Monday, May 20, 2013

Question to get us started

Can a leopard change its spots?

Is it really possible to change a mindset?



  1. Why would a leopard want to change its spots?

    The reason animals are camoflauged is to keep them safe in the environment in which they live. Also, for easy identification with its peers. If a leopard changed its spots without a simultaneous change in its habitat and in its pack, then it would expose itself to danger by standing out.

    So the question might be - "If the environment in which an animal exists began to change, would the animal have to adapt to avoid itself standing out as different and being in danger, and could it do so quickly enough to make a difference and to affect a successful future?"

    If we want people to change their mindset we need to provide an environment in which they feel comfortable and safe to do so. And in which it is potentially dangerous not to to so. They need to know what mindset is required, both by leadership example and by open discussion of expectation.

    Two further questions -

    "Do we want everyone in an organisation to have the same mindset?"

    "Do we want people with set minds?"

    I haven't yet read all of the book but will resume reading again now the blog is up and running, and will try to consider all the above.

    1. You make a valid point and I agree completely that people, like animals, need to feel safe and uniformity is one way to achieve this.

      Schools should be places where people are encouraged to stand out and take reasonable risks without the fear of being 'shot at'. This encourages both ownership and resilience. Expectations and responsibilities also need to be made clear.

      As people read the book they may wish to ponder on organisations, schools or otherwise, that they may consider to have a culture of 'fixed mindset'. Do they exist? Are they effective? Why is that?

      Like Nicola, I wonder whether an organisation with the same mindset 'fixed' or 'growth' would be achievable or indeed desirable??

      The question of mindset is not as simple as I first thought when I picked up the book. I am mid way through and it is challenging my perceptions in both my professional and personal life!

      Looking forward to more thoughts on this topic...

    2. I think it's very important that all members of staff within an organisation, school or otherwise, have a growth mindset. Not so that we can all try and implement innovation and explore crazy ideas on a whim, but because anybody resistant to change poses a threat to development. What I do think we need, however, are people with a growth mindset who also have a very logical and practical approach. When people with a vision come forward, we need staff who can see the potential and will be willing to make changes, but who can also look at it objectively, evaluate the pros and cons and make an informed decision. The growth mindset, I am sure, is a big enough umbrella to cover both ends of the spectrum and all others in between.

  2. Sticking with the leopard analogy I don't think they retain their spots to feel safe as it is clearly not a conscious decision.

    Leopards spots will ONLY change on the condition that the environment changes. If having spots becomes dangerous then the spots will be be bred out .Those with most pronounced spots will get eaten and fail to pass on their spot genes

    This type of evolution is painfully slow and takes many hundreds of years to be seen.

    In reply to Nicola - whole organisations that have identical mind sets often suffer from group think which leads to disastrous and flawed thinking. The Challenger disaster is a classic example of a group struck down with "group think" See the book "Wisdom of Crowds " if you are interested.

    In reply to Justin - I think the very nature of a "growth mindset" means it would be impossible to impose on staff. I would be very happy to be surrounded by growth mindset types and I strive to encourage it in my own kids.

    Sorry to be a swot but I have read the book!

  3. I think, due to the nature of education, the question of whether a leopard can change it's spots is redundant. If leopards are teachers, they have to change their spots whether they want to or not: each year they will need to adapt to the needs of their class, all the time they are having to change planning and 'move with the times', looking ahead to the skills children need in a fast-changing world. I think most people within a school are keen to do so, they see the benefits, they find it exciting and they want to ensure progress.

    Far more important is the discussion around how to support those whose natural inclination is not towards change. The growth mindset is vital in education and I think, as Nicola has said, people need to feel supported and encouraged to embrace change and make the mistakes that inevitably come with this.

    The question is, how can we involve those people who are set in their ways in the decision making and mapping out of the journey so that the benefits are clear to all. Teachers/leopards (!) in many cases have seen educational change after educational change and are therefore aware that not adapting practice will have no long term implications as, before long, policy will change again. These people will keep painting their spots back on again in the same way, irrespective of the changing world around them. The first step, I believe, is an increased awareness of their own actions. Being able to admit this (not dissimilar to attending AA meetings!) is the first step to trying on some different spots.

    1. Maybe the constant changes within education are actually what has catalysed those with fixed mindsets. Maybe they have "seen it all before" and given up with change as they are experienced in it not being followed through? They are therefore no longer prepared to put in the effort that further change requires - jaded and disillusioned!

      Someone taking a perceived risk has to be assured of these things:

      1. The support of those around them
      2. The possibility of not achieving their goals, with no-blame attached
      3. An absolute conviction that the changes will be followed through and adhered to by those that propose them
      4. A long-term approach - change doesn't happen overnight and there may be troughs along the way to success
      5. An unbiased and measurable definition of success - criteria that can be regularly reviewed and explained.

      Anna, if I was clever I would be drawing a cartoon of lots of leopards sitting in the arctic discussing their addictions. Luckily, I'm not, so you are all spared.

      Justin, are there really only 4 staff leopards at St T, spotty or otherwise? Please encourage others to get involved, whether or not they have read the book (guilty as charged!)

      Jackie, I have that book you mentioned and will endeavour to read that too, over half term. Anyone else is also welcome to borrow it.

    2. Despite personally believing that change and development is vital, one important thing to remember is that teaching is tiring. Working with children all day and then working for them all evening takes its toll both mentally and physically. What you have given there, Nicola, is a long list of required assurances that are just not guaranteed. If you know there is the potential that staff won't support you, or if you don't believe a change is sustainable, why would you try? The demands of the job (any job) are enough without having to go the extra mile alone to discover there is no benefit at the finish line and that you have to turn around again and walk back to the start.

    3. Teaching is indeed a very tiring profession and I agree with Anna that when we reach the finish line all too often we may say ' is that all there is?'
      In my opinion we need to ensure that everything that we do is for the benefit of the children that we teach. Nicola points out that there has been so much change and it right that some teachers may be tired of reinventing themselves. However I believe that it is important for us to change what we do to meet the needs of the children that we teach. I also feel that it is a fact that we are working in a period where schools have power to organise the curriculum as they wish....
      I hope that all teachers go the extra mile for the children that they teachand that all schools allow this to happen without burdening staff with unnecessary complexities that have no root in the pupil achievement and well being.

    4. I think we need to be going beyond adapting planning for each new class. Teachers do tweak plans, change guided groups etc but the change is not dramatic enough. Bearing in mind the national (and global) issues at the moment which appear to be worsening, I think we need to be binning all existing plans, some of which do not differ too greatly from plans which were on the system many years ago.

      We need to, in my opinion, have more of a focus on teaching children a growth mindset, teaching them how to lead, teaching them how to go about realising ambitions and teaching them about the world around them so they do not make the same mistakes that our generation and predecessors have done. Education prepares children for the world of work and the provision of our education system has not greatly changed from that of the early 19th century...we have GOT to change this. We can not be educating children in the same way that we were educated ourselves and I don't think there are enough teachers (nationally - not just in house) who are willing to do this.

      One interesting question for the whole staff to discuss is how we can foster a growth mindset in children whilst still having to jump through all the hoops and play the SATs game.

    5. Some very good points here that involve us looking long and hard at the purpose of education in today's world. We could quite easily fall into the trap of delivering learning that has no relevance or meaning. I think that we should always be looking at 'deep' learning that is longer term and encourages problem solving.
      Anna makes a valid point about the sats as learning can be crammed in if we are not careful. However I feel that the growth mindset is something to strive for but it has to be consistently championed throughout the school.
      Question - is learning more commonly deeper in the growth mindset model than in the fixed mindset model?

    6. I don't think that we can "deliver" learning!

  4. Interesting Jackie.
    I agree that 'imposing' anything on people doesn't work. I believe that it is far better to share a vision, be consistent in living out the vision and let people decide for themselves whether they want to be part of it or not.
    I will look out for the 'wisdom of crowds'.

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  6. Whoops - didnt mean to hit send. I think that we learn from our experiences. With a fixed mind set we learn that it is better not to be too ambitious as we may fail and that failure is shameful. Whereas with a growth mindset failure becomes an opportunity to learn from your experience and to increase your odds of succeeding next time. learning occurs all the time whatever our mindset and it is not something done to us or for us but the conclusions we draw from our own experiences.


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