The Educator (all of us!) and Growth Mindset

The Educator and Growth Mindset

I became a teacher because I love to learn and I believed that I could make a true difference in the lives of young people (because of this enthusiasm).  I remember writing my first Philosophy of Education; the thesis of that philosophy was basically justifying why I felt like I was a “life-long learner”.  After two years of teaching grade 3 (which I loved), my principal asked me to move to an assignment that had me teaching junior kindergarten in the morning and grade 6 in the afternoon.  She asked me how I felt about that, and I remember saying (I recall because she pointed it out to me) to her that I could teach anything, however I just needed a bit of time to get “good”.  That year, I spent a ton of time reading about both grade levels; buying resources, learning new curriculum, figuring out management strategies, learning how to teach little ones how to read…the list goes on. It wasn’t easy to learn to teach both groups of learners that year, however I think that I enjoyed the challenge – when things didn’t go well, it just made me work harder.  When I reflect back on this, I now have a name for my attitudes, beliefs and behaviour – it was a growth mindset in action.  That was 17 years ago.  I know that I am still that learner today as are many of the amazing educators with whom I have the opportunity to work daily.

Today, I know that I continue to believe that I can learn anything – that I can grow my intelligence and brain.  What I need to work on however, is the notion of co-learning with others.  A key factor of growth mindset educators is that they do not see themselves as what we call “the keepers of the knowledge” – but instead as co-learners and co-investigators along side their students.  We take risks with our students and we make mistakes; thus modelling that growth mindset. This is tough for many of us who might be a bit “old school” – from a time when teachers were in fact the experts!  But awareness is the first step!

In this growth mindset learning journey I have also revisited the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession through a new lens.  I see growth mindset in these standards within the notion of continuous growth and improvement. The standards require us to engage in “refining (our) professional practice through ongoing inquiry, dialogue and reflection”, and to “recognize that a commitment to ongoing professional learning is integral to effective practice and to student learning”.  Our “Professional practice and self-directed learning are informed by experience, research, collaboration and knowledge”(Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession, online). There is no doubt that every educator must be learning, both in a job embedded and self-directed way. All those books on my night table, the articles on twitter, the reflections in my problem of practice journal, the endless supply of videos, monographs, emails…this ongoing learning and reflection is what defines me as a professional.  It is why we are called a “professional organization”…and to truly enact the standards, we must each have a growth mindset.

If process praise is a key to fostering a growth mindset, then it is critical that leaders positively praise the independent learning that educators engage in. I think about the senior administration team, and the impact on my motivation when they issue positive praise on my work ethic – the result?  Makes me want to work even harder.  However, I wonder if, because of the nature of “release time” in our practice, we have inadvertently given the message that most learning happens between 8:30 am and 3:00 pm in professional learning communities?  That the “independent learning” piece has been compromised?  Don’t get me wrong…there are many of us who are learning on our own after hours…but there some who have the impression that they need to be taught or that they need training.  It makes me wonder if we are fostering a “dependent” mindset – I will learn something new if you teach me kinda thing? I don’t have time to learn this…or If I just ignore this new initiative, the pendulum will swing and I will be fine… Are these examples of a fixed mindset?

I know that I have work to do on my growth mindset, however I believe that awareness is the first step to growth!

…challenge some of my thinking!  Until next week…




15 responses

  1. Reading this weeks post brings back memories. I trained as a junior intermediate teacher and my first 5 years of teaching were spent in grade 7/8. Our JK/SK teacher left and I was assigned the class in June for the following September. I still retained my 7/8 class for half of the day. Quite frankly the thought of teaching little kids scared me.

    That fear began the curiosity and thirst for knowledge that remains with me to this day. Over the course of that summer and that first winter I began to read, took my Primary qualifications and joined my first chat group. During that time videos of teachers and students interacting were beginning to be used as PD. My mentor/colleague and I initially looked at those videos and decided they must be staged. Soon enough we began to challenge ourselves by studying those videos intently, reading books by the individuals who produced the videos, and attending any PD opportunities where we could hear the authors of the books and videos in person.

    Looking back we came up with our own ‘professional learning community’ and an early iteration of an inquiry. We would choose an author and read the book chapter-by-chapter, meet for tea to discuss in the evening, and implement the material in our classrooms. We looked at student work to determine if the implementation of the ideas was working. The earliest project I can remember was Debbie Miller’s Reading for Meaning. We found chat groups and websites where we could see what like-minded individuals were creating to implement the ideas in their classrooms. Implementing new ideas often meant we were going against the flow and a supportive Principal and Supervisory officer were essential.

    Looking at the growth mindset material, the Ontario Leadership Framework, the School Effectiveness Framework, and the Standards of Practice I see the alignment with self directed professional learning. Just last week I had a conversation with a colleague and we were discussing what I am currently reading. The questions and comments were centered around how I discovered the titles of the books I had chosen and it was great that ‘the board’ had a budget line for my professional reading. This individual was surprised when I replied that these were resources I purchased myself.

    How do we move the more formalized and specifically funded professional development from ‘another to do’ for our teachers back into the realm of resilience, grit, determination, and researching and changing practice for the love of teaching? It is a fine balance to manage resources, support teachers with their personal interests, and engage all adult learners in constant reflection with the goal of continuous learning and improvement in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What jumped out at me is the shift to co-learning. I’m not naturally someone that digs into things on their own. I’m thankful that as a board we are developing a community of co-learners because I find myself much more likely to dig deeper into topics because I have a community to work with on learning and understanding these ideas and practices.


  3. At the 25 year mark it is interesting to take time and reflect back on the journey and the learning that happened over the years. I do believe that there is an inner drive that moves us forward in our learning and that notion of what is out there to support the work that we do everyday. In the past weeks, we have challenged each other as to our degree of growth mindset. In reflection I see that having this openness and belief in the need to learn more is what drives who we were as teachers and who we have become as leaders. We know the only way the learning will stick is by doing the learning. It is the hands on approach and wanting to know more. For the sake of our students and I glad that we pushed forward and looked for more to make the experience the best that it could be for our students. Thanks

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s funny how a move from one teaching assignment to a new teaching assignment was the driving force behind both Nikki’s and Erica’s growth mindset. We tend to get comfortable when we are left in one position for a long period of time, we think we know everything for the grade we are teaching and don’t do a whole lot to challenge ourselves. A move to a new grade forces us to rethink our teaching strategies, forces us to look at our practices and propels us into a growth mindset. Change is scary but these two stories from these two educators is proof that change is a good thing and we need to take more risks with our staffing and propel more of our teachers towards building their capacity and reflecting on their practice.


  5. I think that this holds true for administration also ! It forces to re-think our goals and what we truly believe and how it drives what we do everyday !


  6. Great thinking…so is change a key component to maintaining a growth mindset?


  7. I think that change is. It forces to really push us outside that comfort zone. Not easy but can be good for everyone.


  8. I agree that change drives the growth mindset. How many professionals avoid change since it does make us rethink our ‘foundation’. Nicki – I think you’re on to something when you talk about us enabling others with their learning, and not necessarily supporting. We need to counteract the belief in some that professional learning only happens in PD sessions.


  9. Personal experience may suggest that it is change that is driving a growth mindset but the Standards of Practice make it very clear that it is a commitment to students and student learning that is fueling professional knowledge, professional practice and ongoing professional learning. These are the core principles of the teaching profession and without the support of a growth mindset what value do they hold? As teaching professionals we are required to uphold the Standards of Practice in our daily work. To exemplify this professional conduct we must stay abreast of current educational research, appropriate pedagogy, assessment practices, technology and resources. We must continually refine our professional practice in response to the individual learning needs of our students and our classes. And we understand that professional knowledge and practice are continually evolving and that an intrinsic component to calling ourselves educators is that we are involved in self-directed learning, reflective practice and on-going inquiry. Professional development is an isolated event. Professional learning is a practice we as educators are engaged in daily. A growth mindset is an essential quality of a teaching professional.


  10. I think that it is interesting that the attitudes and behaviours that we question in our professional learners are the same attitudes and behaviours that we as professionals want to change in our students. Statements like “I will learn something new if you teach it, I’m not doing it on my own time” “I don’t have time to learn this” “I don’t see how this learning will help me so I’m not trying” or “If I just ignore this new learning it will go away” are all things I hear students say. I would say that these are examples of a fixed mindset but more importantly I wonder if it is just human nature to discount or ignore ideas that we are not interested in? I think everyone has the capacity to have a growth mindset to some degree in their life, my question is…….I wonder how much growth mindset is impacted by the level of interest a person has in a particular topic. When people describe an event where they experienced growth mindset there was usually an underlying interest/passion/need to learn more. So there’s another question………….. how do we get people to engage in learning opportunities when sometimes it may not be of interest to them? There are times when learning is necessary (Numeracy PD, factoring quadratics) but when the learners haven’ t identified it as a need, thier mindset may be fixed. How to we encourage people to embrace new learning when it is not necessarily directed or chosen by them? How do we get learners to take ownership in a process they didn’t create? Or can we? Just some thoughts…


  11. I think the most positive aspect of our professional learning focussing on the Growth Mindset is how relevant this concept is to everyone. Having discussed the Growth Mindset and other psychological research and concepts with students in my senior social sciences classes in the past, I’ve consistently found that students are empowered when they learn about motivation and their own thinking.

    Really, the biggest obstacle, I think, for us as educators is that there is an entrenched ideology in our formal system that holds grades and marks above growth and inspiration. On the other hand, I think most of us can think back to the most impactful teachers we had in school and one thing they had in common is that they inspired us to enjoy the challenge of learning new things. In their classrooms learning was the focus, not merely grades.


  12. I thank each and every one of you for your thoughts – and for building on the previous posts. The thinking that we are each doing about motivation permeates every aspect of our work – both on a personal level (who am I as a learner) and on a professional level (who are my students as learners?). This conversation is key to improvement; it is interesting to search “growth mindset” on twitter and to follow discussions – some report that this work has transformed their school district. I think that with a concerted effort and a dedication and committment to this work, we can begin this journey. Everyone needs to analyze their commitment to the Standards, dig into the research, and make the changes necessary for the success of every student in our district. This is our moral imperative. I do not believe that it is negotiable!

    A million thanks to the individuals who are “new” to posting their thinking! It is truly valued. Thank you for modelling our conditions for learning – being a risk taker, collaborator, relationship builder and demonstrating your willingness to respond to the thinking contained in all of the posts! Congrats! Until next week…


  13. I have enjoyed the thinking on this thread as we have all been engaging in personal reflections in order to describe growth mindset in our own contexts. I too have had many experiences and have been placed in a variety of classroom, subjects and divisions. What I believe made my experiences positive is that I took the time inside and outside of the classroom to learn about the needs of my learners. Having a growth mindset allowed me to see our learners from a variety of angles since what we see in a classroom can be very different from a basketball court. What I am getting at here is that relationships are crucial to all learning. I recently put out a short article to staff entitled “You are the Weather”. How we interact and the energy we bring daily is what effects our learners. Growth mindset people understand that their role as an educator extends far beyond the realm of 9-3. We read, we practice, we observe, we talk, we listen. This allows us all to achieve learning. This is why the role is called a profession as we need to always be pushing our own learning on our own. I give the example of the surgeon for your thoughts. If a surgeon only practices surgery during OR time and then goes home and never learns about new research and practices, how many people are wanting to have that surgeon work on them? We expect the best and the best is what we need to deliver.


  14. Will, your reference to the surgeon and practice makes me think of Nicki’s earlier comment about job embedded professional development. I don’t think there is a question that every one of us has a desire to read and reflect upon new research and practices, but how many of us engage in the practice that is required for new learning to take place? I too am always reading, moderating work with teachers, and engaging in professional dialogue but I don’t often put what I preach into practice alongside teachers. I go into classrooms, observe students, ask questions, and make suggestions. If we are truly engaged in co-learning does that mean we should also experience the external factors that may have an impact on the theory. In a discussion I had with a teacher this week regarding a collaborative inquiry I suggested that I could teach or another person involved could. She was surprised that this was an option….and I think she was quite excited by the fact that we would be the ones in the “hot seat” for lack of a better word. I think when we engage in this job embedded approach we not only support our teachers in believing when we say mistakes and risks are valued, and that really is the way to improve our teaching practice. After all, would we want a surgeon to operate on us if all they did was read research but never practiced??


  15. Much thinking about praise … if we know that the right kind of praise is beneficial for kids then is it the same for adults? Do we praise the effort and perseverance with the learning versus just the right answer or the completion of the task? Do our comments say you are just not there yet? There is much to be said for the culture of support and it is true that an appreciation for effort motivates learners to continue the journey and work harder. In the rush of the education scene, I think we are under pressure to complete an infinite number of tasks. I would suggest the best learning takes place when we can truly absorb what we are thinking about. I know as an educator, I have spent much time exploring the topic of special education on my own time after hours because it was my passion. The question becomes do we lose the passion or motivation? Just like our students, is it the task, is it the engagement, do we truly believe we can make a difference? Success is powerful.


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