Creating a culture in growth

Maths teachers graduating from Edinburgh Napier University (ENU) this summer had a unique selling point when they came to enter the workforce; following a successful pilot programme undertaken by the first cohort to graduate from Scotland’s newest PgDE provider, pictured above on day 1 – back in 2019.

The nine graduates, all now in their probationary year in secondary schools across Scotland, had experience in developing a growth mindset in their students. That’s vital; because for generations a cohort of Scots have been almost proud to announce ‘I’m no good with numbers.’ That negative mindset was all too often embedded in children at an early age, and reinforced from parent to child. Experience taught us that once established, this attitude was a major obstacle to any improvement in numeracy throughout a student’s school career.

The concept of a growth mindset seeks to dismantle this mental barrier. Based on research by Stanford University’s Dr Carol Dweck, it creates a methodology to help young people develop a love of learning, to thrive on challenges, and to build resilience.

The approach is being promoted to professional teachers by Winning Scotland, an independent charity chaired by Sir Bill Gammell, which works to create a culture where all young people in Scotland have the opportunity to develop themselves and learn important life skills. Once established in an individual, a growth mindset means they will believe their level of success in any subject is determined by factors such as effort, application and skills development. This can make a huge difference to their ultimate academic progress.

Adults in a child’s life, including teachers, have a key role to play in ensuring they nurture a growth mindset environment, and ‘Mindset in the curriculum’ is a key focus of activity for Winning Scotland. Since 2011, it has aimed to build engagement and confidence in targeted areas, including maths. The approach has now been adopted by 273 practitioners in Scotland, and is being adopted by most local authorities.

In 2020, it expanded its focus to include literacy, science and secondary school maths, with the newly qualified graduate maths teachers from Edinburgh Napier primed to act as champions of the growth culture as they enter their new schools.

“Understanding growth mindset from the start means that we can incorporate it into our practice straight away,” says ENU graduate Peter Early. “It’ll just be part of who I am, so I can inspire pupils to have a more positive mindset about maths.”

Fellow graduate Hilary Brown agrees: “Pupils are able to engage and it makes you more approachable – less of a ‘Maths teacher’. My school are really pleased I got the opportunity to participate [in the pilot PgDE module] so I think it’ll help our future recruitment chances too.”

Having achieved a success with the pilot for student teachers, both Winning Scotland and Edinburgh Napier are keen to progress. “This session we are continuing our work,” says Assistant Professor Andrew Gallacher, Head of Teaching Education. “The new cohort in September 2020 are trialling a bespoke version of the mindset course, again aimed specifically at maths teachers. I think we can help change the culture and improve the quality of teaching and working in secondary maths education.”

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