I think about growth mindset all the time, almost daily. The first time it reveals itself to me is in the morning when my twelve-year-old daughter asks me to braid her hair before school. You see, I’m not good at it. Usually I am rushing through the process because of the stress of weekday mornings and the fact that I know I’m not very good at it. I don’t divide her hair evenly, the braids are lumpy, and the end product is far from superior, some days barely acceptable. My daughter often asks me to redo the braids; I comply as needed. Some days she simply sighs and says, “Thanks Mom, I think I’m just going to wear it down today.” She says it kindly and adds, “I know you are doing the best you can.” She then speaks wistfully about her friends wearing French braids, Dutch braids, small braids on the sides of their head, Princess Lea braids, crowns of braids, and the moms of girls with braiding super powers. I am crushed inside, but we move on. I feel the failure and resolve to get better: to watch how-to videos on YouTube, to practice on a doll, to practice on my daughter at night, whatever it takes! But my stomach remains knotted with self-doubt. I am the 2017 Delaware Teacher of the Year, and I can’t braid my daughter’s hair the way she wants me to. I take a deep breath and say to myself, “I am sorry hon, I am just not there YET.”
YET: the most critical word we need to use when we think and talk about growth mindset. Carol Dweck says, “In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.” If you agree with this thinking, it is perfectly alright not to be there YET. We can get there, it takes hard work, effort, the proper mindset, and celebration of failure, but we can do it.
As I move into the day, the knots in my stomach subside but I am reminded that many of my students must feel exactly the same way when they are confronted with a challenging task. Some visibly crumple when they are facing a tough math problem, complex text, or the prospect of presenting aloud in class. They look around nervously and then freeze when they see friends completing tasks more quickly than they do. How do I help them? How can I teach them? Growth Mindset is the key. And not just their growth mindset … mine as well. How do I embrace and foster my own growth mindset as an educator?
I have been working tirelessly to answer this question.
Upon reflection in my 8th year as a teacher, I realize I have never been offered professional development around cultivating and maintaining my own growth mindset. In my heart, I know that embracing and embodying a growth mindset is critical for successful educators. I am fortunate to have a growth mindset! How do I know this? My most powerful growth mindset moment occurred 12 years ago. I was sitting in a cubicle at my finance job, mom to a 6 month old baby girl, when I called my husband and said I wanted to be a teacher. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said go for it, and the journey began. In that moment, if I hadn’t believed that I could attend school at night while working full time for years, while learning a completely new skill and eventually be successful at it, I never would have asked. This was long before I heard of growth mindset but it was there. It simply needed to be awoken with a new challenge. Since then I have used my growth mindset to reach many goals, both personal and professional. I achieved a challenging personal best when running a half marathon after years of work, training, and coaching. I helped my elementary school achieve the status of “Green Ribbon School” with the US Department of Education through years of work building consensus, funding and programming, and the relationships necessary to do so. To become a green ribbon school, we had to start a recycling program, build a school garden and host a community event related to sustainability. To start the recycling program we needed education and funding. To create a vegetable garden, we needed a community partner, expertise, and funding. To host a community recycling event, we needed planning, logistics and communication. All of this took such an incredible amount of time and so much effort, including challenging conventional thinking and inspiring hearts and minds to do the work. I could never have completed any of these missions without the belief that I could do so, and, without the understanding of the steps that needed to occur in order to climb the mountain and reach the summit.
For the past year as the Teacher of the Year for Delaware, I have been reflecting deeply on teacher growth mindset. I think we need to be talking much, much more about this competency within our profession. . To supplement my own ideas and reflection, I invited Teacher2Teacher to ask the educator community on Twitter, “What habits or resources help you develop your own #GrowthMindset?” With that input and my own thoughts, here is where I am on how to develop and maintain a successful growth mindset for us as educators:
- Do the hard things. Get out of your comfort zone and embrace significant challenges both personally or professionally. Stagnation is easy but will leave you feeling empty inside. It is the enemy of progress. Learn to feel comfortable being uncomfortable.
- Reflect often, deeply, and critically. Whether you fail or succeed, look back on your effort and work and deeply analyze what went well, what failed, and figure out why. Accept negative answers to some of these guiding questions as you ponder:
- Was the goal met?
- Is the activity repeatable?
- Was student engagement high?
- Would you feel comfortable describing this activity and sharing it with others?
- Were the outcomes in line with expectations?
- Ask for feedback often from everyone you can. Put on your mental body armor and reach out to your students, their families, your peers, and administrators and ask them what they think of how you are doing. Be prepared for honest and difficult feedback. No matter how good you are, it will come. Ask people to watch you work and require critical analysis from their observations. It will make you better over time. Consider the #observeme movement for you and your education community.
- Remember that FAIL stands for “First Attempt In Learning,” not just for your students, but for you too!
- Reach out to your professional learning network often. This can be people around you or a network on social media. Ask questions. Research best practices and what others are doing. Try new technology, lessons, and strategies, as often as possible. Twitter and Facebook are incredible places where positivity and innovation abound. If you are not out on these platforms, let me know and I’ll be happy to share my Top 5 education inspirations on each.
Once you develop your growth mindset, lead by example and help others around you do so. The ultimate, final benefit is to our students but the practical benefit is to all of us.
For me, for now, it’s back to practicing those braids. I am just not there … yet.
Special thanks on twitter to @teacher2teacher, @sciencenerdniki, @mandymtaylor, @whispermode, and @kcpteachertips for your time and tips. Thank you to Camille Jones (@farmtableteach), Jessica Solano (@2017FLTOY), and Shelly Vroegh (@shellyleev) from the 2017 Teacher of the Year cohort for our conversations and your inspiration around #growthmindset. You are all helping me be a better, more certain educator; my students and families benefit. I am thankful for your wisdom.
Please connect with me on twitter @mrswendymturner and Facebook at www.facebook.com/2017DETOY/