I’m continuing a series in which I read my doctoral 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 typically go to students’ thinking.
But it’s the teacher’s mindset that has the biggest influence on classrooms.
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 other teacher can use a particular strategy, I cannot since I’m just not that kind of person. Yuck.
This is evidence of a fixed-mindset since they believe that they cannot get better. They believe that they cannot learn new things.
Friends, is there a worse attitude for a teacher to have?
- “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” and then refuse to even think about a math problem during professional development. There’s no student in the world who gets to say, “I’m not a math person” and then skip math classes.
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 lies the danger of educators with fixed mindsets: students will only get what the teacher feels comfortable with — not with what’s best for (or most interesting to) the class.
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 (guess what?) trying out 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!
Other teachers noted the value of some instructional methods over others (despite their own preferences)
I think my personality gravitates towards [Advance Organizer] and my personality doesn’t gravitate toward others, but then as a teacher you have to step back and realize some things lend themselves to other things and even though you’re not comfortable with it you still have to do it.
Or noted that there is value when students experience new ways of learning:
I want them to be able to have all these ways of learning and so I try to make it a point to use all of them, even the ones I don’t particularly love
The best teachers I worked with were constantly re-writing lessons, trying them from new angles, or implementing techniques from professional development — even with units they had taught for a decade.
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.
- 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, wite online, 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 a nearly-decade-long document of my own growth. My old writing is obviously different from my most recent. Any educator who writes online will tell you how powerful the experience.
So… what do you (or your school) do to create an environment that promotes growth mindsets in teachers?
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