Mindset and teacher development

We have been discussing the importance of mindset and beliefs in education. The impact of the teachers’ confidence that their learners can achieve higher, as well as their thoughts about their own teaching to influence learning outcomes. Focusing on teacher development, here are some tips of what teachers can do and how leaders – trainers or managers – can contribute to the teachers’ growth mindset towards productive professional development that may benefit not only learners, but groups of teachers as well as the schools they work.

From my point of view, even if a teacher displays a fixed mindset (believing that their reach is limited and that little can be done to change one’s ability to learn), they can develop a growth mindset (believing that abilities can be developed through effort, persistence and teaching – Dweck, 2006). I strongly agree that the teacher is accountable for their development and that their beliefs are crucial to make any progress. However, because I believe teachers have a strong impact on learners’ progress through the way they approach teaching, learning and the people in the classroom, I also believe educational leaders – senior teachers, trainers, managers – can also influence the teachers’ changing mindset towards development. That also means that the mindset that everyone can learn, change and grow permeates all levels of school stakeholders and can cascade down through modeling – if a leader believes teachers can grow and do great work, they may believe the same about their students.

Having said that, I propose we all look at our own work and area of influence to assess what we can affect and how we want to contribute to the bigger picture of education. Making changes to the educational context and language teaching depends on the collective efforts and shared accountability, rather than one or another professional.

Teacher development is not negotiable if schools believe that the society and the world are in constant change. Therefore, it is important that teachers embrace professional growth and develop/ keep a suitable mindset to make necessary changes to their teaching, their knowledge or their behaviour. Here are some ideas for the teachers:

  • if you believe your students can learn if they make an effort, do their homework and participate, so can you. Students sometimes join our classes because they have to, it is not their passion or choice. We have the advantage of having chosen teaching as a career and with that choice comes the responsibility for learning throughout our lives;
  • share ideas with your peers – if you have a growth mindset already, you might be able to influence others to keep learning and sharing will help you rethink what you have been doing as well;
  • observe lessons, what others teachers do, what courses they take and how they talk about teaching and learning;
  • research theory, language, what to study and find things to do/ read about that are within your comfort zone as well as things that shake your beliefs;
  • talk to people you look up to and listen to their stories;
  • embrace diversity of approaches, learners, contexts – keep your mind open to the unknown.

And here are some ideas of what leaders can do to influence teachers’ growth mindset:

  • show teachers the purpose of broader goals to motivate them to take action (Sinek, 2009);
  • create an atmosphere that encourages reflection and discussion about development, the implementation of changes (however small) and the need for progress;
  • provide constant formative feedback that encourages growth and helps teachers perceive their development;
  • model a growth mindset (Gernstein, 2014) – reinforce the idea being a lifelong learner yourself, keeping track of your professional development goals and achievements and sharing them with teachers;
  • show empathy by understanding teachers’ background, needs and wants and addressing those when discussing professional development – in order to get teachers to buy in, development cannot be seen as top-down, but relevant and teacher-focused and teacher-led;
  • support growth by encouraging the setting of goals and helping teachers monitor their own progress;
  • embrace the diversity of the team – teachers will grow at different paces, they will have different reactions, challenges and motivations – avoid expectations based on unnecessary comparisons.

Easier said than done, we might say. That is why I usually say that if it were very easy to make progress in education, anyone could do our jobs. It takes a lot of effort, persistence, the belief that we can do something and the awareness that we are all involved in the outcomes to work together towards growth and improvement. Shall we embrace the challenge?

Dweck, C. S. (2006) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.

Gerstein, J. (2014). “The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop.” User Generated Education. August 28, 2014. https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-educator-wit…. (Accessed 29/04/2017)

Sinek, S. (2009) Start with Why – How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Penguin.

Marcela Cintra

Marcela Cintra currently works at Beacon School, after a 17-year experience at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo. She has taught English for 20 years, been involved in teacher training and development programmes and presented in ABCI, LABCI, Braz-TESOL, TESOL and IATEFL conferences. A CELTA, ICELT and Delta tutor, she has an MA in TESOL.

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