important to spend time thinking about the delivery – ensuring that we employ the same principles around engagement that we expect teachers to in the classroom to avoid staff feeling like the staff in one of my favourite toe-curling scenes from The Office.

Some things we might consider when planning staff training:

  • Who does most of the talking? The person leading training or the people who we are planning will develop their thinking and practice?
  • Do we move enough? Do people come in and sit still for long periods of time or do they have opportunities to get up and move and keep energised?
  • Multi-sensory.  Although ‘VAK’ may not be a buzz word of 2015, are we ensuring that we deliver any learning using a range of Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic methods and resources?
  • Do we give enough opportunities for people to learn by ‘doing’ and putting themselves in the position of children?
  • Are we clear enough about the ‘so what’ at the end of any training to ensure that everyone knows what the next steps are?
  • Have we planned when we will come back and revisit this issue/initiative/policy/discussion so that it becomes part of the journey of change rather than a one-off event which created some initial excitement but didn’t become embedded in the ongoing fabric of the school.

I’ll certainly be thinking more about these as we try and develop better training opportunities for our staff within 2015.

What I think about New Year’s Resolutions…

Happy New Year everyone!

As is the way at the beginning of every new year, the world is saturated with new year’s resolutions.  Everywhere you look, people are promising somebody (mainly themselves) that they want to do things better this year.  Get thinner. Maintain friendships better. Spend less time on social media. Make healthier choices.  Work harder and get promoted.  Write more blog posts. The usual things.

Statistically (apparently), 90% of such resolutions are broken before the end of January. Does this mean that making some positive statements about what we want to change in our lives is pointless at this time of year?  Maybe. Maybe not.

2014 was a great year to be a part of Simon de Senlis.  Put simply, so many good things happened and, as Headteacher, it was ehappy_new_year_2015xciting and rewarding to see staff and children develop so well and achieve great things on the sports pitches, on the dance and drama stage as well as in the classroom, test papers and OFSTED reports.

So undecided as I am as to whether New Year’s resolutions are a catalyst for change or a waste of time, here are mine:

1) Keep spending time doing the things that work well and make a difference and not be distracted by fads or bandwagons.

2) Listen more and listen better.

3) Give better feedback to children and staff in school (I’m really inspired by the growth mindset work taking place in schools at the moment and feel this is an area that I can develop my own knowledge in as well as the school).

4) Share more of the thinking and development that goes on at school via this blog.

5) Complete a triathlon.

One step at a time. Here goes 2015.