Why schools need to develop a growth mindset in students

Something that caused quite a bit of a stir a while ago was the revelation that Sweden had dropped considerably in OECD’s international PISA school rankings. Politicians were eager to get media attention, pointing fingers at the opposition for this and that, turning it into yet another left versus right blame game. A common theme was a call for more order and a more strict school. I think the explanation is not whether teachers need to seen as authoritarian figures but rather as to whether they help students believe in themselves.

Something that caused quite a bit of a stir a while ago was the revelation that Sweden had dropped considerably in OECD’s international PISA school rankings. Politicians were eager to get media attention, pointing fingers at the opposition for this and that, turning it into yet another left versus right blame game. A common theme was a call for more order and a more strict school. I think the explanation is not whether teachers need to seen as authoritarian figures but rather as to whether they help students believe in themselves.

The Swedish school system is a modern battleground for political ambitions. As a result, it has gone through several reforms and every governing party has wanted to impress its brand on the school. I went to school 20 years ago and I am convinced it was nothing like what today’s kids experience. A strong trend has been to democratize school, and giving kids more influence over their schooling as a way to make it more fun, engaging and relevant.

In the current debate and as is usually the case, people use circumstances to argue for their particular brand of politics.

The right leaning politicians who have strong belief in a society dominated by authoritarian figures and commitment to laws and order argue for bringing back the old. Some of them want our schools to return to the days when the teacher was an imposing figure. This will, according to them, solve the disappointing results we’re seeing.

The left consider it to be a result of social injustices. They believe more student teacher time will address the problem. They believe inequalities explain the results we’re seeing.

I am not well-versed enough in the debate to accurately reflect everyone’s opinion but one thing is clear, the call for “more order in school” divides the two camps.

As is often the case, the answers aren’t simple and everyone holds a piece of the truth. After discussing this over lunch with some friends, we concluded some things I wish I saw expressed in the public debate.

The call for order is well-meaning yet it misses the point. It’s born out of our aging politicians’ nostalgic ideas of what school was like in the “good old” days. Thing is, society has changed and it’s become a lot more connected and individualistic in the past 40 years. Sweden in the ’60s isn’t a viable role-model for the modern school.

I do believe the teacher needs to have a prominent role but motivation for studying shouldn’t come from “duty” and “discipline” but from the joy of learning. Problem is, the way we’ve gone about encouraging these things has been misinformed.

In Sweden, a lot of resources are spent making sure all students are given a chance to succeed in school. At least that’s the political vision. But as always, not all kids have a stable encouraging family or the right friends. Lots of kids come to school without any desire to learn or accomplish things in life. As a result, it now rests on our schools’ shoulders to convince these disillusioned or passive kids into believing they can get good grades and enter university and build a different life.

The way many schools have gone about this has been to show these kids tolerance and adapting to their lack of ambitions. Teachers haven’t been given the support and encouragement to stand up to these kids’ low ambitions. Furthermore, teachers have relatively low salaries and generally don’t receive the appreciation or are valued as they should. As a result, many teachers don’t believe in themselves enough to oppose the deeply rooted opinions or ambitions of kids who have never considered that they can be more than what their social context has imprinted on them.

My best teachers weren’t great because they used their authority to demand that I do my homework. They were great because they saw a potential in me that I didn’t and they weren’t giving up just because I wanted to. They demanded that I did not settle for less and invested in me to help me see my own potential.

In order to do that, teachers must be able to make demands and be uncompromising. Their job isn’t to be nice or tolerant. Growth is sometimes painful. It’s not about being authoritarian or playing the power card. It’s about using your years of experience to help your pupils grow and discover things they would normally not have done on their own. It’s about developing a growth mindset in kids who have for years believed their social background dictates what they can and should do.

I believe schools should be void of party-driven reforms and ideological bickering. They should be places where people grow and develop belief in themselves. Teachers are there to see the potential in each their pupils, being encouraged, allowed and able to make demands when necessary. Growth and learning aren’t walks in the park. They take dedication and work. A kid that has never had to work for anything in their entire life is going to have a hard time in school. But it might just be the most rewarding lesson in their entire life.

Photo by: http://tumblr.unsplash.com/post/67405869886/download-by-linh-nguyen

Thursday, May 14, 2015 - 09:49

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Welcome to my blog. My name is Jakob Persson and I'm an entrepreneur and consultant. I work with companies to create measurable change by focusing on users, customers, market strategy and pricing. I'm a deep and broad specialist-generalist with skills in business strategy, digital marketing, pricing, interaction and service design as well as project management and software development.

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