Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Mindset Matters: A Prescription for a Great Year!

by Vicki Bechard
LFKS Secretary

It’s Back to School!  How do you feel?  Are you excited?  …Do you have great plans?  …Big hopes and dreams for you and your students?  Will you still feel this way in October? December? Next Spring?  Maybe it's time for a back-to-school mindset checkup.  

Is your mindset radiating excitement and confidence for new ways to teach and learn, new possibilities, and success for all?  Is it clouded by questions, doubt, and apprehension for the changes and new expectations for educators and students alike?  Is it a little bit of both?  All responses are normal, but some are more constructive than others.  Is your mindset propelling you to great things or holding you back?  What will be your prescription for success?

Variations of this quote have floated around social media this week that might make us consider the health of our educational mindset: 

“A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot.” 
- Dr. Joe Vitale

What is your first response to that statement?  Whatever you say, that is your mindset talking.  That first reaction – knee jerk if you will – says a lot of about how you think.  The beliefs we hold, based on the experiences we’ve had, reveal themselves in the way we respond to every task, challenge, decision, or problem we encounter every day.  If we are interested or believe we can succeed, even though we may need to learn something new, our approach is viewed as a growth mindset.  However, if we believe we are being asked to go too far out of our comfort zones, that we might look bad, believe it is too difficult, or we had a similarly bad experience, then we exhibit a fixed mindset.   Mindsets are usually viewed as a continuum, rather than either/or.  We all display a range of mindsets depending on the situation. So as you examine your own beliefs and practices, what symptoms do you have?  In other words, which mindset do you exhibit more often?  And does it matter for the health of teaching and learning?

How does the mindset with which we approach everyday life, including teaching and learning, impact our potential for success?  …Or our students’ success?

With redesign of education at the forefront of our planning and focus of back-to-school professional learning, educators are being forced to reckon with many new tasks and challenges.  Thinking outside the box is a requirement of redesign and yet can produce both open doors of opportunity and possibility, and walls of self-preservation and resistance.  How do we shift our thinking to increase chances of success?  What new strategies will we try to improve our teaching and learning health?

If we want our students to exhibit a growth mindset, it begins with us – the adults.  Saying you have a growth mindset isn’t enough.  It’s about walking your talk; aligning your actions with your goals; and sending the right message for yourself and your students.  Just like we can often tell if our kids are faking it; kids can tell if we are faking it too.

Change Your Words, Change Your Mindset
Developing and nurturing a growth mindset begins by reframing your thinking and intentionally changing your words to change your mindset.  It begins with the ALL of the adults in the building and spreads to students through our instruction and modeling of the beliefs, words, and actions that represent a growth mindset.  It is a commitment, not a quick fix.  It is not something you achieve, like a test score or grade, but something you strive to live every day.  It requires a conscious effort to ensure our thinking, speaking, and actions line up with our intent.  It’s also more than a bulletin board or school slogan. It requires us to examine the work we give students, the class rules we post, the way we respond when feedback is given or an intervention is needed.  What message(s) do we send?   It is an intentional way of approaching every task, problem, or situation every day.  For some, the prescription may be a lifestyle change.

So What’s the Prognosis?  
Whatever mindset we have, we can change. Growth Mindset is more than a positive outlook or increased effort, although that is part of it.  It is a willingness to work through difficulties, plan for and deal with failures that we will most likely incur, and a resolve to focus on possible solutions rather than the problem itself.  This occurs in classrooms, faculty rooms, professional learning, accreditation and redesign efforts, as well as how we approach post-secondary success.  It starts early with kindergarten readiness.  Our mindsets are shaped by our experiences and it is up to all educators to ensure we are nurturing and guiding our students in the right direction so they can develop mindsets that lead them to be successful in school and as adults.

Even those with a growth mindset can slip back into a fixed mindset when faced with multiple setbacks, lack of support or resources, or mental/physical exhaustion.  Nurturing a growth mindset is always a work in progress. 

What We Understand
We evolve through our experiences and willingness to try or be open to new things.  We believe we can learn and grow with new understandings, practice, and a commitment to continuous improvement.  We have confidence in our ability to control of our circumstances.  We embrace possibilities and persevere through obstacles and setbacks.  We are committed to the message of hope that Dr. Carol Dweck shares in this video, The Power of Yet.   

Our prescription for a great school year, fueled by a growth mindset, is to be consciously aware of our thinking, words and actions.  Are they aligned with what we say we believe or expect?  Are we modeling and working to fulfill the Power of Yet?  What learning, feedback and support should we see in our buildings to ensure this is happening?  The side effects of a growth mindset prescription just might be the best teaching and learning you’ve ever experienced!

Doctor's Note:  Check back in 3 months so we can monitor our progress!

"The Power of Yet" by Dr. Carol Dweck
Brock & Hundley, The Growth Mindset Playbook
Mike Gershon, How to Develop Growth Mindsets in the Classroom

Monday, April 9, 2018

HOW: Climbing the Mountain of Redesign

by Vicki Bechard
Secretary LFKS

This might feel like a broken record, but KESA in general, and redesign specifically, are on everyone’s mind these days in schools across Kansas.  Accreditation visits are in full swing as schools look to redesign learning experiences to give students the skill set that will help them be successful now and in the future.  Kansans Can is not just a slogan or a hashtag, but a way of thinking that promotes action toward our goals.  Kansas educators want to learn and implement best practices for the students they serve, but there are a lot of questions about what redesign looks like.  One often hears school officials say, “Just give me an exampleTell us what you want. Show me how to get there.”  We ask these questions because it’s hard to think differently.  It’s hard to take a risk on the unknown.  We want to do it right, but educators have much to learn and adapt as we change how we do business.  We might even look at redesign as a mountain that will be difficult to climb, rather than appreciating the beauty and challenge it provides and the reward it offers in the end.

I love the mountains.  It is where I want to be if I’m on vacation.  In fact if my kids/grandkids were nearby, it would be where I would want to live.  I think one reason I love the mountains is that I initially view them from the valleys.  I look up to the majestic peaks and am inspired by their beauty, and amazed at their presence.  The journey to be in the mountains is filled with anticipation, twists and turns, and obstacles that present challenges and rich experiences.  And the view from the top is worth it: inspiring and amazing, calling me to experience the sites and take it all in.  My journey into the mountains is shaped by my purpose, the current situation, and what I hope to accomplish. It is affected by the amount of time I have, resources I can access, and the team who accompanies me.  There are many mountains in this world to view and climb, with no two the same, and as a result, no journey will be the same.

Redesign is our educational mountain.  It means change is about to occur on a large scale.  This is systemic change which will affect every educator and impact every student.   Given the different knowledge and skill sets that students will use in a post-secondary world, we must redesign our instruction and learning environments so that they are more suited to provide those experiences.  What worked before was fine.  We did our best based on what we knew, but now as we increase our own understanding, we will do better work that is relevant and targeted for not just for success today, but for tomorrow’s successes as well.  What that looks like depends on the purpose and the situation, so no one solution will work for every school.  We often point out in LFKS resources and learning sessions that “One size doesn’t fit all” and that applies to redesign as well.  But while we might not know what the best redesign ideas will look like in your particular context, we do know there are some common actions that do apply to all and will ensure successful implementation.

HOW:  Climbing the Mountain of Redesign: 

1.   Clarify communication.  Address the why, how, what, when and who questions and concerns that everyone has.  The details not only have to be worked out, but communicated clearly and in a timely manner.  George Bernard Shaw said it best:  The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  Be intentional.  Clarify.  Listen.  Check for understanding.

2.      Empower and engage people in the process.  Avoid talking AT stakeholders, but rather talk WITH them.  Include them in the planning and discussions, convey what leaders are thinking, and encourage their participation in the feedback loop.  Listening to their ideas, concerns and feedback gives all stakeholders a voice and helps get everyone on board.

3.    Allow for mourning as they leave behind favorite practices and comfort zones.  Prepare them for and encourage them when their productivity temporarily drops (learning curve).  Change (redesign) requires people to work differently and many times that change can produce reactions similar to when people experience a significant loss like a death or divorce.  Resistance may simply be a part of the mourning process because change can make us fearful and unsure of ourselves.  Grief is real even when the “death” is only “the way we used to do it.”

4.     Allow for process time.  Just as one size doesn’t fit all for the kind of redesign efforts you seek, people and teams process at different rates.  Be patient. Nurture and guide while allowing people time to learn and practice so they can find acceptance and success with the new ideas and practices.

5.  Include engaging, supportive, and reflective professional learning throughout the planning and implementation process of every redesign or change initiative.  Deep understanding comes from deep conversations.  Collaboration targeted for improved educator effectiveness and student success will be time well spent.  The kind and quality of professional learning will impact the kind and quality of implementation and the ability to sustain the redesign efforts.

KASB’s Deputy Executive Director Doug Moeckel, shared this visual and noted on Twitter recently that “Kansas Redesign is driven by these Kansans Can Principles.”

THIS is our educational mountain.  
HOW will we (re)design our journey to the top?

For more information on effective professional learning or to receive support for your HOW journey, please check out the Learning Forward Kansas website or contact us directly via email at

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Redesign – The Courage to Leave the Shore to Make Our Best Better

 February 13, 2018

By Vicki Bechard,
Secretary LFKS

REDESIGN:  We hear this word in every educational conversation around Kansas.  It is at the heart of the state accreditation process (KESA), and the “WHY” behind the Mercury7 and Gemini initiatives involving Kansas Schools.  We also hear, “What is Redesign?”  Even when the Commissioner of Education speaks he is careful to use examples of redesign in the real world, but does not specifically paint a picture of what that might look like in schools.  I believe this is intentional because if he did say "THIS is redesign" (insert your own initiative example) – that’s what many schools will race to duplicate.  So how might we attempt to clarify redesign and the role professional learning plays in the redesign process?

Meriam-Webster defines redesign as “a revision in appearance, function or content.”  Right click on redesign and find synonyms that further clarify what this might look like:  reshape, reform, rewrite, restructure, reformat, remake….in other words, indicating one must do something differently.  But redesign without purpose puts us out to sea, adrift without a destination or map to guide our sails.  That’s probably OK for a relaxing weekend getaway if we had plenty of supplies and a way to get home, but would not serve us well as the primary strategy to lead our schools and districts. 

Redesign possibilities are endless and this is not a blog about what options schools have.  In reality, where we go and what we do is dependent on the needs we uncover and the direction we want to head.  The questions we ask drive the answers we seek:  What is best for OUR students?  How can we be better educators and learners?  What do we need to do differently to give our kids the best opportunities?  What will make our best even better?

The WHY behind our redesign initiatives provides purpose and helps identify what will benefit us most as we set sail on the journey that will lead us to our destination (goal).  It tells us what to pack; what type of crew and skills will be needed; how to anticipate and navigate choppy waters; and what our destination will be.   To determine the WHY we need to examine the data to ensure our destination is sound and doable.  Data also tells us what resources we will need in terms of the vehicle we use, manpower, fuel, food, and supplies.  Surveying our crew with a needs assessment of sorts will indicate the knowledge, skills, and resources we have and what we will want to acquire, develop and utilize throughout our journey.  Studying the long term course we’ve mapped out, both prior to and during our journey, will help us target potential issues so that we are prepared to tackle them, make adjustments, and continue toward our destination.  Finally we must ensure that we know the outcome:  what it will look like when we reach our destination and whether it has been beneficial to our purpose.

Professional learning will be critical to this journey.  The standards that guide our actions can be seen in every aspect of our work.  We will see them as we gather to examine and study the data before, during, and after the trip (Learning Communities & Data).  We will find them in the leadership that plans, supports, and captains this journey (Leadership).  We will see it in action as it pinpoints our focus when designing and determining the type and frequency of the learning we need to acquire the necessary skills and how to apply them successfully in our journey (Learning Designs).  They will take the form of adequate and timely resources to support our journey as we try, revise, and try again to perfect our knowledge and skills for this journey (Resources & Implementation).  And they will be seen in the results as we determine if our goals have been achieved and reflect on how we might improve the process as our journey continues to the next destination (Outcomes).  As you may notice, the aforementioned examples underscore our premise that the Standards for Professional Learning are the framework that shapes our work throughout the redesign process.  LFKS encourages all educators to be intentional about ensuring that our work includes all of the Standards, for if we omit even one, we will more than likely not arrive at our destination as we intended.

Those who attended the recently completed LFKS Annual Conference experienced firsthand the many possibilities of redesign and heard from a wide range of practitioners on what that might look like.  In all cases we also heard how important the role effective professional learning plays into successful implementation of whatever initiative we choose to pursue.  This journey is one of promise, but will also include more than a few adjustments to our sails.  Redesign is scary and exciting at the same time, so first we must prepare for our journey so that we may leave the safety of the harbor and seek new destinations to broaden our horizons.  The reality is that what we have done up until now may have been our best work, but the future requires that we look differently at how and what students learn. 

Simply put, redesign is seeking new ways to make our best even better as we do what’s best for kids.  

As you contemplate redesign, we are eager to learn where you will go and why that journey is what’s best for your school.  Even though the metaphor for change and redesign at the state level is the space program, our sailing metaphor serves the same purpose.  The wisdom of Winston Churchill continues to inspire our redesign efforts whether we are referring to rockets flying into space or boats sailing to new horizons, “If you want to discover new oceans, you must first have the courage to leave the shore.”  

Possibilities await.  How can LFKS support you in your redesign efforts?