The gap between the achievement scores of Latino and Black students compared to the scores of White and Asian students has received considerable attention from educators, with little progress made toward closing the gap. This study used growth mindset research to address four destructive learning threats that may contribute to the achievement gap for students in high-minority, low-income schools: negative school culture norms, the Pygmalion effect, stereotype threat, and fixed mindsets. Since the publishing of growth mindset research, leaders and teachers have looked for guidance on harnessing its ability to close achievement gaps in schools. Interventions for removing these threats to learning show promise.
For this qualitative participatory action research study, I designed the growth and fixed mindset norms framework for implementation in school cultures. The framework was created to give school leaders a tool for building school culture norms that counteract the learning threats.
Seven school leaders participated in three reflection, learning, and planning sessions, which gave them the tools to implement the norms. School leaders were given autonomy to choose the best path toward implementing the framework at their schools. Leaders conducted pre- and post-session observations of school cultures using the framework with the intention of measuring success levels for norm change.
I analyzed the leaders' implementation actions, which revealed drivers and barriers to implementation of the norms. One leader achieved high norm change, while three leaders achieved moderate norm change. Their actions illuminated a set of strategies for implementation. The successful leaders provided professional development and coaching on the norms. However, the most successful leaders provided teachers with targeted coaching on the norms and offered intervention coaching for struggling teachers. The four unsuccessful leaders did not provide their teachers with these same competency-building activities. Instead, they claimed they were stalled in their desire to implement the norms by shared-decision making models. As a result, their schools showed no norm change or their school cultures became more fixed over time. The findings in this study show that norm change is possible with intentional and coordinated action. Based on the experience of the participating leaders, I provide recommendations for leaders seeking to build schoolwide cultures with growth mindset norms.