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…