The start of the new academic year is an exciting time. For those of us in education, September has a similar feel to the start of the new calendar year. Refreshed from the long summer break, we make “New Year” resolutions to be more organised, to work smarter, to meet deadlines and to make time for our friends and family. The school feels empty and bare during the holidays. The girls and staff certainly make the school and give its special character.
At the end of August, Sixth Form and Year 11 girls celebrated as they received their A Level, AS and GCSE results. The results once again were fantastic. Our GCSE results were the best in the School’s history with almost half of all grades at A* and A and 92% of all grades A* – B. Last year’s Upper Sixth girls are now settled into life at University or are enjoying “gap” years. They are studying an exciting array of courses ranging from Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Law, Music, Primary Teaching, Modern Languages and Stage Management. We look forward to seeing them in November at our Commemoration Prize Giving Ceremony as they return to collect certificates and prizes.
The lovely sunny weather we have enjoyed in August and September has brought back memories of the Summer and in particular the success of Team GB at the Olympics. For me, the enjoyment of the Olympics comes from hearing the stories the athletes tell – when interviewed they highlight the work, the dedication and their training but perhaps the one thing that stands out in their stories is the resilience they show in the face of adversity. The athletes talk about the failures they have encountered, their disappointments in being rejected from teams, the injuries they had overcome yet through it all they had a self-belief – a mindset that through hard work, continued effort and determination they would succeed. They did not give up, they did not see their failures as a failure of themselves, instead they took each set-back as an opportunity to learn, to develop and to use their failure to succeed next time.
At the start of term, Miss Mountford delivered an INSET session to teaching staff on “Growth Mindset”. She encouraged us to look closely at Professor Carol Dweck’s work and try to instil in our pupils a “growth mindset”. This is a belief that the basic qualities you were born with are only a starting point, they are not fixed, and different attributes can be cultivated through hard work and effort. Professor Dweck believes that we can develop our abilities, including our intelligence, which is our ability to think. It is distinguished from a fixed mindset, which is the belief that abilities can’t change, such as thinking that some people can’t improve in Maths, creativity, writing, relationship-building, leadership, sports, and the like. Research has shown that children with a growth mindset seek more effective learning strategies, work harder and persevere in the face of setbacks.
A growth mindset is not discouraged by failing. People with a growth mindset don’t see themselves as failures or having reached a ceiling in their ability, instead they see failure as an opportunity to grow and develop. The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it evenor perhaps especially, when it is not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. The difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset is shown in the image below.
All of us can have an influence on mindset. Children learn whether abilities are fixed or malleable from their observations of the world. If we adults have a fixed mindset, we will behave and communicate in fixed-minded ways, such as shying away from challenges or talking about people as if their abilities are fixed. This will tend to encourage a fixed mindset in our children. We do that with our best intentions, in order to raise their confidence and self-esteem. But research shows that when we praise children for being smart, they adopt a fixed mindset (i.e. thinking that people are either smart or not), and as a result when things get hard for them they conclude that they are not smart and they experience higher anxiety, lower confidence, and lower performance. They also become less interested in learning, and more interested in showing what they already know how to do. While being told they are smart may make them feel good in the short term, the deeper lesson they learn is that people are either smart or not, and when things get hard, they feel incapable.
We will be more successful in developing a growth mindset in our children if we also work to develop it in ourselves, which is never too late to do. It is a growth mindset that allows people to thrive during the most challenging times in their lives. It is the mindset of our Olympians and I hope it will become the mindset of our girls at Saint Martin’s.
“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.” – Carol Dweck
As we break up for our half term holiday the Sixth Form girls will have arrived in India for their cultural trip and our linguists will be practising their language skills visiting their German exchange partners. We look forward to hearing about their travels next half term.
I hope you all have a restful half term break.