Big Ideas
Chapter: Being Before Doing

(5) Mindsets

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-7-34-37-am While most Teach For All partner organizations’ classroom leadership models seek to build both teacher actions and teacher mindsets, many frameworks (including those derived from Teaching As Leadership) feature heavy emphasis on building  skills (lesson planning, classroom management, instructional strategies) and less emphasis on growing and nurturing mindsets (vision-drivenness, high expectations, locus of control, growth mindset).

Our more transformational (and fastest growing) teachers are challenging us to invest more in key mindsets.  They describe the (often disorienting) experience of teaching as a catalyst for reflection that changes and galvanizes their own key mindsets and orientations of classroom leadership.  These teachers often emphasize a mindset growth (malleable intelligence, growth mindset, etc.) with their students as well.screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-7-35-15-am

“Mindsets Matter, A Lot”

Teach For India hosts a yearly ritual called the Transformational Leadership Journey through which the organization studies its most successful classrooms and then shares out the lessons from those classrooms.  Last year, one of the key lessons Teach For India learned from those classrooms was “mindsets matter, a lot.”  Note how interconnected mindsets are with relationships and vision in this excerpt from Teach For India’s findings:

The primacy of mindsets raises particular challenges for programs that tend to apply growth-development strategies appropriate for skills to the arena of mindsets.  Each Fellow, for example, talked passionately about how much they loved their students. And that love drove deep and personal relationships with each of their students. In her interview, Nirali stated, “I just fell in love with them. And from there, I was on a mission to do whatever it takes.”  Many Fellows similarly demonstrated a deep primacy of issue: they clearly understood what was at stake if they didn’t succeed, and they were unanimously obsessed with putting their students on different life paths. Sapna Shah, for example, declaratively noted “I have to get my students to college. That’s it.”  Finally, each of the Fellows demonstrated deep levels of confidence in their students and in their own abilities. Nirali again noted, “The Class of 2022, my vision statement, is not just a dream. My students can get there, and I’ve seen that this is possible; it just takes consistent and relentless work.nepal_mahalaxmischool_091513

Similarly, Teach First in the UK has studied successful classrooms and come to the conclusions that mindsets are critical.  According to that program, teachers who change lives consistently embody some of the following mindsets and beliefs:

    • “All of my students can and will succeed in learning and in life.”
    • “I care passionately about them and have a highly ambitious vision for their success.”
    • “I want to empower students to take ownership of their own learning.”
    • “I’m a learner and develop constantly in order to increase my impact.”
    • “I take an adaptive, problem-solving approach to challenges.”

And as our partners in the Teach For All network are emphasizing mindsets more and more in their programs, we are seeing them wrestle with how challenging it is to nature and grow mindsets.    Learning theory experts tell us that mindsets are not grown in the same way skills are (by practice).  Mindsets are changed and nurtured through disorienting experiences and reflection.

But as Louis Preston, Head of Training at Teach For France, has learned, cultivation of mindsets also requires time:

Disorienting experiences are important, but the goal of mindset cultivation needs to be embedded in everything you do over a long period of time. Cultivating mindsets requires persistence. Any mindset you cultivate also involves the deconstruction of current mindsets which are often based on years of experience, history and stakeholder messages.  Following Malaysia the group felt disorienting experiences were a powerful tool in mindset cultivation. In their Learning Loops they delivered experiences that took the target group away from their daily routine and challenged their perspective. These experiences helped to create a shift in thinking and build self-awareness. However a long-term change in mindset required a multi-faceted and repetitive approach of which the disorientating experience was one aspect. Time was also a factor. Heads of Training built this conclusion into training design.

And, we hear and see many program designers coming to realize that this long-term effort to cultivate mindsets brings us back to “orientation to vision.”  That is, building mindsets is, in many ways, about the daily commitment to align one’s actions to a vision of student success that many people around you may not share.  As Diego Sánchez who works on training and support at Enseña por Colombia shared:

Since I started to know more and more about mindsets and how they improve the performance of kids (and teachers) at school and life, I realized how important is the vision we have about them. That’s why some key elements to think what we are doing are context, community and vision, and how our teachers are working on that. In this way, our next step has to be clarify the expectation we have about our fellows and develop the right training to be closer and closer to the vision we have.


How could our respective approaches to building participants’ leadership more fully embrace key mindsets necessary to be agents of change in the classroom and in the education system more broadly?

Some Resources to Further Explore Mindsetsscreen-shot-2016-12-02-at-6-42-56-am

  • Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on “growth mindsets” has defined the research landscape.  We had an opportunity to engage with her last year.   This is an eight-minute compilation video of her key ideas. While much of the research and language is framed in terms of children, her work has important implications for all of us.  

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3 years ago


the link about Susana Claro’s investigation is not working. I would love to read the study, thanks!