I’m continuing a series in which I read my friends’ dissertations and share my favorite parts. This episode features Paige’s work. She interviewed and observed a dozen teachers about their decisions in picking models of teaching.
My big takeaway: we need to be aware of our own mindsets as educators. When we talk about mindsets in education, we’re usually referring to students’ thinking. But the teacher’s mindset has a major influence on the entire classroom.
In excerpts from Paige’s interviews, it’s remarkable how very fixed some educators’ mindsets are. They repeatedly say what “kind of person” they are or aren’t. This reflects a belief that, while maybe some teachers can use a particular strategy, they can’t since they’re just not that kind of person.
This is evidence of a fixed mindset, since they seem to believe that they can’t get better! They can’t broaden their skillset and learn new methods.
This is worrisome! How can we teach effectively while believing that we cannot learn?
- “In fact, several teachers described themselves as decisively not creative.” (p154)
- “Two participants said that they simply do not possess a lot of humor.” (p104)
- “One teacher noted how she does not contribute to professional conversations, ‘I definitely am not the one to raise my hand and contribute…'” (p100)
These comments fascinated (and frustrated) me. I can’t imagine a teacher accepting those kinds of beliefs from a student!
- “Oh it’s ok Juan, you’re just not a creative person.”
- “You know, Sarah, you just don’t have a sense of humor.”
- “No big deal, Frances, you’re just not the type who contributes to discussions!”
No! We expect students to get better through effort. It’s the same for us as educators. We improve when we try.
Sidenote: I’m shocked by how many adults in education voluntarily say to me, “I’m just not a math person.” It’s, frankly, unacceptable.
There are lots of connections between Paige’s paper and Alison’s work on “narcissistic teaching” – when teachers focus on their own needs and preferences rather than students’.
This quote on the reasoning behind picking Direct Instruction nearly killed me:
with Direct Instruction, I am in control and that’s comfortable for me… A sage on the stage – yeah, that’s me…
Here’s lies the danger of educators with fixed mindsets: students will only get what the teacher feels comfortable with.
Not All Teachers
Of course (of course!), it’s not all bad news. Many teachers made comments that reflect a growth mindset. This teacher learned to love Group Investigations, despite initial reservations:
“…she feels that student-centered learning can be uncomfortable for the teacher, but her value of the model outweighs the fear of using it.” (p152)
This teacher got better at Advance Organizers by trying Advance Organizers:
[She] described how she used to struggle to plan big ideas appropriate for Advance Organizer lessons, but that she has become much more comfortable and fluent in doing so (p157)
How exciting to be lead by someone who takes risks, learns, and gets better at their craft!
We want educators with growth mindsets, so let’s create environments that support them. I recommend checking out the #observeMe movement from edu-pal Robert Kaplinsky.
Here are some other quick ideas:
- Open up your classroom! We have to let other people watch us work if we want to become comfortable making mistakes:
- Make it easy for colleagues to frequently (and informally) watch you teach.
- In fact, make some kind of weekly (informal) observation or walk-through the expectation.
- Again, check out #observeMe.
- Let people know what you’re working on:
- Make your professional struggle public. Post it on the lounge whiteboard, mention it in conversations, etc.
- Ask others what they want to improve. Pair people with similar needs. Connect experts and novices.
- Celebrate growth!
- Share personal improvements at staff meetings.
- When people improve, they’re the new experts!
- Let teachers control professional development.
- Offer useful (quick) PD for different levels of a skill (beginner/intermediate/expert).
- Ask the “experts” at school to run mini-PDs on their favorite topic for the “beginners”.
- Emphasize reflection
- Make it easy for teachers to reflect on growth: quick and informal.
- Public reflection is powerful – it helps you as well as your audience.
- Byrdseed is my nearly decade-long document of my own growth. Any educator who blogs will tell you how powerful the experience is on professional growth.
What do you or your school do to create an environment that promotes growth mindsets in teachers?