Book Review: A Mindset for Success: In your classroom and school

by | Sep 18, 2018

Tony Swainston’s book, A MIndset for Success, contributes greatly to the “how” of authentically embedding a growth mindset culture within a whole- school context. 

I have come to the conclusion that before we even start talking about Tony Swainston’s A Mindset for Success, we need to do our own honest reality check about our current beliefs, especially around the nature of intelligence. This came about after presenting an introductory workshop on Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to a cohort of teachers last year. An opening slide stated two beliefs that underpin PLCs, firstly, that all students can learn to high levels and secondly, that the school community’s responsibility is to ensure all students reach this goal. Immediately a hand shot up. The teacher proceeded to explain how the first statement was inaccurate based on his experience, as not all students can learn to high levels. I was taken aback at first and, despite further explanations related to students’ learning growth as opposed to summative grades, it became obvious that their belief was fixed – if you are a learning support student or a D student you cannot learn to high levels! Summative assessment defines intelligence!

The belief that intelligence is static and can be accurately measured by a number or letter is a dominant narrative in education. I wonder how often we as teachers keep students in what I term, “grade boxes”? How often do we grade a student at the start of a topic and subconsciously lock that student into that grade for the rest of the year?  Is it possible to unconsciously develop a fixed mindset about an individual student’s ability or even incorrectly assess their real potential? A Mindset for Success helped me understand these wonderings through a phenomenon called the Pygmalion effect. It describes research that illuminated how a teacher or even parent perceives a student will have a very powerful impact on how they develop.

Carol Dweck’s Mindset research has had phenomenal impact in schools, but we must ensure an authentic understanding and application of the research within the context of education. Tony Swainston’s A Mindset for Success will help teachers, leaders, students and parents address some of the concerns described above in a research-informed and accessible manner. At the core of Swainston’s thinking is the need for school’s to move away from the many myths surrounding talent and IQ, and to stop categorising students in a way that damages their ability to grow and develop. Swainston illustrates this point through research that describes the impact of categorising students, “whether it be through grades or talents, categorisation has a lasting impact with 88% of children placed in streamed classes remaining in the same groupings until they leave school, which is disturbing when we all know that young people develop at very different rates.”

A Mindset for Success held my attention from beginning to end, despite being quite well versed in Dweck’s research. Swainston expertly weaves extensive research that builds on Dweck’s seminal work to develop a compelling case for embedding mindset practice within a school’s culture. Two key themes throughout A Mindset for Success are firstly, that the beliefs of students are of crucial importance to their learning, and secondly, the potential for achievement and success, which each of us possess through the impressive capacity of our brains, is enormous and largely unknowable!

Swainston’s book successfully takes the reader on an engaging, research-informed journey into the world of mindsets that helps us learn how to move toward a mindset for success in our schools. The resources provided are immediately useable and support a holistic approach to developing a growth mindset culture for all participants in a school community – students, teachers, leaders and parents. I highly recommend it.

Bern Nicholls Bern Nicholls is an authentic and passionate learner who over the 
span of her career in education has consistently kept students at the centre of all her thinking and research. Read more articles by Bern Nicholls

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