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For Teachers

Building a Growth Mindset for Teachers

By Jennifer Gunn August 26, 2018

Fostering a growth mindset in students is a priority for most educators, but sometimes teachers themselves operate with a fixed mindset.

Stanford University professor of psychology Carol Dweck, author of the very popular Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, made these terms part of our pedagogical vocabulary. Growth Mindset is the belief that one’s abilities, qualities, and intelligence can be developed, while a fixed mindset believes that intelligence and one’s qualities are unchangeable.

Who can’t think of some stalwart teachers and administrators who refuse to change, are stuck in their practice, or reject new ideas? Just as we teach our students to continuously improve, grow, learn, and change, so must we as educators. Here are seven practices for you — and your colleagues — to create a schoolwide growth mindset this school year.

Practice #1: Never stop growing

“Undertake something that is difficult, it will do you good. Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” — Ronald E. Osborn

No matter how old you are and no matter how good you are at your job, it’s important to never stop growing and learning. Even the best teachers are constantly on the hunt for new ideas, new methods, and new ways of thinking to best serve their students. Sure, it might be easier to rest on one’s laurels — and those already-finished lesson plans — but just as we encourage students to always push their learning further, teachers must be continuous learners. In fact, it’s human nature to learn.

“What on earth would make someone a non-learner?” asks Dweck. “Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn. Infants stretch their skills daily. Not just ordinary skills, but the most difficult tasks of a lifetime, like learning to walk and talk. They never decide it’s too hard or not worth the effort. Babies don’t worry about making mistakes or humiliating themselves. They walk, they fall, they get up.” This year, show your students and coworkers that you are a lifelong learner. Study something along with your students. Try a new classroom technique. Read up on the latest research and stay hungry for knowledge.

Practice #2: Experiment and innovate

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” — Steve Jobs

Many schools are teaching students to be young innovators, makers, and design-thinkers in order to succeed in an evolving global economy. Therefore, shouldn’t teachers be innovators too? There is no one perfect method for teaching, so educators should experiment and innovate to provide dynamic, authentic, and effective instruction. Innovation isn’t just about technology. It can be about the processes and systems within a classroom, new student project ideas, programming adjustments, interdisciplinary work — the options are truly endless. It’s easy to fall back on what’s familiar, but that might not be what works best for today’s modern students — or the exact students in front of you. Don’t just follow the herd. Lead the charge and stay open to what’s possible.

For more on this, check out: Get Hands-On in Professional Development — Maker-Style.

Practice #3: Ask questions

“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, ‘What else could this mean?’” ― Shannon L. Alder

Spend time with any toddler or kindergartner and you’ll lose track of how many questions they ask in a day. Somewhere along the line, children lose that peak level of curiosity and wonder, coming to believe that one should only ask questions if they don’t understand.

In recent years, classrooms across the nation have started integrating inquiry-based learning – posing problems, questions or scenarios and encouraging students to explore topics through deep questioning. Yet as adults, we may not apply the principles of inquiry to our own work or life.

What if teachers approached school-based problems and ideas through an inquiry lens? Imagine how much deeper we could dive and how much more creative our ideas would be. Learning a new technique or philosophy in PD? Use inquiry techniques and guide teachers to become questioners again. The more we question, the more we learn and grow.

Practice #4: Be flexible

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ― George Bernard Shaw

The push for teaching students 21st-century skills includes the call for learners to be adaptable and flexible collaborators. In schools, there’s no room for obstinate thinkers — in the classroom or in the faculty room. Great things can be achieved when we let go of or stretch our rules, expectations, or boundaries, and include outside perspectives. In order to keep growing as teachers, we must be willing to adapt our practice to the needs and best interests of our students and find a way to include the input and contributions of our colleagues.

Practice #5: Learn new technology

“Good, bad or indifferent, if you are not investing in new technology, you are going to be left behind.” — Philip Green

On June 29, 2007, the first iPhone was released, changing our world forever. In just 11 years, technology has sprinted forward at breakneck speed. Laptops and devices fill our classrooms and seemingly everyone has a veritable computer in their hand in the form of a smartphone. Where will we be in another 11 years? What do students of the digital age need in order to be prepared for that future world? If we refuse to stay current with technology, we won’t serve them well.

Can you think of a teacher who barely uses email or who says things like “I’m not good with technology?” It’s true that there’s so much to learn. It seems like it’s all constantly shifting, but here’s the reality: Educators don’t have to be experts on all things technology — but we do have to keep up.

We teach kids new things all the time, so why can’t we learn something new too? Just think how students feel when they’re overwhelmed, uncomfortable, or feeling saturated during a lesson. Technology isn’t slowing down and it’s not going away, so we must continue to embrace a growth mindset — even if it’s challenging — and continuously learn how to use, create, and integrate technology. If all else fails, ask the kids!

Practice #6: Truly listen

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Imagine a typical school staff meeting. A teacher is speaking about an idea and maybe you’ve tuned out or you’re busy thinking about your response — or you’re watching the clock and counting the minutes until lunch. How often to do you really, deeply listen to the contributions of others and take time to seriously consider what they’ve said before offering a response? Chances are, not very often.

We expect students to listen all day long, but how often do we do the same? When we slow down and authentically listen, we not only open our minds to new ideas but create a community of colleagues who feel heard and understood. The next time someone is speaking to you, try this: Do not interject. Do not consider a response. Don’t let your eyes or mind wander. Just look and listen. The more we listen and collaborate with one another, the more we grow together.

Read more about this: How To Transform the Leadership Office From a Complaint Department to a Solution Zone

Practice #7: Reflect, reflect, reflect

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” — Margaret J. Wheatley

In order to continue to grow and improve, we must consistently take time to evaluate our work and analyze how we’re doing. The school year is so busy and self-reflection is hard to prioritize. One solution is to build reflection activities into professional development or into teacher meetings to maintain a consistent and meaningful routine.

The brain can adapt and change — no matter how much you are set in your ways or glued to your habits. Hello, neuroplasticity! When you regularly examine your strengths, weaknesses, triumphs, failures, and goals, you have to continuously adjust, which ensures that you’re on track with success in sight.

Jennifer Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, a teaching coach, and high school educator in New York City. She is also co-founder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation.

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