Efficacy. The notion that you can do it…the belief in yourself that with practice and the appropriate supporting conditions, you can learn to do anything or to think in a new way. You can achieve a “permanent change in thinking and behaviour” (Katz and Dack, Intentional Interruptions, 2013) – which is my favourite definition of learning. In our educational world, we are required to model this sense of efficacy daily with our learners; in order to do so, we need to truly have a growth mindset. Growth mindset and efficacy go hand in hand…I believe that I can choose my attitude towards learning, can adopt the belief that with hard work, persistence, risk taking and feedback, I can succeed, as I know that I can grow my brain and thus, reach higher levels of achievement. I believe that a critical piece of this “formula” for learning is the notion that I can choose where my thoughts are taking me and thus, I need to be constantly aware of where my thoughts are taking me. For example, when times get tough (perhaps when EQAO scores are released or the Fraser Report) does my sense of efficacy kick in? Or do I resort to blame?
In her book, Teaching that Changes Lives: 12 Mindset Tools for Igniting the Love of Learning(2013) author Marilee Adams introduces us to the “Choice Map” that “provides a way of managing how we respond to circumstances and even our own thoughts and feelings” (pg. 25).
In her model (above), people take one of two paths – a Learner path or a Judger path – each of which represent possible mindsets that we can adopt. Adams (2013) posits that the Learner adopts traits such as being accepting, responsive, responsibility, and sees the limitless possibilities in a situation, whereas a Judger is reactive, knows-it-all, blames, is protective and sees only their perspective (see the chart below for more traits). “And to tell the truth, when we’re upset or things don’t go our way, our natural reaction is to head right down the Judger path…that’s everybody’s default position” (Adams, 2013, pg. 26).
The Judger mindset is one which I argue, does not fit into our educational realm, but I think that it comes into play often due to a lack of complete understanding – we choose it as a defense mechanism to protect ourselves in an uncomfortable situation. When we enter a learning environment, it is imperative that we model the traits of the Learner Mindset, to avoid the negative distractors that define the Judger Mindset as they don’t focus on the possibilities of the future and when acted upon, can create such a negative environment that no forward movement occurs.
So let’s take the statements that we hear often in the realm of education:
I don’t know what they are teaching those kids in elementary school, but they sure aren’t ready for high school.
How can we expect students to submit assignments on time if they were never held accountable in high school?
This “no retention” policy is the reason why so many kids aren’t ready for the next grade.
And think about what these statements actually say to us about the Learning Mindset of the educator who spoke them. When we find ourselves frustrated and making these types of statements (many of us have heard them from educators at the College/University level through the primary grade levels…and maybe from our own mouths) we recognize a couple of things. They are Judger mindsets; they represent the notion that learning is fixed, that the learner cannot continue to grow and change, and that we, as the teacher, cannot make a difference. Efficacy has been lost. When we reflect on why we became teachers, this isn’t where we want to be!
Now let’s contrast this with the educator who understands and truly believes that all students can learn, given the appropriate time, support and conditions (such as our Conditions for Learning) and works to fully implement an environment that is student-centred. This educator spends time deeply investigating research about best practices, taking risks in their classroom by trying these practices out and perhaps modifying them according to what they are discovering about the needs of their particular students, continually enhancing the practices as they seek to truly understand and to learn these practices – which means that the practices are embedded into their way of being. They attend professional development with other educators (especially those from outside of their building – as Fullan suggests in The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, 2014), learning from and with those individuals, and approach this learning with a mindset that is focused on getting as much as possible out of that experience and from their colleagues – and they return to their classrooms to continue to practice this new learning, and to continue to explore and refine this learning. Does this remind you of the definition of learning – a permanent change in thinking and behaviour? This is what defines us as a profession – our own ongoing learning in response to the ever changing learner. When we focus on this type of mindset, the many negative distractors that the Judger Mindset leads some of us to begin to disappear, and the growth that we are seeing in our learners becomes the focus – and our efficacy increases. This is why we became teachers. This defines our profession.
When I reflect on my response to challenging times, what I know is that I can choose my mindset. I can recognize that these challenges times create a true sense of urgency in me – an urgent need to ensure that we are focused on student learning needs and that we are responding positively. Michael Fullan in The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact (2014) speaks to us about this sense of urgency and the need to ensure that it “focuses a powerful desire to win, right now; a sense of great opportunities coupled with the realization that there are hazards everywhere; and relentless, fast moving, alert activity directed toward important issues” (pg. 21), rather than “false urgency that accompanies persistent failure, including repeatedly failed solutions; anxiety, frustration, anger, and a feeling of ‘what a mess’” (pg. 21). Challenging times have the potential to push our work forward in a positive way – they create the urgency and the platform for us to practice our Learner Mindsets. When we put the traits of the Learner Mindset into action – thinking about the possibilities, engaging in genuine wondering about how to overcome the challenge, engaging in reflective practice, and understanding that together, we can make a difference, I believe that amazing growth can occur. When we focus on a particular area for growth and improvement, we get better at it…and thus our efficacy grows. Let’s rise to that challenge together by continually choosing the Learning Mindset.
Until next week…your thoughts?