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Personal Best and the 5 key features of Growth Mindset: making it real


Photo credit – Suffolk Maths

You will have seen many diagrams by now explaining the difference between a Fixed and a Growth Mindset – there’s probably a display in the corridor outside your office or classroom that attempts to convey these differences to learners. The ideas expounded by Carol Dweck over the years have seeped into education gradually over the last 6 or 7 years from her writing and blogs by her legion of fans, such as this one. But how often does school practice go beyond posters, displays and the odd assembly? How many schools have actually embedded Growth Mindset into their everyday teaching and learning? My hunch is that we are very much at the start of a long journey here to unpick decades of institutionalised fixity which has held learners back, shackled their aspirations, shut down their opportunities. So, the displays and assemblies are a welcome start but there is a lot more work to do if genuinely radical new perspectives on learner potential are to emerge.

In the light of this, Tom Palmer’s book of short stories, Personal Best, is really welcome. Each of the twelve stories exemplifies, in subtly different ways, aspects of Growth Mindset. They are not tendentious and nor are they predictable – Tom is far too cany for that. I will try to suggest how the stories exemplify the 5 main aspects of Growth Mindset picked out in the post referenced above.

  1. Embrace challenges

In the first story of the collection, The Last Day of Summer, James suggests a cycle race up the notoriously steep, twisting Guernsey hill, the Val de Terres. Lily has been struggling to keep up with the group all day but she decides to take up the challenge. But while James just assumes his macho strength will bring victory, Lily embarks on a researched training plan and gets advice from local cycling superhero, Tobyn Horton – for more about Tobyn, checkout his website.

  1. Persist in the face of setbacks

Tacticci Muratti is about a Channel Island football cup called the Muratti Vase. Alderney’s record in the cup is woeful – if you want to see how bad just look here. However, when, as a result of a hilarious mix up, they briefly have access to a brilliant foreign coach, they make the most of the opportunity to shake off the history of failure and finally fulfil their potential.

  1. See effort as the path to mastery

In How to Win the cricket team are miserable because, unless they win their final game of the season tomorrow, their ground will be sold off for development. Two boys realise that the reason the team has lost all its previous games that season is because the ground has had a spell put on it by a local Guernsey witch because the pavilion lacks a Witches’ stone – you can read more about these here. They build one overnight and approach the coming game with renewed optimism only to quickly realise that the real way to increase their chance of winning is to practise!

  1. Learn from criticism

Vincent in Hitting the Canvas is criticised a lot. By Jackson, the bully who ridicules his art work and then later by his his Uncle Rory, and the coach and the other lads at the boxing club. But Vincent listens to these criticisms and uses them to focus on making sure he grows, as a an artist, as a boxer and as a person.

  1. Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others

The young hero of You’re the Ref is in charge of a football match between 8 year olds when a Dad starts abusing him for one of his decisions. This really gets to him, shaking his confidence. His own Dad takes him to a Premiership game to see how a top professional referee copes with the howling derision of 40,000 fans, upset by one of his decisions. He learns a lot about inner strength, standing by your decisions, taking control.

I’ve mentioned just 5 of the 12 stories. The others manifest Growth Mindset in other situations: parental infighting at a ballet class; a ghostly incident when out coasteering; determination on the rugby field against a background of family arguments; using parkour skills to overcome a team of hijackers – its all there! The idea is that through reading and discussion, these embedded Growth Mindset messages can begin to work on changing learners’ attitudes. The stories, if read widely by staff and parents too, could become almost an alternative mythology, providing a set of reference points that can be referred to when related situations arise in learners’ real lives where the lessons learnt by the characters in Personal Best can be applied. This is why we are basing our Federation-wide reading intervention around these stories, so that Year 7 learners who need to improve their reading, and the Year 12 coaches who are going to work with them, can base their work on material imbued with these powerful messages. Hopefully this will go some way towards taking these ideas out of the poster and begin to make them a genuine force for change in learners’ lives.

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