I had been thinking a lot about Growth Mindset and –to me unrelatedly– thinking about whether I should share my lessons, emails, and musings with you, the reader, more consistently. Well, these seemingly unrelated ideas were merged when Principal Greg Bagby (@gregbagby) shared these valuable resources about a “Lunch and Learn” he did for parents about Growth Mindset. View our tweets below:
Aside from digging the catchiness of #practicewhatyoutweet, I also really appreciated the idea of tweeting what I practice! What a succinct way of summarizing something I had been aiming to do anyway.
When it rains, it pours: earlier that day, I had read an excellent post from Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) asking for teachers to tweet their lesson plans. She had me pegged! I was a total hoarder, and I had every excuse she had listed. She argued for sharing lessons plans to build community, reduce isolation, and inspire others. I particularly appreciated the caveat of it being okay if what you post is not 100% polished. It can still be a jumping off point for others!
So stay tuned while I open the Pandora’s Box that is my Google Drive. Having supported students in everything from preK to 9th grade in multiple schools at once has allowed me to view multiple curricula, thus create lessons around a variety of subjects, which I will be sharing!
And now, a blog about Growth Mindset and Teaching:
I have had a few big realizations when it comes to growth mindset. One is that I am a firm believer in the value of growth mindset, intellectually: I have taught students from 4th grade up to high school about it, I’ve read and annotated Mindset, I’ve seen Carol Dweck speak, I know about the neuroscience and how plastic our brains remain. But gosh, it’s hard to change your thinking about something that you’ve grown up (mis)believing, so I recognize that I still “suffer” from fixed mindset (Dr. Dweck says one is not inherently better than the other, but I would like to be more growth-mindset-y!).
Here is where I want to bring up the necessity of Growth Mindset in teaching. We have to believe it for our students, but even I have been able to teach it, without 100% accepting it. I’ve heard colleagues talk about “having ‘it'” (or more often “not having ‘it,'” according to them, a false self-view), and it reinforces the idea that teaching is something that you are born with. I’ve frequently been told I have “it,” but sometimes I don’t feel that way. Issues of self-esteem aside, it used to frighten me that one day I could just lose “it.” Then what?! Everything I do is research-backed (I spent a ton of time reading about best practices), but I often question if that’s what people are responding to when I receive compliments or not, especially when people commend my “passion,” “joy,” or “love of teaching” along with other elements that I can’t control. Yes, I’m passionate, joyous, and love-filled about being a teacher, but those aren’t really things that I can control. Plus, I can conceive of teachers out there that have these positive views of teaching, but are not good (okay, let’s say “effective”) teachers. Joy and passion can only bring you so far.
Thankfully, a month or so ago (just 10 months after it aired…oops!), I was listening to an NPR (@npr) interview with Elizabeth Green, co-founder of Chalkbeat (@chalkbeatNY) and author of Building a Better Teacher. She articulated that teaching can be taught (yay!), and that there are often counter-intuitive things that great teachers do in the classroom.
I’ve now finally begun reading Building a Better Teacher, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it, one chapter in. Green writes well, and her detailed descriptions of a classroom in the introduction highlight four, inter-related lessons from this opening chapter:
- You have to think before you act: Though I don’t know its origin, I’ve heard that teachers make thousands of choices a day, more than individuals in other professions. I believe that! In her classroom, teacher Ms. Lampert makes multiple conscious choices about whom to call on, not only based on their personalities (see point #2), but based off of what she knows about race, class, and gender – for instance, she does not want to call on too many boys at once, since she knows the research that shows such actions make girls less likely to raise their hands. She thinks about what type of student can correct what other type of student (how will it look if a white girl corrects a boy of color?). In short, she is always thinking, weighing options, and making quick, informed decisions.
- You have to know your students: How can you possibly know which students are likely to be shy, to be diplomatic, to be more willing to fail, if you don’t know your students. Ms. Lampert strategically selects which students to call on not just based on identity groups, but also on personality. She pushes some students, and makes sure she does not call on only the same few students.
- You have to anticipate answers: The opening scene included a boy providing a wrong answer that Ms. Lampert had not anticipated. Being an experienced teacher who has seen all kinds of mistakes, she figured out the “logic” of the answer relatively quickly. When designing any kind of question it is essential to know what mistakes are likely to be made – if they are intentional (“Let’s see if the students get confused between remainders and decimals”), then use them strategically, but if they could easily lead your students astray without your wanting to, then change the question (again, one of the many, many decisions teachers face).
- You have to validate wrong answers…sort of: Ms. Lampert was very conscious of not flat out saying that a student who got an incorrect answer was wrong. In fact, in a clever move, she asked which classmates thought he was right. This likely made the student feel less alone, and in the scenario, that actually allowed him time to realize a part of his mistake. If we teach growth mindset well, we value, reward, and celebrate “failure” (see this image for the acronym First Attempt In Learning). In addition to celebrating failure, though, we also then get to use mistakes as class-wide learning opportunities (you can even thank your student for creating such an opportunity!).
As a final, possibly unrelated thought, I worry that the book may not continue to appeal to me as it begins to look at some problematic types of schools (see a review by Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) and a review by Nancy Flanagan(@NancyFlanagan)), but I am reading it with a critical eye, so I intend to sift out the parts that are relevant and valuable to me, and report those back to you, dear reader.