Raising aspirations in the classroom is so important, particularly when you work with children who lack positive role models at home; children who hear more can’t than can; children whose home environment causes more a source of strain than sanctuary; children who often have ‘fixed’ mindsets, believing that they are ‘thick’ or ‘bad’ in different areas of school and life. Raising aspirations is about ensuring that children believe that they can do and be more – in school, in subjects, in post-high school education, in their chosen careers, in life.
Despite the crammed content of curriculum subjects at all levels of schooling, I believe that there’s plenty of scope to embed this into your classroom ethos, both explicitly and implicit. So many schools are now on board with Carol Dweck’s growth mindset approach which goes hand in hand with raising aspirations.
Here are some of the ways that you can instill an ethos of growth mindset and raise aspirations in your classroom:
- Pay careful attention to the language that you use, when both praising and warning students. Reinforce the fact that success is achieved through trying, failing and carrying on anyway. Always reward the effort, not the ability. Be specific when you give written and verbal feedback.
- Talk openly about with your students about growth mind-set – it shouldn’t be a secret!
- If you have the opportunity, teach growth mindset too. I teach a mini unit of work to year 7, which is all based on how we learn. We look at parts of the brain and how they function; we look at case studies of people who have improved at things that they didn’t consider themselves to be strong at; we consider our own learning styles, strengths and areas to improve; we take on set tasks to build up skills that we might be lacking in.
- Ask questions – don’t just give answers. The unit of work mentioned above is entitled, “Can you ‘get smart’ or are you stuck there no matter what?” Setting the topic as a question allows children to build curiosity, and provides a sense of ownership when they inevitably conclude that intelligence is not fixed. It’s not just something they have been told by an adult; it’s something that they actually believe to be true.
- Harness the power of inspirational, relevant role models who embody the growth mindset approach. Whether it’s a 3 minute YouTube clip in which Will Smith talks work ethic vs. natural talent, or an inspirational quote on the board from Michael Jordan; there are always spare minutes in the week in which you can draw student’s attention to people who have succeeded through sheer grit and determination. I will add that these double-up as brilliant ‘settling’ activities/lesson hooks that help you get that immediate, calm start to your lesson.
- Cross-curricular learning: kill two birds with one stone! Depending on your subject setting, you might be able to find opportunities to learn about role models within the context of other lessons. In Literacy/English, for example, give out copies of J. K. Rowling’s biography and set reading comprehension questions. The students improve their scanning, skimming, deduction and inference…but they also learn that Rowling was a single mum of two, living on benefits and facing her twelfth rejection letter, before Harry Potter was eventually published.
- Use displays to reinforce your message. It might be a display showing various role models. It might be specific statements relating to fixed or growth mindset. It might showcase various failures who achieved success.
Displays are a great tool to reiterate your message: that no matter who you are, where you come from, how much money your family has, and what skills you were or were not born with, you can be whatever you want to be.
I’m sure that there are more ways to reinforce high expectations and a ‘can do attitude,’ particularly as students approach KS4 and begin thinking seriously about careers, but the ideas above seem like a good starting point.
Look out for related ideas, plans and resources based on positive role models and growth mindset, under the category of ‘Raising Aspirations.’
As always, feedback and ideas are always welcome.